The answer to both your questions is "No....but..."
I'll explain in a moment. But first, please be mindful of the
disclaimer at the bottom of the page, here. I am not a legal
professional, and Google Answers is no substitute for competent
That said, a copyrighted image belongs to the copyright-holder and no
one else. Virtually any reproduction and use of the image technically
requires the permission of the copyright-holder.
As the US Copyright Office itself puts it:
WHAT IS COPYRIGHT?
...Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of
copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the
...To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
...To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
...To display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary,
musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial,
graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a
motion picture or other audiovisual work...
As they say, the copyright owner has the "exclusive" right to the
image in most cases. This most likely would pertain to your T-shirt
In actual practice, commercial violations of copyright are taken much
more seriously than a limited and non-commercial reproduction, such as
the one you are proposing. It seems unlikely that a copyright-holder
would (a) become aware of your t-shirt or (b) pursue a case against
HOWEVER, they certainly could, if they so choose. It's unlikely that
a case like this would ever go to court, but if it did, then the
courts may uphold the copyright holder, OR may decide that the
'violation' was so trivial that no damage was done OR EVEN that the
use consititues 'fair use' and doesn't really violate copyright at
But I'm guessing you'd rather not go down this path to find out for sure.
Making use of a well-known image like a cartoon character gets into
issues of both copyright as well as trademark and perhaps even other
forms of legal protection.
But the basics still apply -- the image doesn't belong to you, so you
use it at your own risk. However, a non-commercial use of an image is
far less likely to engender action than a commercial product that is
using a protected image.
I hope that gives you the information you need. However, please don't
rate this answer until you are fully satisfied with the information
you've received. If there's anything else I can do for you, just let
me know by posting a Request for Clarification, and I'm at your
search strategy -- Used bookmarked sites and my own knowledge of this area.
Clarification of Answer by
16 Aug 2005 11:24 PDT
I think the key word here is "technically"!
Many laws have a "de minimis" provision to keep from dealing with
trivial matters that might otherwise be construed as violations. For
instance, it is illegal to steal things from the company you work for.
But an occasional personal phone call -- even though it costs the
company money -- would probably be regarded as de minimis, and not an
As for drawing Mickey Mouse (or for that matter, even writing the
phrase "Mickey Mouse"), there is no clear-cut de minimis in
intellectual property law that I know of. So Yes, technically
speaking, Disney has a legitimate claim to a hand-drawn image of our
In practice, I doubt that any court would want to deal with such a
trifling matter, and would probably through out any complaint made.
In general, a copyright or trademark holder has to show that they've
actually been damaged by an unauthorized use in order to be taken
seriously in the courts.
However, just where the dividing line lies between a trifling use and
an actual infringement -- who knows?
Does that clear things up?