When licensing clothing, you actually are likely to come up against both copyrights and trademarks. As a refresher, a copyright grants the exclusive right to make copies of creative works that have been captured in a tangible form. A trademark, on the other hand, is a symbol or phrase used to brand a product or service. So if you are looking to place a line from The Notebook on a t-shirt, you are going to need copyright clearance. If you want to place the Nike swoosh on a t-shirt, you will need trademark clearance. If you want to use the Mickey Mouse ears, that represent the Disney brand? You might need both. Things can get confusing.
If you do not license the right to use copyrights or trademarks from the owner, you can expect to at least get a cease and desist letter, once they have gotten wind of what you are doing. If the owner of the copyright or trademark decides to pursue the infringement claims further, or you do not cease and desist when asked, you can be forced to stop production, payback licensing, and even pay fines, depending on how egregious the infringement was.
At the end of the day, it’s just easier to work out a licensing arrangement with the rights holder.
If you’re looking for more information on specific licenses, you could visit, the headquarters of LIMA, the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association. They have a wealth of resources about licensing on apparel.
And, once you’ve decided you would like to go ahead with licensing, please don’t hesitate to visit us at, where you can schedule a free initial consultation w/ an experienced licensing lawyer. Hope this helps.