The Best Ways to Avoid Copyright Infringement for Screen Printing Artwork  |

Designs for screen printing come from all places of creativity. Whether you’re inventing new designs with just your imagination, using AI to create art, or crafting designs from vector packs, it’s always good to make sure you’re not violating the copyrights of someone else. Although creating original work makes it difficult to infringe on copyright, it’s still best to know how to avoid copyright infringement so you can keep designing awesome artwork in peace.

a front and back view of a t-shirt with a print that says death before decaf


According to Forbes, “Copyright infringement occurs when the violating party exercises any of the creator’s exclusive rights to the work without permission.” 

Infringement can happen even if you’re not seeking monetary gain. Say you’re simply printing t-shirts for a family Disney trip. Those shirts still count as copyright infringement unless you get Disney’s permission to use their copyrighted artwork. 

There is a bright spot. According to Forbes, “Any argument against copyright infringement is usually considered stronger without a profit motive.” So if you’re only printing shirts for a family reunion or trip — and you don’t intend to sell them — you’re more likely to get off the hook. 

Examples of copyright infringement include illegally downloading music files, modifying & reproducing someone else’s work without significant changes, or selling merchandise that includes copyrighted images, text, or logos. 

Remember when you used to burn CDs or download music from bootleg sites? Copyright infringement. Printing the Coca-Cola logo on some sweatshirts without changing the design significantly is another example of copyright infringement. 

a vector pack of line art skulls


It might seem like you can’t avoid copying someone’s work, even if you don’t mean to. So how do you avoid copyright infringement? Here are a few ways to do it.


It might seem like nothing is new these days. Recording artists are taking each other to court over a few notes in a song, and it might seem like every piece of art has ties to something else. The best rule of thumb when it comes to avoiding copyright infringement is to make sure the artwork you create comes from your brain.

Pulling from others’ work as inspiration works too, but it’s important to make sure your artwork mostly comes from you. Remember in school when your teachers told you not to plagiarize, but told you that if you wrote from your own brain it probably wouldn’t be plagiarized? The same thing applies. As long as you use your imagination, chances are you’ll be in the clear.


Digital packs are a great way to create artwork that won’t become a copyright issue. When you purchase a digital pack, the license on the pack gives you the right to use it. This is called a Creative Commons license. The copyright owner can stipulate the terms of this agreement. Digital packs have Creative Commons licenses. Say you want to use the Support Local Music Vector Pack to print some band merch. Scrolling through the product page, you’ll come across the Creative Commons License, which reads:

“Unlimited personal and commercial use of this graphic is allowed. You may not distribute the digital graphic to another party or modify the digital graphic for distribution (either for free or for monetary gain).”

That means if you buy the pack, you have the right to use it for whatever you’d like. But you cannot give the actual digital files to others.


a stack of tote bags that say support your local businesses sitting on a platen


If someone copies your idea that has been copyrighted, you can crack down on them for it. But what if you accidentally copy someone’s original work? You may not have meant to, or even know you were doing it. 

According to Revision Legal, Some of the most common circumstances, when accidental/innocent copyright infringement happens are when a person is unaware of copyright law, believes that their original work doesn’t fall under that law, or misunderstands the license granted by the owner. Copyright owners tend to be pretty protective of their rights — think about Disney or Starbucks — and sometimes send cease and desist letters before investigating whether the copyright infringement was actually infringement.

“Copyright owners know that the law favors them and, if they prevail in their copyright infringement litigation, the infringer will be ordered to pay substantial monetary damages. $150,000 in statutory damages can be awarded PER infringement and the infringer can be required to pay the copyright owner’s attorney’s fees and court costs. So, a person can end up facing copyright infringement litigation long before the person can demonstrate that the infringement was accidental and/or innocent,” Revision Legal said. 

Infringing on copyrights is no small act. If you’re using artwork that didn’t come from your brain, make sure you can use it in the way you want to. Accidental infringement can happen though. Say you create a design, draw it out, and screen print it. A few days later, you get a cease and desist letter from someone claiming you infringed on their copyrights. You didn’t even know this person or artwork existed. 

According to Patterson Thuente Law, “In innocent infringement cases, the courts can reduce an award to $200. This is a much smaller amount than the courts can order infringing parties to pay when they intentionally or accidentally use protected work.” 

a mechanical skull


In today’s world of emerging Artificial Intelligence, everyone in the creative industry is wondering what happens next. If art is created by AI, who owns it? The answer: the individual whose idea the artwork was owns the copyrights. 

Let’s break this down. Say you have a great art idea and want to use AI to make it come to life. You prompt the AI to generate the art, and then select the option you want to use. That artwork is yours. It does not belong to the AI. Since the art was your idea, the copyrights belong to you.

However, when submitting an AI-generated work for copyrighting, you need to disclose that information. According to, “Applicants have a duty to disclose the inclusion of AI-generated content in works submitted for registration.”


It’s important to note that as long as your artwork is original to you, it likely won’t face copyright issues. Copyrighting your own artwork is always a good idea to protect it from others’ infringement. Make sure you know which artwork can be used in a Creative Commons License or Public Domain, and do your research to keep your amazing designs in the clear.



The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, the field of copyright law is complex and can vary by jurisdiction. Therefore, it is essential to consult with a qualified legal professional or attorney for personalized legal guidance tailored to your specific situation. Reading this blog does not establish an attorney-client relationship, and the author and publisher are not responsible for any actions taken based on the information presented herein. Laws and regulations may change over time, and individual circumstances can greatly impact legal outcomes. Always seek the counsel of a licensed attorney for legal advice and assistance related to copyright infringement or any legal matter.