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Parody and Print-On-Demand: What You Need to Know

January 13, 2021

Disclaimer: Although we are knowledgeable on certain legal aspects of an e-commerce business, we are not lawyers. This blog about parody and print-on-demand is intended to inform and keep you aware of general guidelines. If you have any questions outside of the scope of this article, we recommend doing additional research on your specific concerns or consulting a lawyer for more information.

When you first start designing for print-on-demand, it’s important to understand the basics of copyrights and trademarks. Many designers also want to create parodies and need to understand what is ok and what might get your store in hot water. 

Fair Use and Parody Definitions

What is Fair Use?

There is a lot of confusion surrounding parody and “fair use.” Fair Use is a legal term in the U.S. Copyright Act that allows for use exceptions to the copyright owner’s exclusive rights. It often includes social and political commentary, teaching purposes, and news reporting. There are times when the use of an image or idea is deemed “fair” and times when it’s illegal. 

What is a Parody?

A parody is a comical imitation of another work (sometimes trademark). It’s considered “fair use” and works when the creator takes an idea and creates a more original work that could potentially stand alone. However, not all parodies constitute “fair use.”

When is a Parody Legal?

Parody is a bit tricky. Creating a legal parody means your customers know your design is a parody and doesn’t confuse it with the original work. If it’s not clear enough, your design could land you in court. 

When is a Parody Illegal?

So what makes it illegal? If your design makes no commentary on the message of the original, you’re missing the mark. The key to a good parody is that it creates a perception of perceived social commentary or criticism. 

Originality is Key

While a good parody design can be a hot seller, if you aren’t sure where your design fits, it may be best to avoid it altogether. Remember, originality is always legal!

Tips for Creating an Awesome Parody

Have an awesome parody design you can’t wait to sell? We have a few final tips to keep you on track and out of trouble!

    • Apply the same parody concept across multiple niches
    • Ask for permission
    • Don’t parody a business already making money selling the same products you are
    • Don’t use the company’s name in your design’s title, description, or tags
    • Political figures are usually fair game, but celebrities aren’t (not even dead celebrities)

Parody Examples and Ideas

Our team has come up with a few examples of design ideas to help inspire you! Our first example uses our very own logo! We took the key concepts behind GearLaunch and created an image that pokes fun but is still reminiscent of our logo. 

Woman wearing a white t-shirt with a blue plate and silver fork and knife with GearLunch underneath

Here are a couple of other fun parodies our design team came up with to inspire you!

Parody and Print on Demand

Our Just Boo It design is a fun parody of the Nike brand while Hunger Pains is a parody of the popular Hunger Games movie. 

braided blonde haired woman wearing a white t-shirt with a red grill top on it with "The Hunger Pains" on it outlined in white

My Other Bag vs. Louis Vuitton

One example of a parody that made its way to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals is My Other Bag vs. Louis Vuitton. At the center of the legal battle was My Other Bag’s creative parody, which poked fun at the expensive, well-known Louis Vuitton bags. After a four year battle, the courts ultimately ruled in favor of My Other Bag and determined they were a parody because:

    1. It played on a well-known joke making a commentary on social expectations.
    2. Its cartoonish style represented a distinct difference between the two brands. 
    3. The brand poked fun at Louis Vuitton bag owners’ exclusivity, making it the brunt of the joke. 

For most businesses, there aren’t millions of dollars available to fight an expensive court battle, and it’s often better to be safe and stick with original concepts. However, parody done right can be incredibly popular and profitable. Here are a few other examples of parody in modern-day culture. 

Movies, Music, and TV Examples

Spaceballs – a parody of Star Wars

“Eat it” –  a “Beat It” parody

“Like a Surgeon” – a “Like a Virgin” parody

Reno 911! – a parody of Cops


If you’re worried a design could cause problems by violating Fair Use or Parody laws, we recommend contacting an attorney for advice. The best bet is always originality and new ideas! You can find tons of inspiration on Pinterest, Instagram, or even Google images. You can also read more about copyright and trademark guidelines for e-commerce here.