8

We have designed software and an accompanying site to convert images into 48x48 (or larger) LEGO mosaics; we use the current LEGO color palette, use image dithering to improve color availability, since the LEGO palette is rather limited (an example of dithering: putting red/blue blocks in a checkerboard pattern creates the illusion of purple at a distance), and finally improve the coverage of regions of the same color by using clustering to cover such regions using, e.g., 2x2 or 2x4 plates instead of only 1x1 plates (since, for example, a 2x4 plate is cheaper than eight 1x1 plates).

We searched and saw that others have been doing something like this as well, e.g., Brixels and Pic-A-Brick on Kickstarter, but these projects either use monochrome 1x1 plates (Brixels) or don't provide the actual bricks, only instructions (Pic-A-Brick). So our idea still seems feasible.

A problem is ordering the correct plates in the correct color per order in a cheap and straightforward way (although this could initially be done through PAB), so we contacted LEGO, explained our idea, and asked if they could provide us with a more straightforward/cheaper way of ordering. To be clear: BrickLink is too cumbersome given fluctuating brick availability/prices and multiple shipping fees when ordering through multiple vendors, and stocking up on LEGO K-boxes is economically infeasible given the "color x plate size" combinations that are needed (each K box only contains a brick of a single size and color).

LEGO's response: our idea would/could be in violation of LEGO's Fair-Use Policy (FUP), and we might want to talk to an IP lawyer before proceeding. We don't fully understand this; if we clearly state (at the top of our page and well visible) that our product is not created by the LEGO company, that we are not affiliated with the LEGO company, and that we only use official LEGO bricks (bought, e.g., through PAB) to create our own end product (the mosaic) without using the LEGO logo anywhere, how is that a breach of the FUP? If I build, e.g., a computer using parts of different vendors, I can still sell it as my own brand of computer, as is done by many vendors/computer stores. The same holds for cars and many other machines. How would this be any different from using LEGO blocks as "ingredients" for a product that one wants to sell? Let's make it even more explicit: Brickmania seems to be doing exactly the same thing: commercially selling custom LEGO kits (war-related; something which LEGO itself doesn't do) using actual LEGO bricks (no knock-offs) and they seem to be allowed to do so (by the way, they do a good job as far as making clear that their products are not produced by the LEGO company goes).

So it has become quite unclear to us if something like this is or isn't allowed (the initial response by LEGO read as a standard response sent to anyone who might be breaching the FUP - but we somehow doubt if this is really the case for us). If we make abundantly clear that our product isn't created by the LEGO company and if we follow the rules when it comes to (not) using the LEGO logo, licensed brand names, etc., shouldn't that be enough?

P.S.

We don't want to use knock-offs and understand that LEGO needs to protect its own brand, but by providing a response like this, we have (ironically) been considering using clone bricks (if possible), while we'd actually like to use quality LEGO bricks that customers can mix with their existing bricks.

  • AFAIK, there's no way they can legally stop you from reselling the bricks, so long as they aren't marketed using the LEGO TM, because they can't stop you from selling your own property, but try Law.SE. There's a reason all the fan sites use Brick or something in the name, instead of LEGO. However, if they object to your site they can choose to stop selling to you. Note that only appointed, official builders ever get bulk discounts or shipments, as LEGO expressly does not want to be supporting reseller businesses. I fielded many similar inquiries during my time with LEGO S@H Customer Service. – Web Head Sep 4 '15 at 6:53
  • Aside of the question, I think you may post here the URL to your service, as illustrative purpose of course. – Veynom Sep 4 '15 at 15:18
  • I'm running into the same sourcing issue you are in terms of trying to figure out how to buy bricks for a mosaic in a cost-effective manner (I'm not planning to sell anything so the legal issues don't matter). I'm curious: did you ever find a good way of getting the parts you want? – ChaseMedallion Aug 10 '16 at 11:43
5

First of all, if you are serious about this business, go to an IP lawyer who can take this up for you and give you a much more confident answer than the bunch of us LEGO fans can :)

Second, isn't it funny that all links I try to get to LEGO's FUP result in a 503 Service not available error?

Third, you might want to read the perspective in this thread on Bricksetforum. Lots of interesting points of view, and, decent information about what you should be able to show, and what LEGO's claimed and likely actual trademark rights are.

Finally, did you talk with that IP lawyer yet as per my first point? hint hint

  • To my second point: site is back up, their policy is located here: lego.com/en-us/legal/legal-notice/fair-play – Phil B. Sep 1 '15 at 20:15
  • Thanks Phil, talking with an IP lawyer is probably necessary anyway, I was just wondering if some LEGO fans might have dealt with similar issues in the past regarding, e.g., the sale of MOCs, as a result of which they might be able to shed some light on this. And thanks for the link. – PixelBrick Sep 1 '15 at 22:11
  • Plenty of Etsy stores use LEGO to make jewelry and other items for sale, including one run by a former LEGO professional builder. – gev Sep 1 '15 at 23:22
2

IANAL, and if you're starting a business you should definitely consult with a real lawyer who specializes in IP law in the jurisdiction you plan to serve. However, having read the fair-use policy, I note two things. One, it seems to be focused on trademark issues. In order to be legally clear, you need to brand yourselves accordingly so that Lego's trademarks aren't violated. You will need to become aware of all the trademarks Lego has, and how to avoid violating them. Merely mentioning Lego doesn't violate their trademark. Using their Logo probably does, but that would depend on how it's used and why.

Two, the policy seems to go beyond what trademark law actually requires. For example, they say

the LEGO trademark should always appear with a ® symbol each time it is used.

I'm not aware that this is a requirement in law. It seems to me it's more like a request they are making, out of paranoia (it seems most businesses are overly paranoid about trademarks). So you might find yourself in a position where you are well within your rights to violate their policy. How mad that makes them, and what effect that has on your business, I can't say.

That said, nothing I know of in law suggests that you can't buy and resell Lego bricks. As you've pointed out, there are many businesses doing just that. That said, there are few places to buy bulk pieces, especially in any quantity you might want for reselling products, and so you might find yourself in the position of needing to deal with Lego directly, in which case you probably have to just do what they want in regards to whatever rules they make up.

Regarding copyrights or patents, the other intellectual property laws you might theoretically run afoul of, you are probably safe with regards to Lego. Since you aren't making new elements (i.e. possibly violating a patented element design) and you aren't copying their set design, box art, instructions, etc, you should have nothing to worry about there. You could face copyright issues from the copyright owner of the original image used as the basis for the mosaic, but that's a different story.

  • Thanks, this is more or less in line with what we were thinking as well; some paranoia on their part as well as a somewhat premature "don't do this" reply, while what we are trying to do is probably no violation of their FUP at all if we stick to the guidelines laid out within their policy. As far as image copyrights are concerned: we thought about that as well, so we have to take a look at how, e.g., online (canvas) printing services handle this. – PixelBrick Sep 1 '15 at 22:15

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.