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Everything you need to know about design copyright

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Updated on:
December 12, 2022
December 12, 2022
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Being a good designer, unfortunately, means being professionally protective of your works of art using a graphic design contract or agreement templates. In a perfect world, applying for a design copyright for every original piece you make wouldn’t be necessary – and we could all be honest with each other.

However, that’s not the world we live in.

These days, design copyright laws are put in place for a good reason. There will always be someone in the shadows, looking to take credit for your work.

We’re here to make sure the process of creating your design copyright and integrating it with your freelance graphic design contract template is as smooth as possible to help protect your work, and get you back in the studio – doing what you do best.

The Copyright Process: Overview

Since 1978, copyrights for the U.S. have been automatic, meaning you don’t need to register your design rights to copyright it.

However, to protect your work, you’ll need to apply for copyright protection by filling out the copyright registration for your specific design piece. For instance, if you’re copyrighting a sculpture, you’ll need to use Form VA, which stands for visual arts.

You can register online here.

However, before you dive into the paperwork, it’s important to understand how design copyright works and how to copyright a design properly.

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Copyright-eligible Designs

While it seems easy enough to go ahead and apply for copyright for design rights, your design needs to cover some basic requirements.

First: your design needs to be represented within some tangible object. So, if you created a new shoe design under copyright clothing design rights, you’ll need to copyright the shoes themselves. Once this happens, the design will be copyrighted through the shoes.

Secondly: Your design needs to be completely original. This doesn’t include throwing glitter on someone else’s shoe design and calling it your own.

Basic Rights

Once your item is copyrighted, you’ll have the rights to sell, market and reproduce your design/product. If you wish, you could also offer licenses to businesses to sell the product for you.

And, big bonus:

Many copyright owners will charge for these licenses.

Once you’re in this position, you can start using invoices (such as Bonsai’s fast-pay invoices) to send to these businesses who just love your design.

Intellectual Property: The Lead-Up To Copyright

If you create something original, it’s protected by the law through intellectual property rights. So, if you draw a picture, create a character, write a song, that creation is your intellectual property – until, of course, you sell ownership rights to someone else.

If you’re an employee, make sure you know what to include in your freelance contract to outline your intellectual rights to your work.

Intellectual property can also be licensed out to others if you wish to sell it.

Intellectual Property is Legally Protected in Four Ways:

Copyright: Copyright laws for art and design is typically used for literary and artistic works. This covers creative works of expression that have been created into a tangible medium.

Patent: These are used to protect inventions, innovations and technical solutions.

Trademark: These are used to distinguish company services and goods from other companies’. You can protect your company name, slogan or mascot with trademarks.

Copyright for Design Types

Design copyright laws vary depending on your design type.

As we’ve seen, copyright laws for art and design are accepted for:

  1. Original works of art
  2. Creative works of expression that have been transformed into a tangible medium (like our shoe example)

To be qualified for design rights you’ll need to have both of these specifications checked off

However, some design types fall in a grey area.

Here, we’ll outline two major design types that design freelancers have difficulties with when it comes to their design rights.

To connect with other freelance designers and develop more knowledge around how to tackle design freelancing situations, head over to Bonsai’s homepage for inspiration.

How to Copyright a Logo Design

Logo designs overlap both copyright and trademark rights and many businesses tend to use both to protect their logos securely.

If you’re stuck on how to copyright a logo, you’re not alone.

There are a lot of questions as to where the lines are drawn and what would be the first step to take with logo copyrighting.

We’re here to help you get a few things straight.

Trademark and Logos

When figuring out how to copyright a logo, many people figure they should go through the trademark route.

And for good reason.

Trademark protects things that help identify businesses within the marketplace and since logos are one of the most significant symbols of business identification, they’re automatically categorized in this list.

If you’re a freelance designer, you’ll need to know everything about starting a freelance business professionally, properly and effectively (signing up for Bonsai is the best step towards achieving this).

While copyright doesn’t cover details such as designs, colors, typefaces, and names, trademark does.

However, it’s also limited.

While copyright is designed to protect your work against nearly all unlicensed copying outside of fair use, a trademark deals with any usage that creates confusion in the marketplace of the company.

The best course of action is to treat your logo the same you would a photograph or painting (covered via copyright) and use trademark if you really want the extra protection (although, chances are you won’t as logo copyright infringement is fairly rare.)

Graphic Design Copyright

If you’re not looking to handle copyright disputes anytime soon, it’s best to get ahead of the game by understanding the ins and outs of design copyright and creating professional contracts to avoid any issues.

Graphic design copyright can be a bit tricky as it doesn’t extend to familiar symbols such as titles, names or slogans, lettering or coloring, it’s not possible to copyright an idea for a graphic, and it needs to be fixed on a physical object – such as a piece of clothing, a sign or a piece of paper.

So, to copyright your graphic, you must create it into its fixed tangible object state first, then:

  1. Complete your application form
  2. Fill out a filling fee for paper applications and online applications (keep this organized through Bonsai Expense Tracking)
  3. Include copies of your work.

Copyright protects lasts for the artist’s lifetime, including 70 additional years afterward.

Even if your client is the one filling out the licensing form, they will expect you to understand your rights – so get on top of it!

Getting set up with the knowledge, tools, templates, and support, ensures freelancers make the most out of their career. This is what Bonsai provides. Start for free today:

Play It Safe

Protecting your designs before starting your work with a client or a solo-mission is vital to avoiding a designer’s worst nightmare.

This is where professional graphic design contracts come in.

By organizing your Bonsai freelance contracts to include copyright infringement information, you’ll be protecting yourself and your work from any issues down the line – along with a smooth and professional working relationship with your new client.

A common cause for uncertainty and dispute among freelancers is the ownership of intellectual property rights for designs, websites, logos, and graphics which are created by third-party designers or the freelancers themselves.

Documenting the terms in which the materials are designed and created can remove all and any disputes or issues moving forward. Typically, if you’re working for a client, the work of art will belong to them upon completion, but the content for your freelance business is 100% yours.

Remember that!

Also, remember that Bonsai is here for all your freelancing questions, tips, and tools to help you make more money, faster and smoother with your clients. Sign up today to get started on your path.

Pairing industry-leading freelancing tools and confidence through Bonsai.
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