I frequently see forum posts by new vector illustrators surprised that their files are rejected for copyright reasons on Royalty Free stock sites. Some of these subjects (such as locations, products, buildings, cars, etc) come up over and over again so I’ve decided to list some of the most common ones I’ve seen.

Please note I’m not a legal expert at all! You should always do your own research when creating an illustration and when in doubt consult a lawyer who specializes in Intellectual Property. This is just a quick overview of some of the most common reasons a vector illustration is rejected for copyright or trademark reasons.

Whenever possible, I’ll link to more information about each subject.

Sports & Sporting Events 

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Sports (sporting events, stadiums, team uniforms, and so on) are a no-no for stock illustrations. Most sports teams and organizations have very strict rules to protect their IP (‘Intellectual Property’).

Just as an example, here’s a link to FIFA’s Brand Protection page. You’ll see right away that they are very, very serious about protecting their brand. Even the soccer balls (footballs to non-Americans) are custom designed for each World Cup event and are protected designs.

Do a little more digging and you’ll see most major sporting organizations have similar pages on their websites. Here are just a few interesting links I found:

You might think microstock sites like iStock are being strict on sports-related illustrations but if you do little bit of research you’ll quickly see that sports are BIG business, and highly, highly protected.

Electronics 

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High end electronics such as the iPhone, iMac, etc are a no-no for most Royalty Free stock illustration sites. Remember, the companies creating these products spend millions of dollars in researching, designing and developing these products, then even more to market them to the public.

If you want to draw electronics, that’s fine but make sure you’re not copying anything distinctive from existing products on the market. That’s the nice thing about illustrations: It’s easy to change shapes, colors and move bits around to create an entirely new product.

Here are some related links if you’re interested in reading more:

Guitars

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Believe it or not, the shape of the guitar you’ve just traced might not be useable as a Royalty Free illustration. Many guitar makers are highly protective of the shape and distinctive design elements to their products. If you’re drawing a guitar you’d better make sure you’re creating your own headstock shapes and avoiding any other unique elements to existing guitars. Here’s some more information I found:

Quotations, Song Lyrics, Catchphrases

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It’s tempting to take a well known phrase or quotation and turn it into a pretty typographic design. However, many of these are trademarked and can land you in hot water if you try to license them as RF stock. Always, ALWAYS research the text you want to use to see if it’s protected before you upload!

Designer Furniture

Many unique and distinctive furniture pieces are highly protected, particularly mid-Century modern designs. For example, The Foundation Le Corbusier owns the rights to the famous designs of Le Corbusier (AKA Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), a renowned architect and furniture designer in the early to mid 1900’s. Any commercial illustration showing any of these designs requires special permission from the FLC (if you’re not sure what this furniture looks like, here’s a link to a Google Images search). If you want to draw some furniture you’d better be careful and make sure you’re not copying any existing designs.  

Architecture, Landmarks and Locations

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Many buildings and locations are protected and can’t be licensed commercially as Royalty Free stock. The more identifiable and unique the building, the more likely it is to be protected. Always research any locations you are looking to draw to see if there are restrictions. Tip: The websites for most locations and buildings will have a section about commercial imagery, such as photography permit permission requests. 

So if you’re looking to draw real life places, make sure you’re steering clear of protected landmarks, buildings, and locations.

Here are just some of the locations I found listed in the iStock / Getty Images Intellectual Property Wiki (which is a list of some of the things they can’t accept as Royalty Free stock):

Remember, this isn’t a complete list: Do your own research to be 100% sure you’ll not run into any issues before uploading an illustration of a building, landmark or location!

Vehicles

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Vehicles, including cars, railways, boats, and so on are often problematic for RF stock. The more unique the design, the more likely you’ll be to run into issues. So if you’re drawing any type of vehicle make sure you’re steering very clear of any distinctive and original design elements of existing vehicles (especially when it comes to luxury vehicles and really original designs like the Volkswagen Beetle or the Mini Cooper). Here are some interesting vehicle-related IP links if you’d like to learn more:

Design Templates with Real Company Names

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It’s so tempting to put in some kind of placeholder text when creating a design template such as a business card or website mockup. However you need to be very careful: Many simple sounding ‘fake’ company names, addresses, URLs and email addresses do in fact belong to real businesses and will likely be rejected for copyright/trademark reasons if you’re uploading them as Royalty Free stock illustrations.

You should stick to obviously fake contact info such as ‘Your Company Name’, ‘http://www.yourcompanyurl.com’, ‘email@yourcompanynamehere.com’ and so on.

Miscellaneous Protected Subjects

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Going through the Getty Images / iStock Intellectual Property Wiki to get links for this article, I came across a whole pile of other subjects that are problematic for licensing. Some of these might be surprising to illustrators so it’s a good idea to check these links out for more information:

The IP Wiki is a good place to start searching whenever you’re planning a new illustration. But remember: This isn’t a comprehensive list of what you can and can’t sell as RF Stock! It’s just a good starting point. 

You should always, ALWAYS be doing your own research before uploading because most microstock sites will hold you accountable for the content you are submitting.