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Can Use Phrases or Songs in the Design of my T-Shirts?

Giselle Ayala Mateus, Esq.

To answer this question, first, it is necessary to remember what copyright is. Copyright law is the field that protects the use of the creator’s work once their idea has been physically expressed. For work to be protected by copyright it needs to be both original and tangible. This means that it must the product of your own skill and labor and it must have been expressed in a physical form.

The general rule is that you can print anything on a t-shirt that is under the public domain without infringing copyright laws.  There are a number of public domain websites that list images that can be used for personal and commercial uses. Wikimedia Commons is one of the largest public domain image resources. Although most images can be used for commercial use some do have restrictions so read carefully and always double-check. Unsplash offers a range of photography photos that can be used. The British Library has also released 1 million images into the public domain.

You may use 

Anything from the public domain  Authors who have been dead for over 70 years.

Common sayings  

Sayings that are too short to be protected by the copyright law  


Your own thoughts and sayings

Don’t use

Anything from a living author  

Anything from an author who’s been deceased for less than 70 years

Trademarked material  

Corporate slogans  

Scripted or literary works of art

Copyright protection is the lifeblood of the entertainment and publishing industries. A company’s copyright portfolio can actually be far more valuable than its fixed assets, and infringement can affect artists and publishers alike. Contact the G.A.M. Law Office team to guide you on how to protect your rights and enforce them! +1 (646) 397-2396

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