Confused By Copyright Rules

I freelance, but I’m still green in some areas and Copyright is one of them. I know about using/purchasing stock and all that, I have accounts on all the stock sites, but I created a design, which resulted in some issues.The design had some copyrighted material and here’s where I’m confused.

My design is complete vector based. I either made my own vector from an image, or I used a Photoshop brush. I was once told that a loophole with using images was that if you make a brush out of an image and create that image using a brush, it’s considered a tool and there’s technically no copyright. This could be wrong information, or maybe it doesn’t apply to certain imagery. I downloaded a brush set that doesn’t have any copyright restrictions attached to it and used that to create some of my images that are an issue. So my question is, if I create my own vector or use a brush of an image, let’s say Mickey Mouse, could that still create copyright issues?

My next question is fonts. Can words be copyrighted? Some of the issues in my design were words and I understand the issue was probably related to the LOOK of the words, but if I find a font (one free font I found looked similar) can I use this without any issue?

Any help would be appreciated. I haven’t had to worry about copyright before, until this project and it confuses me so much!


Creating a “brush” or tracing an image to create a vector version of the same image would be considered derivative work. This is a form of infringement. You are using the original copyrighted material to create additional material which could not have been created without the copyrighted work.

For an example of how this can get you into trouble, one merely needs to look at the Sheppard Fairey case regarding his Obama ‘Hope’ poster.

There is no such thing as “change it by X amount” and it’s no longer copyrighted. That is a myth and untrue entirely. If the original can be recognized in the derivative work, it’s an infringement.

While rules and regulations vary based on geolocation, the safest assumption to always make is that everything is copyrighted and off limits unless explicitly otherwise stated.

Realize that just because something doesn’t have a little © symbol on it or say anything about copyright, that does not mean the work is not copyrighted. Art and creative works, in general, are copyrighted the moment they are created. Your default position should be to assume that photo, poster, scan, drawing, statue, writing, logo, or whatever is copyrighted.

As for words, no they can’t be copyrighted, at least not standard words. Unique names, which have no other use, can be in some cases. It is more often commonplace to see words or phrases trademarked which is different than a copyright. See Trademark vs Copyright. Trademarks are about preventing confusion within a particular industry and not about intellectual property (copyright).

See Also:

Is vectorizing an image copyright theft if the image is not CC/Public domain?

Is it copyright infringement by US copyright law if someone else modifies and uses my design?

Can I use the image of a copyrighted character in my commercial design?

How much do i need to change a vector image to make it my own

Graphic Design Copyrights

Copyright ownership: paid by hour vs. paid by project

Copyright on free work

Source : Link , Question Author : GD_Freelance , Answer Author : Scott

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