An Introduction To Copyright Law For Designers

As a graphic designer you should learn about copyright laws and how they can affect your work. Copyright is something that should be covered in your contract. It’s a type of protection given to the creator of original works. Not everything is covered by copyright laws, and things get more confusing when the words “fair use” are brought into play.

In layman’s terms, copyright protects all of your work as your property. Any stage of graphic design process apart from ideas can be covered under copyright. It stops people from stealing your work and claiming it as their own.

Freelance Copyrights

When you work as a freelance designer you should think carefully about how you are employed, as this does change the amount of copyright ownership available to you. When you are hired for work, or hired by an employer to create something of which they have envisioned, they own all the copyright. You are just merely the designer and not the intellectual property owner.

Any other time, apart from in a partnership, where both parties accept 50/50 ownership of content unless agreed otherwise, you are the sole owner of anything you design. That means you are free to use the work more than once and can even sell the rights if you wish to do so. Do be careful though, it is very bad practice to sell work you have completed for someone else and extremely unprofessional.

You can keep any work or designs you create for use in a portfolio as this falls under fair use.

Fair Use Explained

The copyright holder does not have unlimited powers of ownership. Copyright laws do uphold some limitations to ownership; one of these limits is the doctrine of Fair Use. Fair use is a clause in the copyright laws which allows people to use any works if it is for education and research purposes. The laws state that reproduction of material for criticism, education, research, news reporting or scholarship use is not an infringement of copyright law.

The courts, however, get the final word on deciding what can be fair use. They have a series of reasons and arguments when deciding what can be deemed as fair use, and they can often be extremely vague with their definitions.

How Long Does Copyright Last?

A long time. In most cases, the copyright ownership of intellectual property or physical inventions will remain the property of the creator until 70 years after the creator’s death. So for example, someone composes a series of operas at the age of 15 and dies at age 85. That person owns the rights for 70 years of their living life, and a further 70 years after they pass away, which in total is 140 years of ownership.

When the copyright on your work expires, it passes into the public domain where it can be used and reproduced by anyone, anywhere.

Of course, we’ve got you covered with our graphic design contract template.