Who owns the designs? - Copyright etc

Copyright isn't one of the most exciting subjects ever, really.  But its worth having at least a vague understanding of.  It covers who owns the finished designs, their components, who is allowed to use them, and what for.  If you have any particular questions about how this works, we'll do our best to answer them.*  We'll also set out an agreement with you on any designs we create for you before we start work on them.

*please note we can only advise on how we handle the ownership and usage of our designs, not on copyright law and copyright disputes in general

A few key terms:

The owner of the design is the person who the design "belongs to", effectively the copyright holder. Can be the company who commissioned the design, OR the designer. The details of who owns the design will be set out in the design contract when the design is created - commissioning a design does not always mean that you are automatically the copyright owner, unless you also agree to buy the copyright. This means that the designer may retain the right to use elements of the work for other purposes or in other designs.
An exception to the ownership rule would be logos and some other designs, which by their nature are exclusive to the company which commissioned them. In these cases, the copyright automatically belongs to the commissioning company.

Full Usage Rights-
The person who commissioned the design will usually have full usage rights whether or not they own the copyright. This means they are totally free to use the design as and where they require, without further permission from or payment to the copyright holder.

Modification Rights/Creating Derivative Works-
The copyright holder has the right to modify, adapt or change the design, and to create new designs based on or using the original design. Usually, the company which commissioned the design will not have rights to modify or create derivative works from the design unless they also own the copyright.

Usage permission-
Sometimes the copyright holder will give another group or individual permission to use the design in certain ways. For example, they may allow another company to place their logo on a poster to promote an event they have sponsored. The ways in which the design is allowed to be used are usually agreed in advance.
Often, if the designer does not own the copyright to the design, they will ask the copyright holder for permission to use the design for a specific purpose, such as displaying the design in their portfolio as an example of their work. Giving the designer permission to use the design in this way does not mean that they have any rights to modify, re-use or re-sell the design, as these rights still belong to the copyright holder.
Usage rights can also be limited to a certain time period during which the designs may be used.

The "Design"-
This term is used to refer to the product which is created, or in some cases just the graphical element of a product (in cases where the design and content are separate elements such as websites). It could be a logo, a piece of custom artwork, a newspaper advert or many other things. Who owns, who is allowed to use, and who is allowed to modify the design is laid out in a contract when the design is created.

The "Content"-
In some cases, particularly products such as websites, the "content" is treated separately from the "design". Usually, the company which has commissioned the work will own, and provide, the content. The designer will then combine this content with their design to produce the finished product. Even if someone does not own the copyright to the design, they may still own the copyright to the content. In the case of websites, for example, the person who the website was built for is free to alter, edit, add or remove content as they desire or require, and this is independent of any restrictions placed on altering the design.


Copyright FAQ -

 Q) If the designer retains the copyright for a design, what does this mean in practical terms? What might they do with it later?
- This basically means that the designer retains the ability to use some or all parts of the design for other purposes. So for example, an image used in a design will still be available for use in other products that the designer may create at a later date. It is highly unlikely that the entire design would ever be re-used, as it would be unsuitable for anyone but the company it was created for. This said, designs which form an integral part of a businesses image like logos and business cards are always copyrighted to the company that commissioned them, as it could be damaging to their image/reputation for such a design to be re-used. If a company wants to own the copyright to a design, this can be agreed with the designer at the time.

 Q) If I have a design created, how will I know who owns the copyright, if I am allowed to modify it and who has usage rights?
- Before we start creating your design, we'll discuss these details with you, explain what each of the terms means and answer any questions you have. we'll then send you a document that details this, which we recommend you save for future reference. We can make modifications to this contract at your request to suit your requirements.



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