Who Owns the Copyright to My Business Artwork?

Written on the 17 November 2015 by VB Designs

So, you've hired a graphic artist to design your business logo and artwork for brochures and marketing collateral; you pay them for their time and efforts, but do you actually know who owns the rights to the work? On its face, the answer seems self-evident; however, the answer is not exactly clear cut.

Essentially, copyright concerns any creative work that is adapted for a tangible means of expression. Typically, eligible works include:

'A creative or artistic piece that is drawn, painted, saved or otherwise recorded. '

Conversely, trademark laws protect the use of a symbol or identifier in connection with the promotion or sale of a product or service.

In the case of the creation of a company logo and marketing collateral such as brochures, business cards and flyers, copyright generally belongs to the person who created the work. However, when a designer is hired by a company to develop a logo or image, copyright over the work may belong to the employer.

In most salary-based employment relationships, the employer owns the copyright of works produced by his employee. However, a graphic artist hired to develop company artwork such as logos, business cards or flyers is not a typical employee he is an independent contractor.

As the work is produced specifically to differentiate the said company from others in the field, it usually means that company is the copyright owner, although, this does not provide a guarantee.

Upon hiring, a contract between the employer and employee, or company and design agency should be drawn up. The contract should clearly identify precisely who owns the copyright over the images or logos.

Although it may not seem so, copyright is a vital consideration in the creation of company logos or images. The reason for this is the copyright owner of the image(s) in question has ultimate control in the way they are used. The party who does not have copyright ownership cannot use or develop the logo in any way.

If copyright ownership were awarded to the contracted graphic artist, the company he produced for would be guilty of infringement each time the graphic artist's work is used. Or, if said company wanted to modify the logo in any way, the new logo could be considered an infringing, derivative work of the original.

While copyright is a complex area, trademark rights are much more clear-cut. As a business owner, you can obtain a trademark on such elements as colours, names, typefaces and designs. Essentially, trademark deals with the use of the mark that causes confusion in that company's marketplace. Trademark rights only arise in the use of an image or logo.

Although the graphic designer developed the logo, he does not use it in the trademark sense. Put simply, the graphic designer does not advertise the product or sell the item that bears his logo. The creation of an image does not automatically entitle the creator to trademark rights.

However, ensure the contract you draw up with the person you employ to create your logo and artwork, deals with both copyright and trademark rights. It should specify that copyright and trademark rights belong expressly to the employer. The reason being, the employee is hired to create and does not have a say in how that creation is used by the company.

Another misconception is that when a Graphic Designer is hired as a contractor or agency to produce artwork for a client, the artwork they produce belongs to the client. This is in fact incorrect as the artwork belongs to the Graphic Designer that produced the work. The working files are not a part of most Graphic Design packages unless agreed to prior.

If in doubt, always check with your Graphic Designer and please drop us a line with any questions. One of the Gold Coast or Brisbane team would be happy to assist - Contact us here.

Author:VB Designs