Things to watch out for with print-on-demand services
June 23, 2008 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Are print-on-demand on-line shops really going to steal my precious artwork?

I'm asking this for a friend, who is thinking of starting a shop on cafepress or a similar service, selling items based on his designs.

It seems there is some vague rumour floating around, even mentioned here on AskMe, that one could lose ownership of the images used, or transfer a perpetual right-to-use to the company providing the printing services by agreeing to the Terms of Service. However, googling around hasn't led to any definite information.

Does anyone have any specific example of this happening, or any other negative experiences in this direction?

I realise you are not my lawyer, or my artistic friend's lawyer. Thanks for any relevant information.
posted by ghost of a past number to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'll try to get some time today to be more helpful on this, but have either of you considered reading whatever company's terms of service yourselves? I do know that there is a concept in law that unintelligible contracts are not enforceable, so the company may be willing to help you understand what you're reading if you come up with any specific questions. That said, there are a lot of fairly established people using these services, so you'd probably be able to more easily find a horror story or two by now if the kind of behavior you describe was truly pervasive.

Additionally, and I don't mean anything personal by this, but I think there is a simple fact that most designs are not worth stealing.
posted by rhizome at 12:08 PM on June 23, 2008

My suggestion is the read the service agreement carefully, as you should whenever uploading your original work to any website / competition / service. I've used Zazzle, not CafePress, and have no experiences with them trying to steal my photos or claim my copyrights.
posted by geeky at 12:14 PM on June 23, 2008

Here's the relevant excerpt from Cafe Press's terms of service:

4.3 Licensing Your Content to You will retain ownership of the Content that you upload to the Website. You hereby grant to a royalty-free, worldwide, transferable, nonexclusive, right and license to use such Content, in all media existing now or created in the future, as deems necessary to enable you to use the Create & Buy Service to create, produce and purchase Products. may sublicense the rights that you grant it in this Section to a third party subcontractor only for purposes of providing the Service, processing your order, and producing and shipping your Products.

No, you don't lose ownership rights.

Yes, you do give Cafe Press an everlasting license to use your artwork, for the purposes of letting you use their service to produce, buy and sell things with your artwork on it. If Cafe Press outsources the production of the products you're selling (and they do), the license will temporarily extend to their provider.

It would be rather difficult to get someone to print a T-Shirt, if you won't give them the license to feed your artwork into the T-Shirt printing machine.
posted by toxic at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your answers - looks like there's no basis to this after all.

Using the word "everlasting" to describe the lisence is a little confusing though, I would guess the user can retract the license at any time by closing the store, right?
posted by ghost of a past number at 10:31 AM on June 24, 2008

I would guess the user can retract the license at any time by closing the store, right?

Well, no. But that's covered by another part of the TOS. Do your homework.

But, in practice, because you're granting them a license for an explicit purpose: having them provide services to you, when you stop having them provide those services (by closing the store), they'll no longer use the license (and they won't really use the artwork for any other purpose). They will technically still have the license to use your work as they see fit, as long as it's for the purposes of providing services to you.

One reason for the long-term nature of the license: the backup tapes. You want your vendor to keep backups of your artwork. If licenses were easily terminated by the user, the vendor would be required to destroy all copies of no-longer-licensed artwork, even the stuff in archival storage. This would involve substantial ongoing work and expense for no commercial gain.

Your artwork isn't worth nearly as much as you seem to think it is. If Cafe Press (or the like) were to "steal" it, they would lose much more in goodwill than they could possibly earn through dubious use of your art. Even if the license did allow them to get away with it, why would they want to? The marketplace would punish them for it, soundly.

The sort of license that you're granting them, even with its perpetual lifetime, is not nefarious in any way, nor is it especially unusual. If it is philosophically at-odds with the way you want to run your business, then you're going to have a difficult time outsourcing any sort of promotional goods production.
posted by toxic at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

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