Want to wear your Case Western Reserve University School of Law proudly on your sleeve (literally)? In online store, you are able to buy CWRU Law t-shirts, sweatshirts, accessories and numerous gifts of all types featuring the university’s name and logo. All proceeds benefit the Student Emergency Fund, that aids student who have had unexpectedly canceled summer internships and other expenses incurred while attending classes at the university. The bulk of funds, however, benefits the financially struggling families of graduates.
One of the most popular among Case Western Reserve University School of Law students are their t-shirts. They are extremely comfortable to wear, and they come in a variety of cool colors. Many of them feature witty slogans that cleverly poke fun at the frequently ridiculous actions of lawyers in real life. For instance, one shirt says, “Remember when your kid tried to sue Me, but I successfully sued the dog.”
Another popular tee shirt says, “I think there is a name for this song: ‘redits’. By downloading it from Yahoo or iTunes, you agree that you will not use the copyrighted work without receiving express permission from the copyright holder. If you do use the copyrighted work without permission, then the song, picture, or words may be used by others, including reselling, providing online file sharing services, and broadcasting or performing in public. Any of these actions violate the law.”
These t-shirts were inspired by a recent ruling by the US Copyright Office. In a unanimous decision, the US Copyright Office ruled that the copyright office has the power to regulate the use of any copyrighted work under the laws that it administers. According to the US Copyright Office, if a copyrightable work is being used for a commercial purpose, the person or entity that owns the copyright can control what can and cannot be done with that work. This includes t-shirts.
In determining if something is being used commercially, the US Copyright Office looks to various factors. One of those factors is whether the use of the t-shirt would bring economic harm to the entity that owns the copyright. If a t-shirt is worn, is used in connection with some other activity, and is not sold, the owner of the copyright can legally claim that their rights have been violated. The copyright owner can also assert their rights in a lawsuit under the fair use law.
Fair use is a legal concept that permits the use of copyrighted materials in a certain context, including for criticism, review, and reporting. The idea behind the fair use law is that it allows people to use what belongs to them, as long as they do not use it in a way that is unfair to others. While the fair use law may not have been designed to deal specifically with t-shirts, it has been used in cases such as a case involving yogurt makers who were sued for selling gummy bear yogurt that was covered with chocolate in a container that did not have the original flavor. The court ruled in favor of the yogurt makers, and the makers are now free to sell the gummy bear yogurt without having to alter it.
Because of the nature of the t-shirt, the law surrounding its use is relatively vague. Often times, a plaintiff’s lawsuit ends up being lost when the defendant does not admit to any wrongdoing. However, there have been cases in which a plaintiff was able to get their complaint heard by the court, but was otherwise unable to obtain monetary compensation because the defendant was ultimately able to argue that the t-shirt was not a commercial product and thus did not deserve protection under the law. Because of this ambiguity, it is best to avoid purchasing anything on the Internet that you are unsure about, whether it is a t-shirt or some other type of garment.
In the same way that you would want to protect your body from someone else’s harmful activities, you should want to do the same for your clothing. If you are thinking of wearing something online, make sure that it is a t-shirt that you actually like. You don’t want to get into a situation in which you are worried that people will take offense to something you wear that you actually like. This law is very specific and covers a broad range of situations, so as long as you are aware of what the law says, you should be in pretty good shape if you find yourself in a bind.