A copyright confers on its owner a bundle of rights and interests.
But before that copyright interest or right can be validly transferred or assigned to another person or entity, the copyright owner must be sure that they presently own in part or in full the copyright interest that is to be transferred.
Determining copyright ownership means going back to the very origins of the creation or work and tracing all the facts concerning copyright ownership going forward to the present in a “chain of title” search that is similar a real estate title search used to validate land ownership.
If the copyright has never been assigned or licensed or if a previous licensing agreement has expired then the copyright owner is free to assign or license his rights in his work.
With the increased ability to share creative ideas and art, graphic designers everywhere are finding more lucrative opportunities to profit from their work.
T-shirt designing is a fashionable possibility but very little has been published to give guidance to the budding artists who are providing the designs that make today’s t-shirts so popular.
As the industry flourishes, copyright challenges and questions seem to grow almost as quickly.
Copyright ownership lines are often blurred and it’s a challenge to keep up with the laws and understand who owns what and who can do what to whom! The maze of legal issues can be overwhelming and distract you from what’s really important – selling your work for profit.
Therefore, if you really want to monetize your graphic design work in the t-shirt world, you’ve got to know your legal rights and understand the copyright laws surrounding this industry. That way you can move forward knowing that your work is being distributed in a way that you’re comfortable with, without the stress of wondering if you’re losing money or control over your designs.
What is Copyright?
Before I go any further, let’s start with a basic definition of ‘copyright’ and what it means to t-shirt designers.
Copyright is the ownership over a piece of work or art and the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, commercially exploit, and otherwise profit from it.
So, for those of you designing art for t-shirts and other products, copyright generally refers to ownership and control over the art and designs you’re creating for third parties and their products.
The #1 Question T-Shirt Designers Ask Is . . .
Over and over we hear, ‘When my work is printed on a t-shirt, who owns the copyrights?’
Creative agencies are increasingly shrinking the number of in-house or staff creatives and opting to rely on freelancers to perform a multitude of tasks from pitching ideas to sustaining an advertising campaign.
The sluggish economy has stressed many agencies causing those employers to suffer difficulties in covering the cost of maintaining staff employees.
It costs a lot these days to maintain a regular employee on staff (payroll taxes, healthcare, insurance, etc.).
Outsourcing of Freelance Work on the Rise
Some employers hoping to pinch a few nickels have turned to hiring freelancers and specifically designating them workers under agreement or “independent contractors” to function as part-time, intermittent and offsite workers that in truth provide the majority of the agency’s day to day creative needs.
Unfortunately, these employers wrongly conclude that simply claiming an employee is an independent contractor even if he is supplying regular, ongoing and predictable company tasks will relieve an employer of his responsibilities to State and federal taxation authorities.
It will not, and worse, this action could be considered intentional tax fraud.
If they could only see and hear the state and federal agency tax-collecting accountants slowly pursing their lemon-sucking lips into a shape that only slightly resembles a smile. “Penny wise and pound foolish,” they’d sneer in response, “Do these people think we were born yesterday on what? Audit that company.”
Copyright Ownership & Transfer, Employees and Independent Contractors
For most graphics designers, it’s hard enough juggling the rigors of running a business or staying on top of a hectic freelance schedule.
Add to that the mountain of confusing information surrounding intellectual property (IP) rights, and a vast sea of frustration, and even borderline apathy, might quickly ensue.
However, graphic designers have good reason to get to know the specifics about their IP rights.
Once work is created and made available to the public, the chances of someone claiming the work as their own or reproducing it without giving proper credit can skyrocket in today’s technologically advanced, share-friendly culture. Nothing is more infuriating than discovering that your creative ability is being exploited by someone who has neither the permission nor the right to do so.
Quality Work Needs Quality Protection
Getting the facts about intellectual property laws and how they affect your design work is something that simply cannot be put off.
That’s because just about all the work that designers produce falls under the category of intellectual property, and the wisest thing to do with intellectual property is to protect it.
Remember, just because there is no tangible product involved in your creative process does not mean your work deserves any less protection, or compensation, than other valuable business assets.
Graphics designers also must be prepared to go beyond simply protecting their own work. They also need to make sure they don’t end up infringing someone else’s work as well.
In the design field, as in any other, it’s considered extremely disrespectful and ethically inconsiderate to use someone else design without permission.
It’s imperative that designers stay abreast of what is and is not allowed when it comes to using the images, photos and design elements of other artists and creators.
Fact 1. The Difference Between a Copyright and a Trademark is Use
Several types of intellectual property rule the graphics design world.
There are differences here that are essential to know for interactions with clients as well as for protecting your ideas and creative work.
The two most important IP rights for graphics designers are copyrights and trademarks.
Did you know that few people really own their own wedding photos?
It’s a little known fact that most people are shocked to discover.
However, after reading this post you’ll understand why wedding photos are the most expensive photos of a lifetime that most people don’t own and more importantly, how you can avoid this common wedding-day fail and own your wedding day AND your wedding photos.
A wedding is such a personal matter. Many automatically assume full ownership of wedding photos belongs to the happy, new couple.
They figure the wedding photographer is merely someone paid to render a service, and never imagine that, in actuality, ownership belongs solely to the photographer.
It’s a matter of copyright right law, and a finicky one at that.
Owning Your Wedding Day, Doesn’t Mean You Own Your Wedding Day Photos
Here’s the scenario: With the wedding only weeks away, the future Mr. and Mrs. Nuptial are planning their wedding photos.
They’ve hired the magnificent Mr. Flash, a very popular wedding photographer whose reputation precedes him.
The Nuptials, having seen his work, are thrilled to have him on board. In a brief meeting, Mr. Flash describes the details of the pre-wedding photo shoot as well as the arrangements for wedding day pics.
Trusting his experience and reputation the Nuptials agree. Everything is set.
After the wedding, the Nuptials are back from their honeymoon and excited to see the lovely photos of their beautiful day. More importantly they want copies to share with friends and family.
They dial up Mr. Flash and speak with his assistant. She quickly informs the couple, to their utter dismay, in order to take any photos home, they’ll have to pay a whopping expense for each extra print.
Even as a law student, the very idea of who owned the copyright in the written notes I took in class was not something that ever occurred to me, let alone whether I was actually committing an infringing act by lending the notes to one of my friends.
Admittedly, this was way before copyright permeated into nearly everyone’s lives via the internet.
Now, a student’s class notes are just as likely to be uploaded to blogs, websites and forums, or even distributed as e-books.
They can be shared, not just between a few friends in class, but with an infinite number of people on the World Wide Web.
This has led some US states and universities to take steps limiting just what students can do with their class notes, which raises the question of whether students, or lecturers own the copyrights?
Universities and Publishers Clamp Down On Class Notes
This clampdown seems to be partially in response to the widespread and lucrative business of students selling their class notes to website publishers who make this material available to others for a price.