Who owns what? IP 101

When it comes to Intellectual Property (IP) when it comes to design, things can become confusing to a client on what they do and don’t own when it comes to IP. The items that come into question a lot are logos, typefaces, and websites. Generally, it is what you layout/sign in a contract from an agency to what a client owns as their own property. As a recommendation I would say to all current or potential customers to a design shop to ask out in a contract the fine details of IP to make sure they know what they are signing up for and what they can call their own property.

Customers and Clients: Here are a few things to help you know when you own something as your own IP:

  • When you purchase a typeface for an agency to use, you own the rights to use the typeface for print and/or web.
  • Purchasing a WordPress theme with your own business account becomes your property an agency uses to set up for your business.
  • Copyrighting a logo that you’ve paid an agency to sketch, draft, design and create for you is your property to claim as well as the designers for their portfolio.
  • The content you write for an agency to create into a poster, pamphlet, or any collateral is your property
  • Slogan(s) that you write but a designer mocks up/creates are your property legally from a marketing perspective but are also property to the agency’s perspective as portfolio work in talent only.

Some instances that can cause the need for serious discussion come up are when a designer/agency helps a client/customer come up with slogans. Both parties should discuss legalities of the ownership. Mainly with the discussion leaning towards the client discussing how they wish to acquire/own the rights to use the slogan and/or copy to promote their business (in any case written directly by the agency/designer a business needs to secure the rights legally). A client is responsible for purchasing the Trademark Registrations for any and/or all products for their business.

When it comes to websites, clients need to understand that them purchasing Content Management themes and other website assisting assets (SEO plugins, Page building options, etc) are not ways for agencies/designers to add to the total overall cost of the project. They are performed so businesses have purchasing and product licensing rights are with them who need the service to be able to access updates to said themes/assets to keep them up to date. Think of those assets as insurance to make sure that your site is easily updatable and nothing is held against the business in moving forward with said updates.

Freelance designers need to take account for:

  • Clients need to be aware that there are additional costs with purchasing premium themes, typefaces and extra assets for projects
  • Have a proper discussion so a client is not misinformed, always make sure to have things down in writing.
  • It never hurts to ask if you would like to include this piece of work on your own portfolio. Always be sure to credit what you did for a business to show your ownership of your work

It’s a complicated situation for everyone. Things can get lost in translations but it’s always good to have an open communication about IP so that no one feels their own lack of ownership.

For more on copyright issues with Graphic Design read here: http://www.howdesign.com/design-business/business-issues/intellectual-property-copyright-issues/

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