How Mismanaging Your Copyright & IP Rights is Ruining Your Career as a Creative or Freelancer (And How to Fix It!)

Photo Credit: Money Down the Drain by Images Money used under CC BY 2.0
Photo Credit: Money Down the Drain by Images Money used under CC BY 2.0

As a freelancer, your work is your livelihood.

It’s your product, service and brand, all rolled into one.

And without a big business to hide behind, it’s just you and your creations on display for all the world to see.

This is both the burden and the blessing of being self-employed.

Managing and protecting your work, then, is critical to your progress, especially when it comes to ownership and copyrights.

If you’re not controlling ownership of your work, you could be missing out on big clients, big paychecks and big opportunities.

Unfortunately, many freelancers and creatives are unnecessarily–and sometimes unknowingly–stifling their careers simply because they don’t understand copyright and intellectual property (IP) laws.

Grasping the rules of ownership could make or break your freelance salary. So if you’re serious about your career, you need to recognize where you’re throwing money away, and then work to fix it!

I’ve identified the 3 most common copyright & IP errors, in no particular order, that lead to suppressed freelance careers and salaries.

1) Accepting Royalty Payments

First of all, you should never accept royalties as payment. I know, it sounds tempting, especially for those of you still trying to make your first mark.

But hear me now; royalties are a rip-off. You should never make your income dependent on what the client does with the work after-the-fact.

Let’s back up.

Every freelancing creative has faced this dilemma at one point or another; myself included. We must all answer the question: “How much should I charge?”

At the beginning of a freelance career, it’s hard to bring yourself to charge very much for your work. The confidence simply is not there, nor is the portfolio of proof. So, naturally, your rates are low.

Like, eating ramen noodles for dinner every night, low.

Even if you’re in the infancy of your career, though, you may still be devaluing the worth of your work. True, you have some rights of passage to surpass, so-to-speak, but I’d be willing to bet that there are still a few ways that you could improve your salary right now. Eliminating royalty payments is number one!

Let’s say, for example, that you design a logo and graphics for a major local event. It takes weeks of brainstorming, drafting, editing and finalizing on your part.

Then, you pass it all off to the client in exchange for royalties; a promise that you’ll get paid a percentage of every ticket that’s purchased for the event.


What if the client does a poor job of advertising and promoting their own event? What if they have no following and the event is a total bust? What if something falls through and the client has to cancel the event altogether?

Can you see the many possibilities for you to not get paid, over something that may be completely beyond your control or have nothing to do with your efforts and work? That doesn’t exactly sound like the life of an established freelancer, now does it?

The bottom line is, don’t ever devalue the worth of your work by taking royalties as payment; even at the dawn of your career. You deserve more credit than that and you deserve to get paid up front. By demanding it, you’ll establish yourself as a freelancer who means business.

2) Not Charging More for Copyright & IP Ownership

In addition to taking royalties, many creatives fail to understand that they should be charging more for copyright & IP ownership.

Some of your clients may be getting more ownership savvy by requiring that you actually sign a contract ensuring that you transfer copyright ownership to them upon completion of the project.

They prefer that you do your work as a ‘ghost’ and give them credit for it, in the end. This is more and more common among freelance writers in particular. There’s nothing wrong with working as a ghostwriter, so long as you’re charging more to hand over the copyright ownership.

In other words, if you would normally charge $700 for a project, but the client has asked for full ownership upon completion, then you should charge an additional fee for relinquishing your ownership rights. If they want it, they should have to pay for it.

There are a number of ways to charge the additional fee. You may charge a flat-rate fee for any client wishing to take copyright & IP ownership, no matter what the project is. You can also do it on a sliding, percentage-scale. Say, 5% of the total fee, for example.

Regardless of how you handle the logistics and specifics, just make sure that you are making the client pay for ownership. After all, you ARE the intellect behind the work.

Never surrender that to somebody else without getting fair compensation for it in return.

Again, not only will this give your immediate paycheck a boost, but it will also help you establish a reputation as a freelancer who takes herself seriously. And when you do, so will your clients and prospects.

3) Not Taking Any Credit

Finally, take some credit!

I know; I just finished telling you how to properly give away ownership of your work. But that should be balanced with projects and work that you can put your name on!

If you’re resolute about your freelancing career, then I assume one of your goals is to be a regular, named contributor, or to have your artwork and name blasted on a major brand somewhere.

It’s an admirable goal, and one you should aim for sooner than you probably think.

There are plenty of opportunities out there for aspiring freelancers who are looking to advance their careers with jobs and projects that will give them full credit. You don’t have to be a 10-year veteran to land these awesome gigs. If you’re not looking for, and applying for, projects that will give you full credit, then you don’t understand this industry yet. And you’re not taking full advantage of its potential.

Start with what you know best. Do you have a specific niche or industry that you want to focus on, have more experience in, or are educated on?

If so (and you should), find a blog, column or newsletter devoted to that topic, and apply to be a guest blogger, columnist, or artist.

You can also look for affiliate programs in your industry. These can be powerful venues to land a few paid gigs, get some widespread credit for your creations, and maybe even acquire some ongoing work.

Again, the specifics aren’t important here. Just know that you deserve credit for some of your work, and there are plenty of avenues for obtaining jobs that provide just that.

Having published work, with your name on it, is one of the best things you can do for your freelance career. And the more credit, the better. It shows that clients and businesses have trust in your work and expertise.

It also helps with Google searches. As a freelancer, your name is important. Folks may be searching for you by name and if they come across published work with your signature on it, then you instantly get street cred for appearing legit.

What’s it all mean to you?

Mismanaging your copyright and IP rights could quickly snuff out the candle that is your promising freelance career.

The common enemy of both freelancers and their clients is not knowing enough about copyright & IP rights to navigate them smartly – that’s where Kunvay comes in.

We help you increase the value of your creative and freelance work by helping you offer clients the option of acquiring full copyrights and IP rights to your work.

These simple rules of thumb will give your paychecks and career a boost!

Because you want to navigate copyright & IP smartly, follow us on Twitter.

About the Author: Erica Gardner holds a graduate degree in Legal Studies from Kaplan University and served in the Army with the Military Police. She now has a budding career writing content marketing pieces for attorneys and entrepreneurs across the globe.