So what, exactly, can you print on a T-shirt? As previously mentioned, Peterborough City Council recently failed to see the funny side of David Pratt’s Los Angeles purchased T-shirt. He was given an £80 penalty notice after wearing a top with the slogan: Don’t piss me off! I am running out of places to hide the bodies. After an official complaint was made to the council, street wardens told Mr Pratt his T-shirt could cause offence or incite violence. He faces an on-the-spot fine from the police if he wears it again. And it all came as a huge shock to Mrs Pratt who purchased the souvenir T-shirt for her husband during an American holiday.

The problem arises because what you can and can’t print on  T-shirts is not set in law – instead it’s a question of interpretation. What one person might find funny, another could find insulting and using offensive, abusive, or insulting language is a criminal offence under the Public Order Act. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the same rule applies to printed words as spoken ones – so although Mrs Pratt doesn’t consider the offending word to be a swear word, other people might well do so.

And it’s not even necessary for someone to make an official complaint for the police to act, they just have to think a T-shirt might offend a hypothetical third party. As an example one shopkeeper was threatened with arrest for displaying a toddler’s T-shirt in his shop window that had the slogan: Winner of the egg and sperm race. Police said they had received a complaint that the garment was offensive and would have to be removed from the window of a clothes shop in Brighton.

Probably the most high-profile row over offensive slogans is the French Connection advertising campaign which used FCUK. In 2003, a shop keeper was asked by police to remove an “offensive” T-shirt from a window display. It showed a drawing of a naked woman straddling her male lover, with the slogan ‘the Joy of fcuk’ underneath. However, it’s not clear whether the image or the wording, or both, were judged to be “offensive”. The slogan certainly riled the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which upheld 26 complaints about the logo. However, the slogan alone (without accompanying image) was eventually allowed in adverts – but only after being registered as a trademark.

FCUK courtesy of Paulo Fernando Dias de OLiveira

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