The world of intellectual property can be complicated and complex, and as such mistakes are made by well-meaning business owners and entrepreneurs every single day. While some mistakes can be remedied, others can cause drawn-out lawsuits, financial penalties, and even the destruction of one’s brand.
When it comes to copyrights, one of the biggest mistakes that intellectual property attorneys see business owners make has to do with ownership of their creative works. There’s a common assumption that if you hire a third-party like a graphic designer, photographer or videographer to do work for you, and you pay them, that you own the underlying copyright.
That is a myth. No matter who owns the company and who paid for the work, the copyright is owned by the artist who created the work—whether it’s a digital file, a logo, a website design, a photograph, a piece of video content, social media content and so forth. Even if you paid for it, ownership still belongs to the artist (writer, photographer, videographer, etc.) if you don’t have an agreement stating otherwise.
When an artist has ownership over their copyright, they can also dictate how that copyright is used in the future. For example, if you have a logo created by a graphic designer and you decide to tweak the look of the art in the future, the artist could come back to you and say, “I never gave you permission to change the logo; you don’t have the copyright and you need to use the logo as it was created for you.”
How to Avoid This Common Copyright Mistake
The good news is that you can avoid this common mistake by having an agreement created that you use with all contractors, vendors and artists who work with you. The parties will agree that you (the business owner or entrepreneur) will retain the copyright to all work created on your behalf. You will need to have the other party sign in order to transfer rights. We recommend having an attorney draft the contract that you can then use for all vendors or third-party artists going forward.
The other exception is if the person who created the art for you is an actual employee of your company, and it was their job in the company to do this work. As such, the company would be the owner of the art because it’s automatically a work-for-hire situation. If you are unsure if your artists are considered employees under this exception, talk to an experienced intellectual property attorney so that you can gain clarity around the situation.
Need Further Assistance?
Our intellectual property attorneys are available to answer any questions you have about ownership of your copyrights. We are able to assist business owners and entrepreneurs anywhere in the United States. To schedule a consultation with our office, contact (888) 666-0062.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.