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Question: Can I sell t-shirts of a design using characters of a well known brand of camera by not actually spelling out the name?

I created a typographic design by arranging letters of a famous brand name of cameras into an image of a camera using a common font (different from the camera’s brand). I’m hoping to sell it as t-shirts but I’m concerned about copyright issues. If the arrangement of letters don’t actually spell out the name of the camera directly and are randomly placed with punctuation characters, am I still at risk of being sued?

Answer: The well-known brand name is presumably the subject of a trademark registration. If the brand name is famous, then your re-arrangement of letters might still create potential dilution liability for you.

Even if the brand name is not famous, then the question becomes why do you need to use the brand name letters, even if re-arranged, if you are not trying to trade off the goodwill of the brand name? Whether trademark infringement exists depends on whether there is a likelihood of confusion which, in turn, depends on the consideration of a number of factors, not simply whether the trademarks at issue look identical. Nevertheless, if a consumer can still identify the brand name with your re-arrangement of letters, I think you are more on the side of infringement rather than non-infringement.

 

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