Copyright and Design

Copyright and Design - What You Need to Know.

It's the prickly stuff they don't teach you in design school. Even when you are getting your Masters in Fine Arts, we never really broached this subject, at least to the fullest degree. It wasn't client methodology we were learning but instead the design process. Should it probably be something that we talked about ... uh yeah. 

There was this GIANT discussion in one of my Facebook groups this week about who owns designs and when is it ethical to edit a design and when is it LEGAL. Here's the deal, if you don't have a copyright license to the design you commissioned, it probably ain't yours.

My copyright varies between clients, and between projects, but for the most part unless on a bigger project copyright stays with the artist unless specifically outlined otherwise in the contract. Why? Because using a design is different than owning the brain power behind it. 

You are probably thinking, wow that's bitchy, but here's the reality I have seen before. You are just starting out, you design a new logo and two brochures, the client is super happy and says they are going to hire you again in a few months for more work. In those few months the client's business changes, she not only does interior design but now event styling. Her logo needs to express those changes. You are young and don't have a contract that explicitly outlines copyright, so it's a bit hazy. Here's what happens next, whether you gave your client editable files or not, their cousin a new designer out of school takes the file and photoshops the tag line to be "styling and events" instead of "modern interiors". 

In reality, the client getting the new logo that they need isn't the issue here, the issue comes when that logo is uploaded to a new website the cousin designs, and rightly so connects the site to her portfolio online. What happens when that online portfolio of the other designer includes the newly edited design? Well, first of all it's on the shady side of copyright issues, not here or there, but without a contract or the discussion with their client, you have someone else using your 80% of the design to book new clients.


Best practise:

Decide what you want for your clients. Outline that in your contract and make sure if you are not giving full copyright and editing rights to your client, make sure that they know what extra they might have to pay in order to get the design files. I also tack on a small fee for storage, that way, they can come back and make that choice later. I always make part of their contract the right to buy the exclusive editing rights for the price I ask for at the time of their design project. This way, for helping me pay for my external hard-drive or backup storage of their design files, they can come back three years later and get the design files for the same price instead of a possibly different one. 



Don't make the client feel like they aren't sure what to do with the logo once you have handed it over.  Instead, go over with them the fact that if they need something to come back and ask the question, likely you will probably do it without charging, esp if it's just a format or file type not originally needed. Unless it's the design files, if they need a grey version instead of black and white, I am happy to provide!