I’ve created a ton of content about how to design, produce, sell and ship enamel pins, but BY FAR the number one topic I get questions about is copyright infringement.
It is fairly well known that there is a lot of copyright infringement within the enamel pin community. More often than not, it usually happens in one of these four ways:
- Big brands and retailers rip-off designs from small indie designers.
- Small, independent pin-makers make and sell pins about pop-culture references they don’t own the rights to (there are over 6000 posts in the #simpsonspins hashtag on Instagram and I’m pretty sure none of them own the rights to make pins about The Simpsons)
- Small pin makers & designers copy or are “inspired” by the work of other small pin makers & designers.
To try and provide some clarity on the subject, I’m creating this blog post to compile the most frequently asked questions as well as some of the answers I’ve dug up or learned about through my career as a pin maker (that’s the first time I write “career as a pin makers” and it’s kinda weird/cool...)
So, without further ado, here are some the most frequently asked questions regarding copyright infringement in the enamel pin industry:
Please note - I am not a copyright lawyer or an expert on the subject! When I answer these questions, I only speak from experience, so if you have some helpful insight or have any other questions about the topic, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll do my best to update this blog post as often as I can to provide the most accurate information possible.
How can I safely and legally create and sell pop-culture-reference pins that I don’t own the rights to?
You cannot safely and/or legally create and sell pop-culture-reference pins that you don’t own the rights to. Period. To be able to legally sell pins of copyrighted material, you need to get a licensing agreement from the original copyright owner. The best way to do that is to figure out who owns the copyright (just Google “who owns the copyright of XX” or use your researching skills), get in contact with that person, and negotiate a licensing agreement. You can learn more about the subtleties of licensing that here.
If you want to avoid worrying about copyright infringement at all, create pins about original artwork or content that you own.
How do so many pin makers get away with creating and selling pop-culture-reference pins they don’t own the rights to?
Most pin makers, like me, who create and sell pop-culture-reference pins that we don’t own the rights to are infringing on someone’s copyright and we are at risk of receiving a cease and desist or getting sued by the copyright owners. There’s no way around that.
The reason why I and many other pin makers get away with it is simply that we haven’t gotten caught, yet. The larger the number of pin makers that infringe on copyright and the more money that is made from the practice, the more copyright owners are incentivized hunt down and shut down the infringers. Social media and selling platforms like Instagram and Etsy are also now developing better technology to identify copyright infringing content and taking the steps to stop it (because it’s illegal).
For example, I recently got all of my Simpsons-related posts taken down from Instagram (even if I didn’t make or sell them) as well as got my Etsy page permanently banned for being flagged for copyright infringement more than 3 times. When this happens, I lose money and increase the risk of being sued. If you sell copyright infringement pins you run the same risk too.
Are mashup pins still considered copyright infringement?
There is a gray area when it comes to mashups & copyright. Some mashups can be considered a Parody, which is technically legal, but practically speaking, you are also at risk of receiving a cease and desist, getting your content taken down by social media/selling platforms, and even getting sued by the copyright owners whose work is included in the mashup, no matter how much of a Parody you consider your pin to be. Deciding what a Parody is and isn’t, isn’t really up to you. It can only be decided in the court of law and you will need lawyers for that.
Should I buy pins from Alibaba and sell them on Shopify?
Nope, you really shouldn’t. Drop shipping through Shopify is more popular than ever, and it can be a great way to make money, but when it comes to doing it for enamel pins, you are more likely than not buying pins that a Chinese factory ripped off from a small independent designer. Not only is that just lame and not to be supported (put yourself in the shoes of the small independent designer that is being ripped off), but if you’re promoting those Alibaba-bought pins on Instagram you’ll likely be spotted by someone in the pin community and reported for selling fakes. I’ve seen that happen several times so I would recommend that you don’t even waste your time trying to figure this out. If money is what you want, there's a bunch of other ways of doing that online.
How do I make sure my designs aren’t copied?
This one is tricky. Not only is getting your work copyrighted a time-consuming and expensive endeavor, but it’s also very hard to control and enforce. In my case, I don’t even bother copyrighting my original pins because 1) I don’t make enough money from one design to even make it worthwhile to protect, 2) it would make my business unnecessarily more complicated 3) no one actually copies me. This will be the case for most amateur pin makers like me. If, on the other hand, you are an incredible artist that people want to copy and that is making a lot of money from each design, it might be worthwhile to look into copyrighting your work. You can read more about that here.
How do I avoid copying other small pin makers?
The best way to avoid copying other small pin makers is to do your research and familiarize yourself with the breadth and depth of designs within the pin community. You can start by scrolling through pin reposters on Instagram, like me (I’ve posted over 10,000 pin designs since I started back in 2014), and looking through the most popular hashtags like #pingame or #enamelpins. Not only will this help you avoid copying other pin makers out there, but it’ll also give you a better idea of the designs that already exist so you can make something different. The only way to survive in an ever-more saturated pin community is to create high quality, original, work that pin collectors don't already have.
Aaaannndddd, that’s it! So far, those are the questions I’ve gotten the most often but please email or DM me on Instagram to keep them coming. I hope to make this a helpful article for as many pin makers as possible.
Also, If you want to learn more about the topic, I recommend you check out this great article about what designers need to know about copyright law.
Thanks so much for reading this. If you found it helpful, please share it with your friends! It'll help more people see it.
Also, if you're interested in building a better enamel pin business, you can check out these articles as well :)
- How to design and mock up enamel pins.
- The best enamel pin factories and how to work with them.
In case you're wondering about the selling part, here are a few essential articles that will help you understand what you need to do to sell them on Instagram (or you can also sign up for my Instagram class where I teach people how to grow their small business on the platform):
Start by first understanding how to grow your Instagram without buying followers. Then, you can tackle the following:
That should give you a good place to start, but if you need more help, always feel free to DM me on Instagram @pinlord. I want to know which pin-business questions you want answers to!