Key Design & Media

understanding design copyright and usage rights

Understanding copyright and usage rights

When you hire a creative, what rights do they have over the content they make for you? Who owns the intellectual property?

These are common questions we get in our Florida creative agency, so we’re going to break down the copyright and usage rights basics you should know when working with a designer.

What can and can’t you copyright?

Copyright is what keeps artistic and literary work from being stolen, or copied without consent. It applies to creative, tangible works, and exists as soon as the work is created. Things like a designed logo and original package design can be copyrighted. Things like slogans, fashion, or names can’t be copyrighted, but they could be protected by a trademark.

Who owns the copyright when you work with a designer?

One thing we hear often is that graphic design can’t be copyrighted. Generally, copyright belongs with the person who created the design, except with “works made for hire.” Despite the wording, this refers specifically to designs created by a full-time employee for their job, or ordered as one piece in a collective work – and it has to be agreed to in writing. According to copyright attorney Flavia Campbell:

“A customer hires a web designer to create a website. Even though the work was ‘commissioned,’ a website likely does not qualify as a work made for hire, and therefore, absent a document expressly stating that the customer will own the copyright for the website, the default rule is that the copyright remains with the author, i.e., the web designer.”

So, what does this mean for you as a client? Basically, the designer owns the intellectual property of your design, unless they transfer the copyright to you through a legal contract. Once this happens, you’re free to use the design however you like, or even have it modified by someone else. In this case though, it’s important to note that the original designer can still claim it as a design of their creation – they just can’t use it anywhere else. When in doubt – don’t hesitate to ask your designer! At Key Design & Media, we work collaboratively with our clients, so we’re happy to answer any questions that may come up during a project.

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