In this post we will address
Custom Art Work for Printing, be it Business Cards,
T-Shirts or whatever.
Many consumers believe that
because they were billed an art fee for setting up a design
or logo, they bought the design and it's theirs to have and
use freely, when in actuality it's not that simple.
The General Rule is simply -
"He who drew it owns it!"
unless other arrangements have
been made in writing.
If no agreement is
made, ownership always lies with the artworks creator or
For the Most Part The
Copyright Act of 1976 (USC Title 17) protects artists and
the things they draw with some exceptions.
As Work For Hire, which basically can be summed up to -
if you work for Jimmy as an artist and
he pays you a salary or hourly rate, Jimmy Owns what the Artist
Draws. The perfect example is Artists who work
for Disney Studios do not own the things they draw while on the
clock and in some rare cases
even when they are not on the clock....
In the case of a business owner
who commissions an artist or design firm to draw a logo or art
piece for them, rates and terms are usually worked out well
in advance and the artist or design firm includes Ownership
Rights into the sale whereas the buyer gets to assume all right
and title to the created artwork.
If no agreement is ever made as to the
transfer of copyright, the ownership always lies with the
artworks creator. A fine example is when you
buy a painting from an artist. While you surely hope the
paintings value will increase, you are not buying the copyrights
to the artwork, simply the artwork itself. You can't start
mass producing copies as you see fit selling them on Ebay. ( But
the Artist Can! )
In our print shop we sometimes see
these misunderstandings about artwork ownership first hand and
more often than not, clients are disheartened to learn they do
not own their logos.
Recently we had a client come to us
for custom printed t-shirts and when he was asked about
supplying his logo, he stated all he had was his logo on his
business card. We asked him if he had good camera copy or
digital files of his logo he said he'd have to get it from the
guy who did his cards. A few days later he returned upset
and told us that his other printer wanted $300 for the logo
design and wanted to know how much we would charge to redraw his
design. That's when we had to deliver the bad news.
We could not legally redraw the logo and give it to him, because
he really didn't own the art and we could be liable for any
possible damages. We informed him the best we could do
would be redesign a whole new logo for him and it would cost
roughly the same amount the other guy wanted for the original
logo. Our client thought that because he paid a $35 art
fee he owned the logo to use as he deemed fit and just couldn't
understand why he paid $35 in the first place.
I explained to him that what he was
actually paying for was "design time" which is not the same
thing as buying art rights. Design Companies pay artists
an hourly wage. When their designers spend time to put
together an image such as t-shirt design or business card layout
the hourly wage is passed onto the client for the 'design time'
and that's what he actually paid for. While still a bit
upset he did comprehend what we were telling him and chose to
purchase the original artwork and it's copyrights because he
liked what he had and it was already done as opposed to going
back to the start with redesign. Even though we didn't get
a sale, it was the right call. Not to mention he now had
premo art files to print t-shirts, signs or anything else he
Mentionable Note - As co
owner of a design firm, I feel the need to point out that
designs made with clip art, are not copyrightable. The
people who make the clipart or fonts, own their designs, they
are just selling to you the rights to use them, not ownership.
We see a lot of logos made with clip
art, and while yes, clipart design is cheap, it's just that,
cheap and there is pretty much no image protection available.
Anyone can use your design or make one up just like it.
Plumbers and Welders are notorious for clipart. I know of
3 welding companies that all use the same clipart and there's no
degree of image separation. They all look pretty much the
same even thought they are not the same company. It can be
argued that if one of these companies does really bad work the
other two companies could suffer from the misconceptions that
all the logos are alike so they must all be the same company...
A good logo design is literally the face of a Business or
Organization and it should really be as unique as the business
So in closing, who really owns
your artwork or logo design? In short, if you have
a master disk with all your art files on it, there's a good
chance you do. If you have a written transfer of
copyright then it's almost Guaranteed you own your artwork.
BUT... if you don't
have anything in writing and no master files to speak of,
I'd put money down that the author or creator of the image
in question still owns the intellectual rights. To be
sure though, you would need to consult a copyright attorney
or perhaps the designer or design firm. Hopefully this
article will shed some light on any basic artwork ownership
questions you may have and if you have any questions, please
feel free to drop me an