Friday, May 18, 2012

Article by Christina Wilkinson,

SHOWN ABOVE: Custom illustration map designed for area hospital
brochure in Las Vegas NV © Sabre Design

We just got a phone call from another designer today asking about their rights on a project that they created. A client is trying to copyright a map project that this designer created from scratch (with the changes that the client requested).

Here's how it works: U.S. Copyright law states that the creator of a work owns the exclusive rights to that work from the moment it is put into some tangible form. As stated, copyright means the “right to copy” or reproduce an original design or creation for your own use and/or profit. The fact that a client pays for the work does not automatically assign the client full ownership of said work. So in plain english it means, if you are not working as an employee but as an independent contractor, anything you create (logos, websites, artwork, t-shirt design, brochure design, map design, etc.) belongs to 'you' the original designer or creator unless specified otherwise.

Now you as the designer have to pick and choose your battles. There are many of our clients who want native files and we gladly provide them. There are also times where we give all rights for use of original work to a client but we keep the derivative rights afforded us as designers by U.S. law.

A good example of how we have given our designer rights away recently was where we worked closely with the local Amgen Tour of California marketing committee. We illustrated a custom piece of cycling artwork and we happily and up front signed rights (except derivative) away to the client. This allows them to profit from our work. You're probably asking why we would do such a thing. Well we did this as goodwill in support of the community we live in. This could be called 'pro bono' work as well. Our company occasionally hand selects events and projects of interest for nonprofits that promote goodwill. Regardless of what you read online, it is okay to do pro bono work from time to time. We recommend that all designers do it periodically but be sure your heart is in the project you've chosen to donate your talents to.

Now back to that map: In order for any map to be able to be copyrighted, it must contain a good amount of variations on it creatively as well as improvements to any prior maps to be able to qualify for copyright protection. The map we're discussing is creatively different and it is almost exactly the same map this designer uses for several clients; also there is a copyright statement at the bottom of the map attributed to the designer. Now there are several photos provided by the client on the map and the designer maintains no legal copyrights to them, just the overall map design.

So the verdict is that the designer owns the copyright to the map design and the client cannot file legally to own copyrights to it.

Meanwhile, here are some great copyright scenarios to read about: Who Owns the Copyright?

NOTE: This article may be reprinted with permissions with byline and artwork included.


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