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Recently I was contacted by a local church who needs a logo, what they want is simple enough, I'm just not well-versed in the copyrights of DC comics/marvel, etc.

He basically said he wants his logo to look like the "Clark Kent ripping off his shirt to reveal Superman S" With a few changes such as "No head, no arms, no lower torso, and of course the iconic 'S' will be swapped for either some text or a symbol, the design will stay with the blue suit, white shirt, and gold icon however.

I did some research on whether this image is considered copyrighted or free domain, but every site only talks about the 'S' and the slogan: "Up Up and Away!"

I personally think this is pretty common imagery for superheroes so the idea isn't copyrighted, but just want to make sure. No use dealing with that kind of drama. I would also be re drawing it in my own style.

I appreciate any help you have to point me in the right direction, thanks!

  • Hi ether, welcome to GDSE and thanks for your question. If you want to know more about the site, please see the help center or ping one of us in the Graphic Design Chat. Keep contributing and enjoy the site! – Vincent Oct 6 '15 at 13:03
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    So basically the only "Superman" thing left is the idea of ripping a shirt off to reveal a message on his undershirt. That's hardly superhero-specific. – Andrew Leach Oct 6 '15 at 13:23
  • @AndrewLeach It would be that and similar colors. I hopped in the chat and we decided best judgment that the action/pose wasn't superhero specific and they couldn't copyright a pose. – knocked loose Oct 6 '15 at 14:10
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    Well, it's even worse when your mom tells a coworker you'll do it for free since they're a church. Just got to grin and bear it. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ – knocked loose Oct 6 '15 at 18:34
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    To clarify it's for a church youth group, after talking it over with him, he agreed to just use a superhero's chest (without the opening shirt). There was never going to be any diamond, it was being exchanged for a cross with shudder a starburst behind it. Luckily, the first run through was nearly perfect for them, just needed to change the color of the super suit and we were golden. Thanks for the help everyone! – knocked loose Oct 8 '15 at 12:41
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I know you already reached a conclusion on this, but here's a thought to chew on for the future.

Regarding the technicality of it, I think styles typically can't be copyrighted. The trademark "S" and slogan, as you mentioned, obviously will be copyrighted. However, I don't believe most pieces can claim a style or concept of design.

However, my end solution would be this: use a different design, and here's why. I have significant experience working with churches in regards to graphic design (in fact, I am currently employed at a church doing graphic design. I have come to be frustrated with Christian design always piggybacking off of famous designs. To me this is "regurgitating" someone else's idea. It's not really thoughtful design work, but kind of playing off someone else's design with a few tweaks. It really robs the respect or admiration for the design, because the designer didn't do the concept themselves.

I'm not critiquing you as a designer. Obviously I don't entirely understand your situation, but from what you've posted, it seems like the pastor or whoever is giving you direction is playing the role of the designer. They are telling you what to do because you have the skill set to make it a reality. I've worked with people like that before, and it's rough. But at some point it might be appropriate to step in and say that as the designer, you would like to pitch a few design ideas instead of merely doing what they want. That will likely result in a better product and outcome, even though this person might be really convinced that their idea is exactly what they want. Sometimes non-designers don't know what they want until they see it. If you pitch them something sharp, snappy, and original, chance's are they'll go for it. Even non-designers can tell when a design is gold. Besides, it just might save you from being stuck with the cross and starburst :)

Best of luck!

  • That's a great thought, altogether, I personally haven't been employed or freelancing in graphic design for a year prior to this. I'm now a front-end / back-end web developer by trade. Had it been an actually paid contract and, y'know, legitimate freelance work instead of just "Hey, can you have your son draw us up a logo for our youth group?" I would have dove more deeply into the process. It was more of a burden than anything, I just wanted it off the table. I just didn't want to give them exactly what they want, then find out it's really pushing copyrights, y'know? Thanks for the answer! – knocked loose Oct 29 '15 at 14:25

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