Ethics of Printing on Demand: Copyright, Trademarks & The Risk of Lawsuit

The fashion industry has conquered the world with extremely low prices, ever increasing goods availability, and rapidly changing trends that have become demand regulators and a detrimental environmental and social problem. Its solution lies in the ethical approach, which we’ll discuss below.

Some buzzwords surrounding ethical fashion are understandably frustrating to consumers and industry experts alike. POD brandname perception now depends on its values, whether sustainability or environmental friendliness, fast or slow fashion. After all, it’s essential for consumers how much the price of goods corresponds to the declared quality and entrepreneurs' principles. If the world is striving to become a better place, how will these changes affect the fate of those working in the supply chain? Multi-Programming Solutions looked at how ethical fashion seeks to answer this question and ideally to benefit people and the planet. 

Table of contents

What is an ethical business?

Why ethics is important for pod?

Unique branding in print on demand business

Negative case: John Deere Trademark Lawsuit


COVID-19 quarantine has left a strong imprint on the nations’ health: the desire to get back in shape, improve nutrition, and create comfortable living conditions have become priorities for many people. According to WWD, in 2020, consumers have spent over 7 billion hours online searching for ethical, environmentally friendly, and sustainable products. Today, brands which are associated with unethical scandals lose their customer loyalty very quickly.

When you look up the word "ethical" in the dictionary, you’ll find definitions of morality and distinguishing right from wrong, good from bad. In the fashion world, this concept has taken on a new meaning - the practice of finding the roots of injustice, harm eliminating and building a fair and humane future in the industry. Ethical print on demand services consider the many behind-the-scenes processes of clothing and accessories production, from growing the same cotton or, for example, mica mining to creating complete collections. The concept lies much deeper than the public image: the social benefit that clothes bring lies in the beauty created by maintaining the laws of morality about the consumer, employee, entrepreneur, and nature in general. For instance, businesses in the US aren’t legally required to have a return policy. How ethical is such an approach towards the buyer? With the growing demand in the Western world for cheap outfits, many entrepreneurs' morale is also being challenged by choosing lead paint on accessories, hazardous working conditions, and human traffic. What about child labor, which is considered unacceptable in many countries, for example, in Cambodia? A person at the age of 15 is deemed to be able-bodied, but many neglect the law and hire girls from 12. In extreme poverty, the only way out for them is to work to feed the family. Therefore, the ethics of print on demand brands and fashion manufacturing companies touch many issues related to economic and political subtexts. Read on why a POD business needs to maintain a reputation as reliable and transparent in the modern world realities.

POD history: how the print on demand was created and developed

Linen, cotton, polyester, denim - each fabric has a different impact on the planet, just like a T-shirt made somewhere in Taiwan is reflected in the lives of sewists and their families. Therefore, it’s essential for print on demand websites to maintain its ethical reputation and communicate it to the public through shared information about its products. The following conditions should be eliminated.

Low salary

The overwhelming majority of entrepreneurs (about 93%) neglect the rights of people to receive a living wage: only 7% of the workers receive it, the others are satisfied with $3 a day. Both will take a lifetime to get the 4-day CEO salary.

The Levi Strauss Foundation is, for instance, engaged in improving workers' quality of life in various countries, including the US. America is known for its code of conduct promoting fair trade standards and developed specifically for suppliers. Thus, branded print on demand products positioned as ethical ones should ensure decent working conditions in all production processes. 

Unethical materials  

Many people buying any wardrobe item don’t think about what material it’s made of. For instance, harvesting cotton may be unethical, if it involves inhumane working conditions and the use of pesticides. The fact that 250,000 cotton farmers have killed themselves in the last 15 years forces us to prioritize ethics.

For a long time, India has been trying to overcome the problem: in 2007, designer Anita Ahuja launched one of the first eco-friendly collections entitled Conserve at Paris, it was made of recycled materials. 

Cultural influence and borrowing

Working in the fashion industry involves many risks, including print on demand copyright infringement. Fashion designers seek inspiration regularly and often borrow elements of foreign cultures while searching for new symbols and imagery. Sometimes, this involves using indigenous elements leading to cases when their initial owners accuse designers of appropriating cultural property.

If you decide to print an image associated with a well-known brand, mind associated intellectual and intangible property rights. For instance, car images copyright for print on demand protects the automobile shape. The Porsche found this loophole back in 1960 and currently stays one step ahead. One repair shop suffered from their lawsuit, which became quite famous.

The Ethical Fashion Forum (EEF) focuses on making ethical and environmental decisions in the industry: platform users interested in sustainability will expand the print on demand and ownership of copyrights sales base.

Creating a unique print on demand branding begins with company principles and goals. Ethical business owners pay attention to materials and fiber processing. If your products are made from recycled materials, they can be considered sustainable.

Ensure your supplier adheres to Global Organic Textile (GOTS) or Oeko-Tex Standard. According to them, the use of pesticides and harmful chemicals is prohibited (e.g., GOTS only certifies textiles if they’re at least 70% organic). 

Ethics lies in the vegan and cruelty-free approach. For example, leather and fur are created through killing. Yet, “vegan leather” cannot be an ethical substitute because it contains PVC (plastic-based polyurethane chloride). An indicator of humanity is Fairtrade certification.

Don't forget to honor artist copyright while doing print on demand; utilize recycled materials that are a true mark of creativity and require fewer resources to make fantastic products.

To create the best branding for your print on demand store, follow these rules:

  • choose the right colors, fonts, and shapes; select the most suitable for your business niche among the seven colors and a vast number of their shades;
  • emphasize sustainability: you can use related words in a slogan or title;
  • apply branding to your business.
protecting copyright

Almost everyone is familiar with John Deere’s trademark print on demand forage caps, tractors, and lawnmowers. Yet, this giant managed to preserve its copyrights back in 1988 and today is reaping the benefits: the famous color scheme on the logo is regarded as an infringement.   

One of the most notorious cases is the print on demand John Deere trademark lawsuit against FIMCO. It was accused of illegally using recognizable colors to associate with the brand and reduce its value. The court approved Deere's application, arguing that the competitor's behavior caused consumer confusion. 

According to the Quad-City Times, Deere has asked about 40 companies to stop using green and yellow colors and won in the court. This story should be instructive for entrepreneurs who either intentionally copy popular brands or do not check existing ones when creating their new logo. Copyright and trademark protection is an integral part of ethical approach to branding in pod business.

Finding customers for pod business on printing and other industry trade shows

We live in a world of terrifying working conditions, neglecting cultural values, using harmful ingredients, and environmental degradation. Ethical businesses are ones keeping the hottest issues in mind, continually seeking new solutions to moral, social, environmental, political, and economic problems. This article is a guide to how to create a print on demand brand ethically. Find an answer to where you’d start to become a better entrepreneur.

October 15, 2021
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