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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.