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I design fabric panels for quilting that are based on photographs. If I have photos I've taken of a vintage John Deere tractor, significantly modified but the word John Deere is still visible from the 1950's, is that copyright infringement? Same for a panel designed from multiple photographs of Harley motorcycles. There are many photographs taken and sold of vintage Ford and Chevrolet cars and trucks evidently without issue as it is a common practice. I understand the company owns the logo and name but I own the photograph. Another example I photographed vintage John Deere tractor toys outdoors for the same purpose. Don't want to infringe or get sued. Thank you.

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    Your question seems more about Trademarks than Copyrights. I'm reasonably sure different laws would apply, even if I don't know what they are. – Mark Ransom Jul 31 at 17:52
  • You should ask this question on the Law SE site. – Eric Shain Aug 1 at 15:56
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Springs Creative Products Group currently holds the license for John Deere products, and have done for many years. If you are a quilter, you may well have seen their quilting fabrics. Their John Deere tractor fabric is very popular (I used to sell it). If you want to stay on the right side of the law, I would suggest that you contact either John Deere or Springs directly.

They are unlikely to object to the use of your own photographs of John Deere tractors, but they are likely to object to use of the John Deere logo outside of a photographic context, or use of the John Deere colours (yellow and green) as part of your fabric design. They will also object if you use the words "John Deere" in your product's name and/or description.

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Copyright law is complicated and varies greatly depending on many important factors, it only gets more complicated when you start dealing with intellectual property and trademark law on top of it.

Your best option is to consult a copyright lawyer in your jurisdiction to advise you.

IANAL, but based on my limited understanding. Ownership of the copyright of a work does not necessarily grant you the right to freely sell said work, only to restrict others from doing so. For example, in some countries it is illegal to publish or sell any image that contains a person unless you have obtained a model release from that person. You cannot publish or sell the image because their likeness is in it, and they cannot reproduce the image because of your copyright.

Conversely, in New York, this is based on expectation of privacy. For example, I can take and sell a picture of someone sitting on the street, but if they are in a sidewalk cafe with any type of barrier—even though I can see them from the street—I cannot sell the image because they are not considered to be "in public."

When you move from a person's likeness to a brand (which one could argue is the public likeness of the group of people the corporation represents) many additional considerations apply. In fact, the answer could be completely different for different brands because each will have their own policies and licensing practices for their brand.

I hope that gives you an idea of the complexity of some of the issues at play, and I'm drastically oversimplifying things to demonstrate the point. Again, if you are concerned about copyright, contact a lawyer to advise you.

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