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With the speedy development of mobile technology, emoji has already become an indispensable and international language of our internet communication activities.

However, have you ever think about that are emoji copyrighted? If the answer is yes, who owns emoji?

What is Emoji?

Emoji is not a picture, but a pictogram, a kind of character. “Emoji” is from this Japanese word—— 絵文字[emodʑi], 絵[e] means picture, painting, and 文字[modʑi] means character. Mobile phone's emoji was designed in 1999 by the engineer Kurita Hontaka (栗田穣崇) who worked for the NTT Docomo, a predominant mobile phone operator in Japan. The first version of emoji Include 176 symbols such as heart, mobile phone, smiley face, etc. Once these emojis were launched, they were sought after by the young generation of Japan, after that, these cute symbols can often be seen in online chat rooms or MSN messages at that time.

So basically "Emoji" is a general term, within the umbrella term "EMOJI" there are many different kinds of emoji such as Noto color emoji, Memoji, Twemoji, etc.

Does emoji have copyright?

When Unicode Consortium decides to release a new emoji, vendors who receive the news will start to design the appearance of this emoji by themselves, such as Apple's emoji, Google's Noto color emoji, Twitter's Twemojis and other social platforms' emoji, etc. This is why emoji look different on each platform.

🔺: Emoji [cat] from different vendors

The copyright issue about emoji is not that complicated. To put it simply, except for those open source emoji, essentially the copyright belongs to the vendor who designed this set of emoji.

The Apple emoji we are most familiar with, for example. If you want to use their emoji to make some mugs to sell, since Apple emoji is not open source, you have to consult Apple's legal department to apply for emoji authorization, and so forth.

What if I want to use emoji commercially?

Now you already knew that some emoji set is not commercially available (or really hard to get licence), but don’t worry, we can offer you 2 different solutions.

  • Find an open source emoji set, read the detailed agreement regulations carefully, consult their respective license terms or consult the manufacturer to get the permission. The following is a list of known free or open source emoji manufacturers, But their scope of use and requirements are different (online use only, print, commercial, etc.), please be careful to distinguish.
  • You can also create a set of emoji by yourself, this is the best way to use emoji totally legal free. However, make sure that this set of emoji doesn’t look like the emoji already exist, otherwise you may get yourself into trouble.

  • Note💡: This blog post is just general information not legal advice. Emojiall cannot provide any legal advice to any online user. Our respond to your related questions is for reference only, please consult the corresponding manufacturer for the exact answer.