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Many sites will have links to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. located on their site usually using logo "badges". Most of these sites provide their own official badges, but you can also find countless examples of other artist renditions of said logos readily available on the internet. Most of which are being sold as copyrighted material.

Can a graphic designer claim a copyright on their interpretation of an already copyrighted and trademarked logo and sell the usage rights to it for profit?

What if they aren't charging a fee but simply asking for attribution due to the copyright? Still, seems like you probably aren't allowed to copyright something that is already copyrighted.

Aside from selling the work, it's also very obvious that many reputable companies have had their own versions of these logos created not for resale but just to match the theme of their site. Is that legal?

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    For most sites listed there, it seems you're paying for the physical sticker, not for the icons. Most of these icons are by themselves not eligible for copyright, as they're to simplistic.
    – PMF
    Feb 28 at 17:50
  • "which are being sold as copyrighted material" - I don't see anything that suggests the people selling these items are claiming copyright over the images. They might be licensed, they might be infringed, but I'm doubtful there are Etsy sellers claiming they actually own the copyright to the Facebook logo. Feb 28 at 18:13
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    @jesse_b Copying a copy of a copyrighted work is no different than copying the original. You don't get a free pass to infringe copyright when someone else does it first. The true rights holder could still sue you, but the creator of the copy you screenshotted could not, because they didn't have any rights to begin with. Feb 28 at 19:29
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    @NuclearHoagie right so facebook seemingly has no issue with you using their logo to redirect users from your site to theirs but the people trying to sell their logo have no legal right to do so? Which circles right back to my original question.
    – jesse_b
    Feb 28 at 19:33
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    @jesse_b There are limited uses which Facebook allows, like using the logo to redirect people to your Facebook page. They expressly disallow selling merchandise with the logo, or using the logo for other purposes like implying endorsement by or affiliation with Facebook. These sellers are likely violating copyright law by selling FB-branded merchandise, and they're definitely not claiming the copyright for themselves. The question seems to be related to a lot of downstream things that don't really matter once you know these initial copies are not legitimate in the first place. Feb 28 at 19:45

2 Answers 2

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First, note that in many cases logos are protected as trademarks, rather than under copyright laws. The rules which apply can be quite different.

Next, all the original logos can be protected by copyright, or protected as trademarks, or both (or possibly neither, but this is unlikely in this case).

This means that creating a derived version of the original logo may not be allowed at all, depending on what the changes are, and what the original trademark or copyright holder allows or not.

Usually such logos have licenses which allow pretty widespread use without any payment (it's their goal you use them as much as possible to link to them), but the license will normally restrict the use cases (for instance using it to link to them is fine, using it for your own social network is not).

The licenses will also have rules or at least guidelines on what changes you can do to the logo. This can be more or less restrictive (e.g. some will not allow you to change the colours at all).

Now under copyright laws, if someone has a license (generally published, or specifically granted to them) which allows it, they can create derivate works (e.g. a translation, or an adaptation like making a movie from a book...). Derivate works have "double" copyright: the copyright of the original author, and the copyright of the one who created the derivative works (if there is enough "work"/"creation" to benefit from copyright protection).

So if A writes a book and A gives a license to B to make a movie out of it and B makes the movie, then both A and B have copyright on the movie, and C cannot just take the movie and turn it into a cartoon without authorisation of both A and B (though A could have given the right to B to further authorise other derivative works in their license).

In addition, creating a "set" can sometimes benefit from a protection, either under copyright laws, or under other IP laws (such as database protection laws).

Whether the person creating these sets of logos will benefit from actual protection needs to be checked on a case by case basis: in some situation there is no creative work at all, so they don't benefit from copyright protection. Sometimes even the original logo does not even benefit from said protection (but will usually benefit from trademark protection). In many cases, the derivative work may actually not even be legal, if they modified the original logo in a way that is not allowed by the original copyright holder.

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Copyright is... copyright.

Copyright attaches the moment a creative work is fixed in a tangible medium (e.g. a file is saved) for the person that acted as the author. This copyright can be transferred automatically to the employer of the author (work for hire), or sold to someone else later (copyright transfer). There's also a requirement of creativity to be met to have a copyright, many logos do not meet that.

Taking an existing work that is still under copyright and making a derivate work without allowance violates the copyrights in the original work: If I reinterpreted Harry Potter in Klingon, that's a copyright infringement. But if I get a license from Rowling, I am allowed to do that. That license gives me the chance to get copyright in my changes and creative expression, nothing more. I don't gain copyright in the original, I get copyright in my choice of words where several are available.

Those bundles don't sell you just a derivate work, they sell you a file package containing both copyrightable items (icons other than logos, pre-aligned files that just need text altered for use), uncopyrightable items (fonts), and licensed items (at times matching adapted) logos. The package in total has a copyright in the creative choice of putting the pack together and its pre-setups where they exist. This begs the question: do the package makers have a license? And the anwer will likely be, yes. For example the Instagram Brand Asset License is rather allowing on a lot of things regarding the logo when it comes to coloration and backgrounding it, but very much not so regarding altering the logo (rotating, twisting, mirroring) and minimum size.

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  • Thanks. So if they do have a "license" does that act like a copyright? IE if I copy their work is it protected?
    – jesse_b
    Feb 28 at 21:31
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    @jesse_b: A license is a legal document. It will (should) say with specificity what is and is not licensed, and what actions the license does and does not permit. If the license is unclear, the only recourse is to ask the licensor to clarify.
    – Kevin
    Mar 1 at 6:37
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    @jesse_b "seems unlikely": in that example, probably so. A straightforward conversion of a color image to black and white is probably insufficiently creative to give rise to copyright protection for the derivative work.
    – phoog
    Mar 1 at 21:01
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    @jesse_b See the first paragraph: Copyright requires creativity. Altering a whole logo's color from one to another color isn't creative, the logo itself might not even be creative.
    – Trish
    Mar 1 at 21:04
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    @jesse_b well wanting it red or whatever color requires choosing a shade, and that's more creative. The point at which the creativity crosses the threshold in any given instance is for a jury to decide, which can only happen if the owner of the copyright in the derivative work sues. If you put up a red Facebook logo on your website and someone on Etsy has created a red Facebook logo, are they really going to sue? More likely Facebook will come after you for messing with their trademark.
    – phoog
    Mar 1 at 21:17

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