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I've recently gotten into a fairly obscure band that a lot of people describe as a "one hit wonder". Nobody is making merchandise for them anymore as the band stopped making music long ago. There aren't any available listings for shirts online as far as I know. I had the idea that I would make a shirt for myself using an image of the lead singer and text (the band's name and one of their song names). Every site I went on mentioned copyright rules, and so I haven't tried creating the shirt as I am worried about possibly getting in trouble for it. I don't even know who I'd contact to get permission to use the image (especially since the band is no longer active and the lead singer doesn't have social media as far as I know).

Would I get in trouble with the law if I created the shirt with absolutely no intention of profiting from it? If so, who could I get permission from to use the image?

  • The answer may vary based on jurisdiction. Judging from your username, the band itself is based in the UK. Are you in the UK as well? – Michael Seifert May 15 at 14:09
  • Beyond this, the general principles in play are (a) use of the singer's likeness (probably OK if not for commercial resale); (b) use of the band name (which may be trademarked, not copyrighted); and (c) use of the song title (at least in the US, song titles can't be copyrighted, only the lyrics themselves.) You might try searching "use of likeness [location]" and "trademark law [location]" for further information. – Michael Seifert May 15 at 14:14
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  1. A short phrase such as the band's name, or a song title is not protected by copyright, either in the US or the UK.

  2. The shirt as a whole is not protected by copyright, because you created the combination of image and words.

  3. The band's name or song title could have been protected by trademark law, but this almost surely doe snot apply, because:

    A. You are not selling anything, so trademark protection would not apply.

    B. The phrases are not now being used in trade, because the band is no longer selling music. Thus any trademark protection should have lapsed.

  4. The image of the singer may be protected under his "personality rights" but this usually only protects use for commercial purposes, which a shirt for your own personal use isn't.

  5. Even if there were an active trademark, the owner is not likely to find out and order you to stop for one short for personal use.

In short, the actions described should be legally safe, but selling such a shirt to multiple other people would be a different matter.

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