An Open Letter to Bookish Merch Sellers

Today I wanted to talk about something super important and that I find very relevant to the current book community, and that is copyright laws & the art you are selling.

I’m not that familiar with what leads people to opening shops, but I feel like a lot of the time, bookish merch sellers aren’t completely familiar with copyright laws involving the graphics, fonts, etc. that they are using.

In this post, I’m not even going to dive into the whole trashfire that is selling specific-book-themed merchandise because you’re technically not supposed to profit off of other’s work. (At least, this is to my understanding that you’re technically not supposed to sell fanart. I think Maggie Stiefvater wrote a Twitter thread on this.) But because the book community is nice and authors love their fans and fan arts, they and their publishers don’t stop people from profiting off specific-book-themed merch. (Obviously if an author explicitly says don’t sell fanart, then don’t do it.)

And right off the bat, I’m begging you to please share this post because this is something that is so so so important–I feel like a lot of bookish merch sellers aren’t aware of just how deep copyright goes–even with the fonts that are on their art print.

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I guess the first thing we have to establish is what types of things are copyrighted?

Artists (font designers, graphic makers, photographers, etc.) who make the elements you use to create your bookish merch usually have ownership to their piece of art & let you buy different types of licenses. The art they have ownership over can range from things like fonts to photographs to graphics and anything else you can think of.

And when they copyright their art, it lets them give out these licenses. Licenses can vary from artist to artist and with which website you buy the art from.

There are personal-use licenses meaning you can use it for your own purposes–making fun quote art that you’re NOT selling and for anything that you don’t profit off of, basically.

This can get blurry very quickly with things like promotional graphics to help sell stuff or if you monetize your blog. Because using it on a promotional graphic for your bookish merch–that’s like using it on an ad. And you have to buy a different license to use it on an ad.

Because off this, I personally suggest straying away from using free for personal use art pieces on anything that’s even indirectly associated with money. Or alternatively, you could go and purchase a license that lets you use the art commercially.

But these licenses aren’t so cut and dry either. Because they can vary–some are limited by quantity, some are limited by what you’re using it on–and they all have different regulations.

For example, those packs of graphics or fonts etc. that you download from Creative Market only have a standard Creative Market license. This means, you can only use it on 500 copies commercially. If you sell 501 copies? You’re breaking the law, hun.

You can buy an extended Creative Market license instead (more expensive), or buy multiple standard licenses with each 500 you sell.

On other websites, the standard license might not be for 500 copies. The standard license might just be free for personal use, like dafont.com’s fonts are. (Some say free for commercial use, but most are personal only, which is why you should read the license).

So my point is, when you use these elements that you find online conveniently for free, it’s usually not actually free. You don’t get free reign to do whatever you want with these things. There are limits and regulations.

Meaning, when you slap these elements on your mug/throw pillow/bookmark/art print to sell on Society6 or Redbubble or any other place, there’s a chance that you’re breaking copyright laws because you didn’t read the license properly.

Please be aware of the regulations of the license you own to a specific graphic/font/etc, because when you break the copyright law, you are actively hurting the artist.

These things aren’t easy to make–I once tried making a font and I got less than 1/4 of the way through before giving up. These people pour hours of time into that watercolor graphic that you’re stealing to slap onto a mug and sell for $19.99.

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I have a little story to tell about a commission I was making.

A few months ago, I was developing a book cover for someone and I picked a http://dafont.com font for the title on the mockup. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t breaking the copyright laws (the limits to the license are sometimes unclear on dafont), so I reached out to the artist and emailed him about if I could use his font on the commission he was making.

He told me to make a 50£ donation through PayPal to use the font as this was the price to use it commercially for an unlimited number of quantities. My client wasn’t willing to pay this, and I respected that.

I could have used the font anyways because I had downloaded it under free for personal use & had access to all the elements needed, but I respected the artist’s rights and found a different font to use.

This is just one example of how you should always be aware of what license you own, because if I had used the font illegally, I would have been hurting the artist who put time and effort into developing that gorgeous font.

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Something else I wanted to talk about is common places for easy to access fonts/graphics/etc. that usually don’t give you commercial license to use the font.

 

This applies to things like graphics you download on promos, things you find online, and basically any element that is going to making the item you’re selling.

Websites like PicMonkey or Canva pay for a special type of license for you to use the font or graphic on the images you make, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they paid for you to use that font or graphic commercially.

You should always ask if the license they paid for allows you to use that element commercially.

Other websites to make sure you read the license for are dafont.com and Creative Market.

I always get nervous seeing recognizable dafont.com script fonts (things like Bromello or Magnolia Sky or October Twilight) or graphics from places like Creative Market (like those unicorns) because it makes me wonder if the seller went through the proper means to acquire said font or graphic.

It’s for things like the Six of Crows title font–that font costs around $80 to use commercially, but I see people placing it on bookmarks. Did that small business really pay to use the font legally?

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With all of this being said, what can you do?

For small businesses and bookish merch sellers & makers, what you can do is to obtain the proper licensing for the graphics you’re using. And if you buy an item from another shop, make sure that they bought the proper license for all the graphic elements.

These things can range from the font used on a bath bomb to the background used on a candle label.

For consumers, what you can do is to ask the businesses you are buying from whether or not they obtained the proper license. And you can support businesses that do obtain proper licenses.

The moral of this post is that asking never hurt anyone. When in doubt, ask if someone obtained the right copyright, because it’s better for everyone in the long run.

much love, vicky

How do you feel about bookish merch sellers & whether they follow the proper copyright laws? Let me know if you have any questions!

 

6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Bookish Merch Sellers

    1. YES! These take so much more time than people think, and stealing this type of art, no matter how “raw” it may seem, can be very harmful for the people behind it :/

      Like

  1. Thank you for this post! I have actually been thinking about opening a little Etsy shop with bookmarks and stuff for a while. I was just never (not even now) sure of the legal aspects. I know that the fonts I use are all legal for commercial use (I double checked with the creators) and all images/photos I’m using are made by me. The thing that worries me the most is the quote aspect, though. I really can’t imagine it to be legally okay to use quotes from other people and make money off of that 🤷🏼‍♀️But then again there are so many business doing it (some with ten thousands of followers). I’m just really confused whether I should just put my bookmarks for sale (and keep my fingers crossed) or stick to original art completely… sorry for the rant, just had to get this out 😅

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well…..you’re technically not supposed to. But publishers and authors let it slide (that’s literally the entire book box market) so you’re probably not going to get arrested for doing so, but it might be helpful to shoot an email to the author or lit agent or publisher?

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