Are slogans copyrighted?

Last updated on: February 14, 2020
I saw a slogan on a t-shirt that I liked and want to know if I can copy it exactly and place it on a t-shirt and sell it.
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A slogan can be trademarked and you would be in violation of the trademark which can be very expensive.   


Greg Freeze is an Olympic Peninsula Attorney. As an attorney in Port Townsend, I specialize in being a general practitioner, operating with the motto, `small town law -- all issues welcome.`

Be careful whose t-shirt you are copying.  If you are dealing with a slogan related to a major sports team, you might find yourself facing trademark counterfeiting charges as in State v. Christley, 2009 Ohio 6635 (Ohio App. 12-17-2009), 2009 Ohio 6635 (Ohio App., 2009).  There, the defendant appealed a confiction for trademark counterfeiting in association with t-shirts emblazened with the slogan, "IT'S TRIBE TIME NOW."  One would do well to find out if the slogan is trademarked.  The defendant won on appeal, but why take the ride?

I suggested to watch out for major sports teams.  In Packman v. Chicago Tribune Co., 267 F.3d 628 (7th Cir., 2001), one can enjoy the Chicago Tribune defending a trademark infringement claim where the trademark holder is the little guy.  The little guy lost.  It's good reading nonetheless.

Your exact question was about copyright infringement.  Sure enough, you can find case law on the topic.  Check out Matthews v. Freedman, 157 F.3d 25 (C.A.1 (Mass.), 1998), for a slogan infringement case.

As always, check with an attorney for a real opinion on the topic.  Information found in an internet posting are too brief to constitute a legal opinion.  Use the information here as a starting point for discussing the topic with a reputable attorney.


Tom is the managing partner of Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver. His practice focuses on complex civil litigation, mediation and arbitration in the areas of patent, copyright, trademark & commercial.

Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks.  Trademark protection for slogans is difficult and depends on whether or not the slogan is being used in the same manner as the mark i.e. if it is being used to identify the source of the goods or services or if it is merely “informational” or “generic” or “laudatory” and thus not capable of distinguishing this particular product or service from that of another.