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Licensed Fabric

Last Updated August 11. 2013

We have located two federal courts cases concerning the use of fabric to make items to sell:

In Precious Moments vs La Infantil, 1997, the federal court invoked the first sale doctrine in denying Precious Moments attempts to block the use of its licensed fabrics to make bedding for sale. The 1st Circuit Court said making a fabric item from fabric lacked any originality so it was not copyright infringement. Since then, M&M/Mars, Disney Enterprises, Major League Baseball, United Media (Peanuts fabric), Sanrio (Hello Kitty fabrics), and Debbie Mumm, have been sued when these companies tried to block the eBay sales of items hand-crafted from their licensed fabrics. Every one of them settled rather than risk losing the issue in court.


In Scarves By Vera, Inc. v. American Handbags, Inc, 188 F. Supp. 255 - US: Dist. Court, SD New York 1960, American Handbags was using towels manufactured by Vera to make handbags for sale. On some of these handbags made with plaintiff's towels there could be seen, at the bottom, the name Vera coupled with the figure of a Scarab or Ladybug, all three of which were registered trademarks of Vera. The judge rejected Vera's copyright claims.


It should be noted that in both cases the judges required the defendants to provide disclaimers attached to the items because the items were being sold in stores. The disclaimers were to plainly disavow any relationship between the manufacturer of the item and the trademark owner. This was done so "an ordinary, intelligent purchaser" would not be misled that there was any connection. When selling on-line, a prominent, highly visible and well-placed disclaimer, such as our recommended Tabberone Disclaimer, would likely serve the same purpose and legal need as the disclaimers required by the courts. Precious Moments disclaimer court quotation and Scarves By Vera disclaimer court quotation.

Licensed fabric means the fabric is licensed by the rights owner to be manufactured and sold. It does not mean the fabric is licensed at the time it is sold. A license on the use of the fabric requires the person buying it to agree, usually in writing, to conditions on the use of the fabric before paying for the fabric. If you do not agree to the "license" before purchasing, they will sell the fabric to you anyway. In fact, no one even asks you if you agree to the license. They just sell you the fabric. Any fabric sold without a signed mutual agreement prior to the sale is not licensed and there are no provisions in the law that allow for otherwise. Any one who tells you otherwise is lying. And, under the definition of a "license", they would record your name and address, require periodic payments, and demand the fabric be returned to them when you are done with it. That just does not happen.

These pages are often criticized and described as being inaccurate. We ask our detractors to please show us their court cases that show we are wrong. Most detractors, like the Mis-Information Mavens of Etsy, run and hide rather than respond to our inquiries as to what proof they have to support. The rest never respond.

Google Scholar is an interesting law source. It is located at http://scholar.google.com/. It is a valuable reference site for legal articles and case law. It has been expanding its database year after year. Beginning August 4, 2013, we entered a variety of search criteria, including +"copyrighted fabric", looking for court cases.

We have copied the court cases with descriptions onto one page to prove our point. Only one case of the federal lawsuits dealt with using fabrics to make and sell items. Click here to read the list.


Copyright Statements on Selvage
A copyright statement as defined in the US Copyright Act is using the symbol © along with the word "copyright" (or abbreviated "Copr."), the first year of publication of the work, and the name of the copyright owner. Nothing else. Any other statement by the copyright owner is irrelevant, extraneous, unenforceable and improper. Many attorneys and company representative will attempt to "claim" that "licensed fabric" is sold for "personal use only" or that the fabric is for "non-commercial home use only". In some cases they will point to similar wording on the selvage of the fabric. There is absolutely NOTHING in state or federal law that gives a manufacturer, distributor or licensee the authority to impose such restrictions upon their product without the prior written consent of the purchaser. Any lawyer or company representative who tells you otherwise is either lying or badly informed, and suspect they are probably lying.


Court Cases On Restrictive Wording
Makers of hair care products frequently place prominent labels on their products stating "Professional Use Only - Not To Be Sold at Retail," or words to that effect. None of the numerous courts that have considered such labels has found them to prevent transfer of title. Nor do label notices create an "implied equitable servitude upon the chattel," such restraints on alienation being disfavored at common law. Clairol, Inc. v. Cody's Cosmetics, Inc., 353 Mass. 385, 393 (1967) (finding labels stating "For Professional Use" to have no legal significance). See, e.g., Tripoli Co. v. Wella Corp., 425 F.2d 932, 941 (3d Cir. 1970) (enforcement of legend on products "marked 'for professional use only' not to be sold retail" would be "a serious restriction on freedom of trade and competition"); Matrix Essentials v. Quality King Distribs., 522 F. Supp. 2d 470, 478-79 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (finding that the trademark first sale doctrine barred enforcement of "professional use only" restriction); Matrix Essentials v. Cosmetic Gallery, 870 F. Supp. 1237, 1241 (D.N.J. 1994) (refusing to enforce a legend stating "For professional use. Not for retail sale."); Polymer Tech. Corp. v. Mimran, 841 F. Supp. 523, 529-30 (S.D.N.Y. 1994) (no valid claim for unauthorized distribution despite plaintiff's "expression of intent so to restrict sales by labeling its products 'For Professional Use Only.'").


First Sale Doctrine
When someone releases fabric into the stream of commerce they effectively have relinquished control over the uses of that fabric. What we find disturbing is that there are so many people who want to believe that a pattern manufacturer or a fabric manufacturer has the right to tell you what you can and cannot do after you buy their product. It just isn't so. Imagine if General Motors tried to tell you where and when to drive a vehicle you purchased from them. Would you listen to them? Of course not!

While the pattern on the fabric may be copyrighted, the actual fabric itself is not. The pattern may include images of registered trademarks, such as the logo of the New York Yankees or a John Deere logo, etc. Licensed fabric means fabric that has been licensed by the rights owner to be manufactured and sold. It does not mean the fabric is being sold with a license. Disney licenses Springs Industries to manufacture, distribute and sell fabric that contain images of the Disney characters. That is where the term "licensed fabric" originates. For something to be sold with a license there has to be agreement between the seller and the buyer concerning the terms of the sale. Even though the selvage may make a statement that the fabric is for "non-commercial home use only", that "restriction" is not enforceable primarily because the purchaser does not have agree to the terms before purchase.

Copyright law applies to the use of licensed fabric in the application of the first sale doctrine. Bear in mind, the term "licensed fabric" legally only refers to the fact the manufacturer of the fabric has a license to use the images on the fabric. It does not mean the fabric is "licensed" to the purchaser. "Licensed" products require an agreement between the owner of the product and the potential purchaser. Fabric is not "licensed"; fabric is sold.

Judge Waterman of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, said that under the Lanham Act "one can capitalize on a market or fad created by another provided that it is not accomplished by confusing the public into mistakenly purchasing the product in the belief that the product is the product of the competitor." American Footwear Corp. v. General Footwear Co. Ltd., 609 F.2d 655, 662 (2d Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 445 U.S. 951, 100 S. Ct. 1601, 63 L. Ed. 2d 787 (1980) (finding that the manufacturer of a "Bionic Boot" did not infringe the trademark of the producers of the "Bionic Woman" television program).


Clothing Is Not Copyrightable
We have two quotes here from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals (1991 and 1995) relating to clothing and the fact that clothing is not copyrightable. So if clothing is not copyrightable, what copyright claim could the manufacturer of the fabric make against someone for making shirt out of their "licensed fabric"? Since the fabric design was not copied, nor were the images on the fabric copied, where is the infringement? Any claim it is a derivative fails on the same grounds because a derivative must be copyrightable in its own right. A claim for trademark infringement fails because the product is made from genuine material from the trademark owner.


The question is: can someone buy licensed fabric to make and sell items? Yes. Will the owners of the trademarked and copyrighted images interfere with the sales of these items? They might. They often do interfere.

But, you ask, how can they interfere with the sales of items if the law says you can do this? They interfere because they can. They interfere because they know the great majority of sellers will not fight back by taking them to court. These companies employ lawyers that we refer to as bottom feeders.

Some companies, like Hit Entertainment, have continued their interference in the secondary market by terminating eBay auctions. They try demand that once the fabric is made into an item the item has become an unlicensed product and therefore infringing. They also try to insist that there is a likelihood of confusion by potential purchasers. Baloney.

When making and selling items from licensed fabrics, we suggest you use the Tabberone Disclaimer as well as careful wording of the title.

See also Implied Licenses, also What Is A License, also Patterns, also Licensing & Licenses also End User Licensing Agreements (EULAs) also Quilting.

  • How To Use A Licensed Fabric, by eHow.com, from 2010 and posted here October 7, 2011, about licensed fabrics and your right to use them.

  • Copyrighted fabric: no selling the stuff you make from it, by Cory Doctorow, October 17, 2006, about use restrictions on licensed fabrics.

  • Restricted Fabrics: Cutting against the grain of personal property, by Wendy Seltzer, October 17, 2006, where she comments on the article by Cory Doctorow.
  • As a rule we do not link to web sites. Some web sites do link to these pages. Links to web pages are a criteria used by some search engines. These links do not constitute endorsement of these web sites or their products and are added as we locate them.
    • Art Of Tangle sells patterns and distributes free patterns. They link to these pages as part of their copyright statement.

    • Top Spot For U cites this page and links to the web site in general. Web site makes scrub tops and such.

    • Skinny Laminx cites this page. Heather Moore of Cape Town South Africa sells fabric and is very upbeat. She quotes us for having removed her "rather puny and ineffective restrictions" from her fabrics under "Do what you like!".

    • Favorite Fabrics, who quotes from the Tabberone definition of licensed fabrics.


    Earth to the United States Marine Corps:

    Does not the United States Marine Corps have a more productive way of using their legal counsel besides trolling the internet looking for non-infringing uses of perfectly legal fabrics? Is it now Semper Jerks? To serve and protect. And to harass those who are not infringing? Really? The United States Marine Corps has been added to Tabberone's Trademark and Copyright Abusers' Hall Of Shame. Click here to read more about Philip Greene's stupidity.

    Does Philip Greene, present military trademark counsel for the United States Marine Corps, have a clue or is he just another bottom-feeder seeking to look good to his present employers? He has admitted that he is unsure if Springs has permission to print and distribute fabric containing military logos. Yet he issues takedown notices to ISPs when he admits he is clueless.

    "Springs has a permission letter, but only to make and sell 4 products (tapestry products and pillows). The permission letter was issued in 2006. To my knowledge they have no license to sell USMC fabric."

    To his knowledge? His office is in the "process of contacting them". Springs has been manufacturing and distributing fabrics containing U.S. military logos for over ten years. Where has counsel for the USMC been during that time? Preparing cocktails? Why wasn't Springs contacted BEFORE the USMC counsel took harmful action against Etsy sellers? Or was that interfering with "Happy Hour"? "First Do No Harm" should apply to legal counsel for the US Government and its agencies. Perhaps our illustrious Philip Greene has mistaken the "COLD" and "REALLY COLD" color bars on Coors Beer cans as all that is needed to "pass the bar"? Because of him, the United States Marine Corps has been added to Tabberone's Trademark and Copyright Abusers' Hall Of Shame. Because he is a lying sack of s**t lawyer who is admitting he is clueless but continues to play the "bull in the China shop" role because he can. He is deliberately harming legitimate sellers while admitting he lacks comprehensive information that as a lawyer he is required to have before taking such action. Philip J. Greene, you redefine pathetic, you are disgusting. But then, you appear to lack the skills to work for a law firm therefore you are a government hack with government immunity who stomps on the rights of lawful citizens.

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    A Cup Of Joe For A Joe
    by Green Beans Coffee Company
    Karen and Mike, also known to you as Tabberone, have been actively participating in various troop support programs for a number of years. An important one we have discovered and supported is one run by the Green Beans Coffee Company of Larkspur, California. The Green Beans Coffee Company runs coffee houses in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East and at other US military bases around the world. Your donations are converted into email chits that are randomly given to military personal who are based near these coffee houses. You are then sent an email by Green Beans Coffee telling at what location your donation(s) was distributed. The military recipient of your donation is also given the opportunity to email you a thank you with a message, which many of them do.

    Modern military deployment has changed very much since WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Back then there was no internet or cell phones. A soldier very rarely could call home or even go home on leave. But modern deployment does not alter the dangers they face. Green Beans Coffee is one of the little pleasures they can enjoy. Any donation makes a service man or service woman smile. We contribute every month.

    More information is available at http://www.greenbeanscoffee.com/coj/index.php
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