The Learning Curve

New tricks for an old dog.

Who owns your logo?

You paid good money to some graphic designer to cook up a logo for you, and now you own your logo . . . or so you think. The sad truth of the matter is that you might have only rented it.

U. S. Copyright law aims to protect those who produce original creative works. In graphic arts, like logo design, the person protected is generally the artist.

Title 17 U. S. Code Section 201– Ownership of copyright

201(a) “Initial Ownership. – Copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author or authors of the work.”

In the case of logo design, instead of “author,” read “artist.”

The next part of this statutory section is what usually sends folks off on a road trip to an erroneous conclusion. 17 U.S.C. Section 201(b) states:

“Works Made for Hire. – In the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright.”

People read this and think, “I hired my cousin to design my logo, therefore it is a ‘Work for Hire,’ and I own it.” But they stop too soon. It isn’t important what you think the phrase “Work for Hire” means, the important thing is what Congress said it means.

Title 17 U. S. Code Section 101 – Definitions, states that a work made for hire means:

“a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or . . . if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire . . . . “

If your graphic designer was a freelancer or an outside agency (i.e. not an employee) , the designer likely owns the copyright on your logo unless there is an express signed written agreement that says otherwise.

If you were not aware of this, it might pose a problem.

Someone else might own your logo.


Written by Tom Fox

06/04/2008 at 10:50 am

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