Author Topic: LEGAL ISSUES  (Read 1428 times)

Dawn Hawkins

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« on: December 02, 2011, 07:03:27 pm »

Copyright is a statutory scheme (17 United States Code 1291 et. seq.) designed to protect original works of authorship. Under current law (The Copyright Act of 1978), works are copyrighted the moment they are "fixed in a tangible medium of expression". In other words, the moment you fix a design in a tangible form, you, as author, own the copyright. Works subject to copyright include literary works, dramatic works, musical works, graphic designs and drawings, computer programs, and others. The author gains the benefits of a "bundle of rights" when he or she owns a copyright. These rights include the right to reproduce the copyrighted work for sale, the right to display the copyrighted work publicly, and the right to produce derivative works based on the copyrighted work.


Copyright registration is a legal formality designed to demonstrate ownership of copyright in a particular work. Registration forms are available from the Library of Congress via their Web site (see URL below,) or by calling their telephone number 1 (202) 707-9100. Registering a work involves submitting the proper form, a $20 processing fee, and one copy of the work. Multiple designs can be copyrighted as part of a collection, thereby saving on fees. Registration confers the distinct advantage of allowing the author to sue for copyright infringement when someone has used his or her copyright without permission. It also represents legal proof of ownership in the work should a dispute arise. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 75 years, thus allowing your heirs to profit from your work. Notice of your copyright in a particular work is shown by placing the copyright mark (c in a circle), the date of creation, and the name of the author, on all visually perceptible copies of the work.
More information about copyright can be found at:

Fair Use and Public Domain

Sometimes designers and others can make use of another's work without infringing on the copyright. Such fair use generally involves limited use of copyrighted material for review or educational purposes. However, designers should never use another's copyrighted work for commercial or financial gain without permission.
When creative work is no longer subject to an author's exclusive ownership, it is said to have fallen into the public domain. Anyone can use public domain work without asking permission. Shakespeare's sonnets and Beethoven's symphonies are examples of public domain works.

More information about fair use and public domain can be found at: http://www.cciw.com/content/fairuse.html

International Issues

International copyright laws are subject to the Berne Convention of 1989. All signatory countries are supposed to respect each other's copyrights. As you might expect, the reality falls short of the ideal. One area in particular concerns so-called DROIT MORAL or MORAL RIGHTS. France and some other European countries, acknowledge an author's right not to have any use made of his or her work that violates his or her artistic vision and integrity. However, this right is not a recognized part of American law.
More information about the Berne Convention and international artistic policy can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berne_Convention_for_the_Protection_of_Literary_and_Artistic_Works

Work Laws

Many graphic designers work on a freelance, contract by contract basis. The designer is considered the author of his, or her, work for copyright purposes. However, if the designer is an employee of a company and creates the design within the scope of his or her employment, the design falls under the work for hire doctrine. In that case the employer owns the copyright! Freelancers fall under the work for hire doctrine only if the artist and client sign an agreement stating the work is considered for hire and if the work is a contribution to a collective work such as a motion picture.


Graphic designers also encounter another area of intellectual property law when creating their works. A trademark protects an original work, symbol, design, slogan, or combination thereof, which identifies and distinguishes the goods of one party from those of another. Classic examples include the McDonald's "M" and Nike "Swoosh". Designers are often hired to create logos for companies. Because those logos will then forever identify the business in the public's mind, the business owners themselves often want ownership of the trademark. As a freelance designer, you can protect your trademarks by placing the symbol TM next to the design before submitting it to a client. The trademark can also be registered with the U.S. Government's Office of Trademarks and Patents. This process is considerably more expensive than copyright. If your application is approved, you can then use the symbol R in a circle to denote registered trademark. Trademark registration offers similar protection to copyright protection: a permanent government record of ownership.

More information about trademarks can be found at: