Media Mayhem and ADversity
Risk Management for Advertising, Design, and Media Professionals

Copyright Issues for Freelance Designers

Whether you work as a freelance graphic designer or you run an ad agency that hires freelancer artists, there are some tricky copyright issues that you'll need to navigate.

As Kunvay Blog reports , these issues are becoming a concern for creative agencies that hire freelancers to save money. They now have to worry about transferring copyright and verify they actually own the right to use the work their freelancers produce. Let's take a closer look at five need-to-know copyright practices.

5 Things You Should Know about Copyright

Admittedly, we can't explain everything you need to know about copyrights and your graphic design liability. But the following issues are a good place to start. We'll explain how to copyright an image and other key issues you need to know to avoid infringement and protect your design company. Here are five copyright practices to get you started:

  1. How to copyright an image. You can use the U.S. Copyright Office's eCO online registration service to submit your copyright application. The process takes eight months and costs between $35 and $130 depending on the type of work you're registering.
  2. Work-for-hire. When employees produce creative work for their employer, the copyright usually transfers to the employer. This work is considered work-for-hire. However, if you work with a freelancer designer, you're working with a contractor and not an employee. You should specify in your contractor agreement that you want the copyright for their work. On the flip side, if you're a freelancer hired for a job, you'll own the copyright until you officially transfer it to a client. See the work-for-hire section of our media eBook for more details.
  3. Copyright transfer. If you're delivering work to a client, there's always an issue about who owns the copyright — and who wants to own it. As a graphic designer, you may not want to give up the copyright to your work. You might want to reuse parts of it with other clients down the road. But certain designs and artwork — particularly things like logos — clients will want to own the copyright. If that's the case, you can transfer ownership of the copyright once a client pays for your services.
  4. Use of copyrighted images / design. What do you do if a client wants you to use designs or images you're concerned may lead to a copyright infringement? You should refuse. Even if you're following your client's wishes, you could be sued. A designer or photographer may have licensed these images to your client without transferring copyright. As we wrote in our article "3 Copyright Issues that Can Spell Trouble for an Ad Agency," this mistake can lead to fines, lawsuits, and reputational damages. Always ensure that a client owns the rights to any media they want you to use.
  5. Copyright registration. Technically, you have a copyright to your work the moment you create it and set it in its fixed form (e.g., design it in Adobe Photoshop) — so why register your copyright? When you register, you establish better legal protections, you create a public record that you own this image, and you can recover more damages if you sue a party for infringing on your work. Registering, while not necessary, offers more benefits for you.
  6. Images without copyright. A quick Google search for "images without copyright " will lead you to all kinds of sites that compile copyright-free stock images, or, like Flickr , have a creative commons that lets you take user images for free.

3 More Things to Keep in Mind When Protecting Copyright

We started this article by saying there's a lot to learn about copyright law, and clearly, we weren't kidding. We could spend all day talking about risk management for copyright, but we'll keep it brief. As you look to prevent infringement and protect your company from copyright misuses, remember these three best practices and tips:

  1. Errors and Omissions Insurance for graphic designers may cover some copyright lawsuits, but won't cover cases where you knowingly violated another company's copyright.
  2. Adding a watermark to your images can help you protect you in the short term.
  3. If you're going to transfer copyright to your clients, wait to do so until a client has actually paid you and your contract is complete.

Make sure to follow our risk management blog for more tips on protecting your graphic design firm from lawsuits and copyright disputes.

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