Today let’s look at a common question about copyright: who owns a design, the client or the designer? You, the client, have hired a designer to create a piece of work for you so you might easily assume that once the project is finished and paid for, you own the full rights to it.
However, that’s not necessarily the case.
Ownership of the design depends on the terms set out in your contract.
Work for hire, or not?
If your contract was on a work for hire basis, then full ownership of the project passes to you, the employer or client, once full payment has been made.
Most freelance contracts aren’t on a work for hire basis though. So standard copyright rules apply. Copyright law assigns ownership of a piece of work to the person who actually created the work. That means it automatically belongs to the designer.
Most freelance contracts don’t transfer this ownership to the client. Instead you are only granted ownership of, or a licence to use, the end products while the designer retains ownership of the design.
So, for example, in a brochure design project you would own the printed brochures, while the designer owns all the working files. That include things like preliminary sketches and Adobe InDesign files.
You might also like: Does having your own domain protect your copyright?
Do you need to own the copyright?
Most of the time it’s not necessary for you, the client, to get ownership of these files. You’re unlikely to have access to software to edit them and buying a copy can get expensive. Plus there’s a steep learning curve involved in figuring our how to us it to edit your file.
If there was no contract between you and the designer then these same rules apply, as a work for hire relationship has to be explicitly stated in a contract.
Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a solicitor, so if you have any questions about copyright or your design contract, you should seek professional advice.
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