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Using Clip Art on Resale Products

Additional or extended clip art usage rights often required

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One of the most common copyright questions that designers ask is a variation on "Can I use the clip art in this package to make greeting cards or t-shirts for sale?" Unfortunately, the answer is usually no. Or, at least it is no, unless you obtain additional usage rights (more money) from the publisher in order to use their clip art on resale products. There are exceptions.

The products and excerpts from terms of usage were current at time of original publication of this article (2003) and periodically updated; however, products may or may not exist in the future and terms of usage are subject to change. Refer to the current terms of usage for any products you are contemplating using.

Most companies have a few standard restrictions on the use of their clip art. Some of the most common found in their End User License Agreements are:

  • No resell or sharing. This means you can't just package up some of the clip art from the CD you bought and sell it or give it away to others.

  • No obscene graphics. Most clip art publishers prohibit the use of their images to create pornographic, scandalous, or defamatory works.

  • No use of famous people for commercial purposes. To use images of Marilyn Monroe or John Belushi, for example, for profit usually requires specific permission from that person or their estate.

Normally, the use of clip art images in ads, brochures, and newsletters is covered in the license agreement. However, some companies do impose certain limits. For example, ClipArt.com states that the user is not permitted to "...use any of the Content for any commercial purposes in excess of 100,000 printed copies without explicit written permission."

Resale Licensing

But it is the resale of images incorporated onto greeting cards, t-shirts, and mugs that causes the most concern for designers. This type of use is normally not part of the standard terms of usage. However, some companies will sell additional licensing that allows the use of their images on resale products.

A Bit Better Corporation sells an extended usage license, based on quantity, that "Allows inclusion of images in publications for resale only if the images are decorative in nature and not the primary value or purpose of the production."

Nova Development produces a popular clip art package, its Art Explosion line. It is unclear just from reading the End User License Agreement whether use on resale produces is an allowed use. I would consult the company and/or an attorney before attempting any use not explicitly spelled out in their EULA: "You may use the clip art and all other content (“Content”) included in the Software only to create presentations, publications, pages for the World Wide Web and Intranets, and products (collectively, “Works”). You may not use the Content for any other purpose whatsoever." Do "products" include things like calendars, t-shirts, and coffee mugs for resale? It's not clear to me. I'd err on the side of caution and avoid such use.

There are a few companies with liberal usage terms. For example, Dream Maker Software allows use of their clip art on a multitude of items for personal use or commercial resale including candy wrappers, t-shirts, coffee cups, and mouse pads. They even state "If someone creates printed cards using Cliptures graphics and then sells or gives those cards to a third party. That third party will use the cards up and hopefully like them so much that they will come back to our customer (you) and get you to sell (or give) them some more." However, they do impose limits on use of their images on Web pages, rubber stamps, and in templates whether you give them away for free or sell them.

Unfortunately, not all companies make it easy to discern whether or not resale use is allowed or how special licensing can be arranged. You'll need to carefully read the EULA, search the Web site, and if still in doubt, contact the publisher with your questions and concerns. Any commercial use of clip art, including using clip art on resale products, should always begin with a careful reading of the clip art license agreement.

Clip Art for Use on Resale Products

The licenses for these clip art packages appear to allow use on products for resale as long as that use doesn't violate other stipulations in the licensing. Read carefully. Look for similar wording on other clip art packages if you are seeking to use their images for resale purposes.
  • ValueClips Clip Art License Agreement states under section 4, Permitted Uses: "Products intended for resale, provided these products are not intended to allow the re-distribution or re-use of the Product"

  • JupiterImages Royalty Free License Agreement states under Permitted Uses: "Use the Image(s) on product packaging or in any items for personal use or resale, including book covers, calendars, consumer merchandise (T-shirts, posters, art, etc.), except in computer software and electronic video and computer games, which require a separate license (see Section F(IX) below), provided such use is not intended to allow the re-distribution, re-use of the Image(s) or access to the Image(s) apart from a product or service apart from a product or service."

  • Victorian Clip Art has a license for professional use that states, in part, "You are permitted to use the image for any of the following under this license; Items offered for sale, such as calendar's, greeting cards, books, CD or DVD covers, posters, mugs, calendars, T shirts, etc."

  • T-Shirt Clip Art lists and describes numerous sources of images for use on t-shirts. In many cases they let you know if any special licensing is needed or not.

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