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Does a 20% change to an image bypass copyright protections?

On Behalf of | Mar 22, 2022 | Copyright Law

You scroll through social media, only to see another company advertising a product with a design that is strikingly similar to yours. Maybe you spot a t-shirt sporting a printed image that is almost identical to art released by your company.

Although it’s very close to your original work, there are a few minor differences. The other party changed the colors a little bit or made small, stylized alterations to the design. However, there is little question that their design is derivative of your company’s copyrighted original work.

You may have heard before when discussing intellectual property and copyright rules that one party making a 20% or 30% change to a work allows them to use it and claim it as their own. Is that true, and does that rule apply in your situation?

No amount of alterations will undo your copyright protections

The right of an individual or business to disseminate an original work or profit off of it stems from their copyright of that original work. That copyright exists from the moment someone publishes their original work.

If another artist or design professional copies your creation and then makes minor changes to it, they will invest far less time and effort than it took for your company to create the original work. They can also infringe upon your company’s potential sales by offering a product with very similar images to something that you offer.

The good news is that the United States Copyright Office takes a dim view of those who outright copy the ideas of others. On their official website, they clarify that no amount of changes to an original work makes someone else’s theft and use of that image permissible. Only when the changes might constitute parody could the other party potentially claim fair use of an original creation that does not belong to them.

How do you enforce copyright protections?

Gathering evidence is a crucial early step when you discover a violation of your copyright protection. Proof that it occurred and proof that the other company made a profit from that violation can help you take action in court. You may be able to recoup the financial impact of that copyright infringement.

Learning more about what constitutes a violation of your intellectual property rights can help you enforce those rights when necessary.