It’s fun and easy to design vinyl stickers. All you need is your computer, a printer, and printable vinyl. So, what happens when you see artwork you like online or you want to create fan art? Is it legal to use someone else’s art in your sticker design? We’ve tackled tough legal questions before with blogs about car stickers and sticker bombing. Now it’s time for one of the toughest questions all sticker designers face – where is the boundary between appreciating and appropriating someone else’s art?
We’ll get into the legalities below, but first let’s discuss two terms you’ll hear when looking for free images online.
Copyright free vs royalty free
Copyright means the exclusive legal right to produce, reproduce, and publish the art. Royalties are fees paid to the artist for each single use or set of uses of the art. Copyright free art can be used, altered, and published as you wish. The artist has decided to release the work into the public domain, or the copyright has expired and has not been reinstated. Royalty free art means you do not need to pay the artist to download and use the work.
However, if the artist has a bio on the site you are downloading the art from, it is a curtesy to mention or attribute their work. At the very least, hit that “buy me a coffee” button (if there is one) and treat the artist to a cup of joe.
Designing Vinyl Stickers for Fun vs Profit
The first (and most obvious) answer is that you cannot use someone else’s artwork when you design vinyl stickers for profit. Many people use the ease and convenience of sticker design to turn their sticker hobby into cash. With so many applications, such as stickers for sale, custom tumblers and mugs, and vinyl t-shirt transfers, this is a great way to make extra income.
The rule of thumb when you design vinyl stickers for cash is to:
- Create your own original art, or
- Only use copyright free images, or
- Purchase the art or photos you wish to use, or
- Attribute the work to the designer as directed by a Creative Commons license
How do I find copyright free and royalty free images when I design vinyl stickers?
Many sites have copyright free images that are free to download and use. Check out Pixabay, Rawpixel, and FreeImages. Depending on the site you choose, you will have the option to search for photos, clip art, illustrations and vectors.
How do I purchase art to use when I design vinyl stickers?
Sites like Shutterstock have art and photos available for purchase, and many of the free sites also have links or options for art you can buy. In these cases, since anyone can pay to download the premium art, you’ll be paying a royalty fee. If you wish to purchase an exclusive design that nobody else will be using, you must discuss, with the artist, having something created that is copywritten and pay the artist or their agent directly.
How do I attribute art?
Some sites, like WikiCommons, have art and photos under Creative Commons licenses. This allows you to download and copy, distribute, and use the work within specific boundaries. Attribution CC By lets everyone use the work as they see fit, as long as they credit the artist or photographer. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA lets you remix, adapt, and build upon the work for personal or commercial use, as long as you credit the artist and license your new creations under the same terms. There are several other Creative Commons licenses. Learn about them here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/.
What about fan art?
Fan art is a bit of a grey area. Selling fan art that depicts copyright images is illegal. However, making fan art that is not for sale is not illegal. Even then, however, it is rare for an artist to pursue the baker that uses an image of Big Bird on a cake and sells it to a friend, for example. When you design vinyl stickers for yourself, you can create all the fan art you wish. Just don’t start selling your creations at comic cons and expos! If you do wish to legally sell your fan art, contact the artist or studio and buy a license. If there is no corporate studio to contact, as can be the case with small run graphic art books or webcomic series, contact the artist directly to discuss terms of permission.
Can I use Disney art?
Disney is one of the corporate giants that is ferociously protective of its image. You can use Disney art when you design vinyl stickers for your own personal use, but forget making vinyl sticker murals for your business or selling any mugs or t-shirts with Disney images.
There was a case where Disney refused to allow the image of Spiderman on a child’s grave. While this upset the family greatly as their son was a huge Spiderman fan, Disney would not bend the rule because it does not permit the use of characters on headstones. (Disney offered a commemorative, hand-ink cell instead). In another case, Disney threatened lawsuits for three daycare centres in Florida that had hand painted, without permission, Disney characters on their walls.
If you’re a huge fan of Disney and want to design vinyl stickers to sell with Disney imagery, follow their instructions on the Walt Disney Studio Licensing website to avoid being surprised by a costly lawsuit.
Can I design vinyl stickers with other people’s artwork just for fun?
Yes! You can download or copy art and photos you like and use printable adhesive vinyl to make stickers, mugs, t-shirts, and more for your own personal use. As long as you are not selling or profiting from the art in any way, this is legal. It is still a courtesy to mention the artist. For example, if showing off your creation online, add link to the artist’s website. It’s not mandatory to do this, but it’s a nice thing to do and helps the artist gain exposure.
It is not legal to use other people’s art and photos when you design vinyl stickers if you will profit from their art in any way. This includes using the art to attract customers (murals, signs, etc.) or directly selling the art on stickers, mugs, tumblers, and t-shirts. To use art that is protected when you design vinyl stickers for profit, purchase a license from the copyright holder or pay a royalty fee. To use work under a Creative Commons license, look up the attribution symbol. This will determine how far you can use/alter the image, if you can use it commercially, and how to attribute the artist. Don’t sell fan art without permission or a license.
You can use other people’s art when you design vinyl stickers as long as you will not profit from it. In this case, your creations are solely in appreciation of their work and only for your personal use. It’s nice to give the artist a shout out on social media or donate/buy coffee if that option is presented on their website.
Now that you know if it’s legal or not to use other people’s artwork when you design vinyl stickers, it’s time for you to make some art of your own! Royal Elements sells printable sticker vinyl, adhesive sticker vinyl, and more in our online store. We love to see the projects you make using Royal Elements products. Post your results online with the hashtag #royalelementsstickers so we can feature your designs on our social networks (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube). Visit https://www.amazon.com/royalelements and https://www.royalelements.com/ today to learn more.