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Put NFL MLB NCAA Team Logos on T-Shirts

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Dear Business Guy,  I want to put logos of NFL teams on T-Shirts and other products using silk screening.  Can I do this?  They say that they have a copyright on the broadcast games, but do they have a patient on all of the team names or just the official Jerseys?

Thanks for asking.  Assuming that you have read our TOS and understand that this does not constitute legal advice, the answer is yes and no.  Yes you can put whatever you want on a t-shirt or jersey, but if you use someone’s trademark with out their permission this is illegal.  And you could get prosecuted by the DA and have to pay damages to the team’s owners.  Yes, you see a lot of shirts being sold for like 10 bucks around, those are generally made illegally without getting permission from the logo owners.  And they can get away with it because the guys selling the shirts only make a couple of bucks and are generally too poor to pay any judgement.  The guys who designed the shirts are long gone before they go on sale.

While you may consider it no big deal, the law looks at it like steeling because the logos and use of the logos are private property.  Using them without permission is kind-of like steeling someone’s bike.  For more information on trademarks and copyrights, see this page, and for more information about the T-shirt business check out this page.  For instance you could have a general things like “I ♥ Football” “Take me out to the Baseball game” or make up your own team names.  That sounds great, but not too many people want to buy a T-shirt that with such general slogans on it.  They want to show they are fans of the Dodgers, Angeles, or Raiders.  But you cannot use team names or logos without permission of their owners.

National Football League Licensing

That said, it is possible to use NFL trademarks, it just may be impractical if you want to do a small amount of products.  The NFL also grants permission to use individual team names/logos.  Check out the NFL’s licensing website nfl.biz .  It seems like they want to deal with larger manufacturers and distributors.  You need to guarantee at least a $100,000/year royalty to the NFL, and have at least a 6M/12M liability policy to protect the NFL against lawsuits arising from your products.  You will also have to prove to them that you have the financial resources to meet these requirements.

They also review your products to insure that it does not have a negative impact on the NFL’s image.  i.e. no cheep products or pornographic products.  Although they do not state this on their website/application, they probably will not let you produce a product that is already being produces as the resulting price competition would reduce the value of an NFL license.  If you have a unique product that is not NFL branded, you might want to run it by their new products department before you fill out the application.  New Products Division, NFL Properties LLC, 345 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10154   newproducts@NFL.com

Major League Baseball Licensing

For licensing, the MLB has provided this contact on their website  lisa.teitelbaum@mlb.com From what we understand, it’s very similar to the NFL system.  Some people on the internet have said that the the minimum royalty is $40,000.  We could not find out any other information on line.  We did note that in the MLB, players have licensing rights to their likeness, team number, and name.  You can inquire about using a player’s trademarks from the player’s association here: http://mlb.mlb.com/pa/info/licensing.jsp  This is where you would get permission to use a player’s picture on your product.

NCAA Licensing

Another group of logos that are in demand are the logos to universities.  Virtually all universities belong to the National Collegiate  Athletic Association which helps schools cash in on their athletic programs.  Each school retains the right to use and marked their own names and logos, but most schools they license their use through the the Collegiate Licensing Company .   They license most of the big schools, bowl games… including Arizona State, University of Arizona, UCLA, and SDSU.  We did note that the other big school, USC was missing from their client list.

USC runs its own Trademark office trademarks.usc.edu

As with MLB and NFL licensing, you need to demonstrate that you have a high quality product, that you have insurance to protect the institution against liability claims, you have to pay a licensing fee in advance, and you have the financial where with all to pay future royalty fees.  But this is done on a school by school basis.

Yes, the counterfeit police will get you

The leagues actually hire investigators to go out to malls, swapmeets and even internet sites hunting down evil merchants selling fake merchandise.  The way they look at it is that selling fake goods takes away jobs from Americans–even though a lot of the real stuff comes from China anyway.  But the deal is the NFL and other leagues have friends in high places, and selling fake stuff is taking money out of their pockets.  If it’s imported or goes across state lines, it’s a federal crime.

This video was produced by HomeLand Security, and in this video they explain that they are very serious.  ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has HSI Police (And HSI stands for Homeland Security Investigations) that go after sellers and seize inventory.  They are helped the the leagues PI’s, and as you can see they have become experts in determining what is real and what’s not.  In addition to taking your inventory you could get arrested (in this Video  from New Jersey discusses a guy who got fake NFL jerseys from China and sold them through the mail.) with a crime and civil lawsuits could be filed against you by the owner of the trademark you are copying.

So the bottom line is that it’s not a good idea to make or or sell fake stuff.

Reader Question  I attend a University in Los Angeles that’s supposed to be a public university.  Can my school sue me for using their name?  I am paying a lot of money in tuition; and it’s owned by the public.

Although we are not attorneys, we believe they could sue you for using their trademark.  And our guess is that they might if you sell anything with their trademark (link).  Even Though they are owned by the public and are a non-profit doesn’t mean that they will permit you to make money from what they consider their property– the UCLA trademark.  If you are using their trademark for to discuss policy we would think you could use it.  For instance, if you made a sign that said UCLA is Unfair, UCLA costs too much …  It’s not a cut and dry thing.

They are with the CLC licensing program, see above.  You can submit an application through the CLC. (see above)

  1. David Mitchell says:

    Dear Business Guy, Wal-Mart and many other companies sell material by the yard which is printed logos of ncaa, nfl and mlb teams. I would predict these companies are paying royalties to the appropriate organization to sell the material or fabric. You then walk in to their store and pay retail to buy numerous yards of the material. Next you sit down at a sewing machine and make bandanas for example to sell.
    My question is this, wouldn’t you be able to sell your product without the organizations permission since you purchased the logo from a company that was a licensed seller and the logo was preprinted by them, not you?

    Thanks for your time,

    D S Mitchell

  2. Small Business News Editor says:

    That’s a good question. The standard answer is that’s a legal question and you should see a qualified Trademark attorney, as we are not attorneys and what’s we say should not be considered legal advice. But we can assume that the fabric manufacturer had a license to put the logos on fabric; and it is implied that you have permission to fabric to make stuff such as clothing, pillows, window coverings, crafts … for personal use. And it seems that if you collect the costs from a small group friends and family for making stuff with the fabric that use is implied to be okay because they allowed it to be put on fabric for the purpose of being used to make other things.

    If you cut out the logos and use them on other products we believe you will get in trouble (1) if you make any claims that your products are officially licensed. (2) If customers would be likely to confuse your goods with those that are being sold/licensed by the league this would seem to be a violation of the league’s trademark. (3)Also they might go after you as an unauthorized use of their trademark. They licensed the fabric company to put trademarks on fabric; but they did not license you to sell products of your design with their trademark.

    Again, the above is speculation and you should consult a Trademark attorney before you start producing goods for sale and get his/her legal opinion in writing. But we suspect the implied license to use trademarks because they are placed on fabric—which has the sole use as a supply for making other products—is commercially limited. But the extent to that limit is not 100% clear.

    And if the “fabric” we are talking about are bed sheets, than we suspect that reusing trademarked images on the sheets to make other products would be considered a violation of copyright.

    • It is my understanding that if you print the logo, say an MLB team logo, but do not include the TM on what you are selling, that would not be considered infringement, but rather selling goods to consumers to show support for their favorite team.

      • Small Business News Editor says:

        I don’t think you should make that assumption. The ™ is a way of the intellectual property owner notifying you that the logo is owned by someone (in this case the team) and you cannot use it (the team logo) without their permission.

  3. Stephanie White says:

    Dear Business Guy, my friend & I are starting a T-shirt business for the purposes of selling them at Biker Rallies. We are wanting to print a picture on them which would include my friends Harley Davidson bike. Do we need to get permission from Harley Davidson before printing and selling them?
    Thank You, Stephanie

    • jonhy says:

      no because you are not using their trademark and its only a picture on your shirt that advertises Biker Rallies not Harley Davison

  4. Tito says:

    Hi Business Guy! Great article! How about if I produce my designs as t-shirts, hats and such to sell on my own that look similar to MLB logos (i.e. NY, SF, LA, etc.) but are different letters? In similar I mean font style and colors. Thanks for the advise!

  5. Christopher says:

    Thanks for your post. I really like the information which you have shared in your post.

  6. Jo Cetak says:

    If I wanted to create a product that utilized photos of players that were not copyrighted on the Internet, would that be an infringement of NCAA rules?

    • Small Business News Editor says:

      Well, sorry it took so long to get back to you. Well there are a couple of problems with your idea. First of all, a most of the material on the internet is copyrighted. It doesn’t necessarily have to have the (c) or be a registered copyright. Generally speaking, the copyright is owned by the creator unless they give up those rights or assign them to someone else. To see what is available for free commercial use you might try a site like creative commons. Secondly, if players had trademarked logos on and you reproduced them to put on an item, that would probably violate the trademark owner’s rights. And players have what is referred to as Personality Rights that give them control over the commercial use of their image and name.

      So if you are selling the image/name or team logo on a T-Shirt from a photo you found on the internet would seem to violate the team/school’s trademark, the photographer’s copyright unless you have explicit permission to use for commercial use from something like Creative Commons, and the right of the player to control the commercial use if his or her image/name. Take this with a grain of salt; I’m not an attorney and that’s just my opinion. It gets confusing because based on first amendment rights, a newspaper can publish a photo on the front page and make extra money as more issues are sold. But I don’t think publishing a photo on a t-shirt or other commemorative item would qualify as such a publication.
      (1) http://www.teachingcopyright.org/handout/copyright-faq
      (2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_rights

  7. Scott says:

    What about the following scenarios:
    1) Directly reselling a previously purchased retail product – let’s say I get an amazing deal on Amazon for official NFL jackets during Cyber Monday, so I buy a bunch and a month later decide to resell them on eBay for a profit. Is there anything wrong with that?

    2) This is similar to the cloth one. What if I want to sell hand-made furniture with NFL logos on it? I make the furniture without the logo, purchase a Fat-head logo through their store and apply the sticker to the furniture before shipping it to the customer.

    3) Combine #2 & #1. Instead of applying the Fat-head prior to shipping, I simply include the sticker (new in package) along with the furniture shipment and allow the customer to apply it themselves.

    • Small Business News Editor says:

      I personally don’t see a problem reselling legit licensed products that you purchased legally, but I am not an attorney and they may have some-how restricted re-sales. Of course, if you are getting a screaming deal on them they might not be legit products and they could be seized. Um for the second idea, I am not sure. It’s like the person who wanted to make products from officially licenced bed sheets.

  8. Kat says:

    Hi,

    I am working on some bracelets that I would like to put some MLB team names and player names and numbers on. Is this allowed?

    • Small Business News Editor says:

      Well, I cannot tell you what’s allowed. I am not an attorney. But, generally speaking, you cannot profit from using someone’s name or likeness without their permission. See this legal guide: http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/using-name-or-likeness-another. We found the MLB Players Association has the rights to player names … if your product will utilize more than 3 names. From their website “the MLBPA holds the exclusive, worldwide right to use, license and sublicense the names, numbers, nicknames, likenesses, signatures and other personal indicia (known as “publicity rights”) of active Major League Baseball players who are its members for use in connection with any product, brand, service or product line when more than two players are involved.” http://mlb.mlb.com/pa/info/licensing.jsp According to their website, the licensing contact info number is (212) 826-0809.

      Similarly, if you want to use a group of NFL player names for your product, you need to contact the NFL Players Association if your product involves more than 6 players. We would suggest that you run your idea by the contact provided on this website, then file an application with the Association. Licensing website –> https://www.nflpa.com/players/services/licensing

  9. Autumn says:

    I own a tee shirt making business(very small) and I have people asking me if i can make a sweatshirt that just says “Flyers Hockey” is that against copyright rules? also what are the rules on numbers??

  10. nick says:

    Hi, how about team colors without their nickname? Like Los Angeles with purple and gold but no lakers?

  11. Danielle says:

    I decorate wine bottles. I purchased stickers and scrapbook paper from the store with sports theme logos on them. They are meant for decorating, can I get into trouble using them to decorate my wine bottles and then sell them? Thank you, Danielle

  12. Dave says:

    Is this applicable worldwide?? For example, creating exclusive designs using NFL logos to sell products in Mexico?? Is the U.S federal law applicable to Mexico??

    • Small Business News Editor says:

      Thanks, that’s an interesting question. As it turns out Mexico and the United States have a treaty which allows companies to file and international Trademark with the World Intellectual Protical Organization. Also since the NFL has been trying to bring the game to Mexico, I would assume they have protected their trademarks in Mexico. Per your question, If it’s made in Mexico and sold in Mexico I think Mexican Law would probably prevent you from using NFL trademarks. If you plan to import into the US, I would think that US Law would also apply. Mexican Trademark disputes are way, way beyond our scope of knowledge.

      But generally speaking, you would have to establish that you have been using the trademark in Mexico for your own legitimate purposes through the Mexican court system. A situation come to mind with the company that owns Budweiser which lost the right to use the name Budweiser in of all places Germany. See WSJ article http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123801865666341507 But that was a big legal battle.

  13. Guru says:

    What if I have a sports portal website and want to use the logos for the site and app? The site and app will hopefully generate money through advertisement but nothing that has to do with the logos themselves.

  14. sansa says:

    Would making socks with nfl colors be a infringement of any kind ?

    • Small Business News Editor says:

      I am not sure if they can trademark a color such as yellow. Of course if you say that these are official team x socks, well that might be an issue.

  15. Stacy Edgar says:

    This question does not apply to selling merchandise but what if my company buys legit/legal MLB merchandise for a company outing to a baseball game. Can we legally embroider or screen print our company logo on the shirts?

  16. Kyle VanDuser says:

    What if I were to print the logos on my own household items (i.e. wall or table). By not producing a marketable or profitable product, would there be a case for a lawsuit against me? Do trademarks reach across all products created or only those for sale?

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