What is truly unique? Sound advice for ensuring your work is original

“Something to Say” Minted art print by Sara Hicks Malone

Written by Kelly Hird

In an age of constant exposure to art and design, inspiration is everywhere. Experimenting with new styles and techniques is a great way to keep your designs fresh, but it’s important to distinguish between inspiration and imitation. Whether you’re a writer, designer, or photographer, you’ve likely had questions about copyright at some point. In addition to being respectful of others’ work, it’s important to understand originality and copyright guidelines to avoid legal issues. Although we’re unable to provide personal legal advice, this article will give you a brief overview to help empower you to do your own investigating moving forward.

Since Minted holds the exclusive license to challenge-winning Fine Art work, and the rights to all submissions during the 90-day Trial Period, we protect your work on your behalf. Minted is all about surfacing fresh, unique artwork, and the creativity and innovation within our artist community is what makes Minted great. We have utmost respect for creative integrity and take issues of copyright and infringement very seriously. If you ever see an artist’s work being used improperly, please use the Designs to Flag for Review form to let us know so that we can take appropriate action.

One of the things that makes Minted so special is our incredibly welcoming and supportive artist community. It’s important to us that the community is a safe place for artists to learn, experiment, and grow—and sometimes mistakes happen. With this in mind, we ask that you contact the Minted Artist Relations team to share your concerns instead of contacting other artists directly. This approach helps to foster the supportive nature of the community and avoid direct conflicts between artists.

Design review process

Minted has an internal review team that evaluates all designs flagged as potentially being too similar to or infringing on other work. This includes both submissions and products on minted.com, and work sold outside of Minted. All designs and pieces of art submitted through the Designs to Flag for Review form are evaluated by our internal review team to determine whether they are too similar or constitute infringement. All flagged designs are reviewed according to Minted’s policies and from a legal perspective. This internal review process ensures that all work is evaluated consistently and fairly.

While we’re unable to share visual examples of flagged designs, we can describe situations that have arisen, and the review team’s decisions on each.

Situation 1: During the submission period of a Minted Birthday Party Invitation Design Challenge, an artist identified a design submission that was remarkably similar to her own. The illustrated elements of the submission in question were extremely similar in terms of subject matter, color choices, and layout. The only difference was the font and the wording of the invitation.

Decision: After reviewing both designs, we agreed the design in question was too similar. We contacted the artist to explain that the submitted design is not eligible for a win or pick in its current form. Because the challenge was still active, we gave the artist the opportunity to edit the design and re-submit.

Situation 2: During the voting period of a Minted Save the Date Challenge, an artist identified a submission that was similar to his own. Both submissions were full bleed photo designs with the words “Save the Date” in script fonts across the top of the design, with the couple’s name and date below in serif fonts.

Decision: After reviewing both designs, we did not find the design in question too similar due to the differences in fonts and spacing. Since type treatment and spacing are the core components of minimal, type-driven designs, minor differences can comprise the majority of the design decisions and are evaluated accordingly.

Situation 3: During the submission period of a Minted Photography Challenge, a photographer identified a submission that was similar to her own. The subject matter—a close-up photograph of a flower—in each submission was similar and in a similar hue, but the images were not identical.

Decision: After reviewing both submissions, we felt the subject matter and concept (macro photograph of a flower) are common enough that the artwork in question is not too similar.

Situation 4: After voting had closed for a Minted Art Challenge, an artist flagged a submission that was similar to work by a famous artist. While the submission, a line drawing, had been redrawn with a painted brush texture, the drawing itself was nearly identical.

Decision: This submission was close enough to constitute infringement, and we removed this design immediately before contacting the artist.

We review all flagged designs every two weeks. When our review team has come to a decision about a design or work of art that you flagged, we will follow up with you to let you know what they’ve decided, and what actions we will take in response, if relevant.

Great minds think alike, and artists are often inspired by similar sources and by each other’s work, but it’s important to make sure that your work is still original. Creating work that is too similar to another artist’s, or using copyrighted language and visual elements that another entity has claimed, may be considered infringement. We want to help ensure that you’re confident about the originality of your work, and that we can protect it whenever possible.


Famous Quotes and Song Lyrics

Sure, using famous quotes and lyrics in your work might not be entirely original, but is it allowed? Including famous quotes and song lyrics in your work can be a great way to draw people in with familiar language, but it’s important to understand which types of quotes are copyrighted.

Quotations are always acceptable if they fall into the public domain. In the United States, this is generally true of all quotes that originated before 1923. Short phrases, such as “keep dreaming” are usually not protected by copyright.

As with most rules, there are exceptions, but when you’re taking the time to create an original piece of art around a quote, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s also important to note that if you’re using a quote outside of the public domain, attributing it to the author within your design does not mean it’s appropriate to use.

Song lyrics are a little trickier. Written lyrics that are old enough to fall into the public domain (prior to 1923) can generally be used without issue. This means that they can be used without direct permission from the copyright holder. If they’re short enough, they may not be protectable by copyright, but may be trademarked. The Justia Trademark Search site is a good resource for checking whether lyrics or copy are trademarked.

Branded Language

Copy associated with a brand is also generally off limits. Slogans such as Nike’s “Just do it” or Skittles’ “taste the rainbow” are almost always trademarked and should be avoided.

Visual Elements

Branded Imagery

Using brand names or emulating branded imagery is rarely acceptable. The use of logos or branded imagery, such as the Nike swoosh on a photo of sneakers, or the Apple logo on an illustration of an iPhone, is prohibited as these are trademarked. This extends to illustrated fictional characters, such as Disney princesses, or Star Wars characters.

The same is true of illustrations or photographs of celebrities and specific, recognizable people. Images of musicians, actors, and entertainers are often protected as a right of privacy, so using an illustration of a basketball player slam-dunking while wearing a Stephen Curry jersey in a greeting card would not be allowed.

Locations and people

Using recognizable images of private property or people in your work is not recommended. Easily recognizable locations or buildings are often protected as a right of privacy, or have restrictions on their use. For example, photographs of the Eiffel Tower at night are prohibited (interestingly, daytime shots of the Eiffel Tower are OK), although the location is public. The same can be true of buildings if they display branded signage or are flanked by street signs that clearly show the location of the building.

Photographs taken on private property may also be subject to legal considerations. In some cases, photographs taken of private property from a public location (such as the street in front of a building) are acceptable, but we recommend avoiding this.

Photographs including people generally can’t be used unless every person depicted has signed a model release form authorizing their image to be used. In general, we are not able to facilitate this process.

While this article can serve as a guide to understanding copyright and trademark protection, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. We want you to feel empowered to create your work without concerns around originality, and never want to have to remove your work from minted.com due to legal concerns. If you ever have any questions, please contact the Minted Artist Relations team at artists@minted.com.

Minted’s Policy on Copying and Infringement

Published November 7, 2018

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