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I received this question, as part of my A Question for Graham the other day, and although it: Logo Design Naming, Copyright and Ownership Problems, sounds, at least on the surface, reasonably straightforward, there are some possible hidden dangers, complications etc. I don't have an awful lot to go on, so my responses are little bit of advice, or general insights, and should definitely not be taken as legally sound, as I am not a lawyer.

All I can do is answer based on the information I have, and hopefully, at the very least, provide some useful insight and suggestions to take the issue forward:

"I designed for a client. The client is a good friend of mine and I did a logo for free for her. I also named the company. Friend's partner, who I don't know, registered the corporate name and purchased the website with the name but failed to register the logo. The partnership is now breaking up and I want my friend to be able to use the logo and name in her new venture.

What's you opinion?"

Right then. First things first. You maintain full rights and ownership over the logo design until you say otherwise, and you can transfer that to whoever you want. The name, however, looks like it’s been taken off-your hands, and now registered by this 'partner'. As you probably had no agreement in place, pretty sure there is not much you can do with getting the name back, but your friend (for what it’s worth), is free to use your logo design.

One solution then is to cut your losses with the name you came up with, and try come up with a different name. You may want to word it so it works with your logo design, or at the very least, adjust the logo to work with a new name. Then you can make a clean break from this other ‘partner’, and have no risk of treading on each others toes.

This is important: You, or your friend, must make sure that this ‘partner’ is fully aware they cannot use your logo design without your express permission, and have a written transfer of ownership from you. If they are using it, then you’ll need to find a way to explain to them that the logo you created does not belong to them, and they are certainly not permitted to use it in any form.

Hopefully, you have some form of correspondence between you and your friend that shows the 'paper trail' regarding the intended use and purpose of both the name and logo design.

This should also then make it quite clear that this 'partner' wasn't part of this arrangement, and they cannot effectively argue that it belongs to them, more so if they have no proof that the ownership of the rights etc, having been transferred from you to this partner, as well as any money exchanging hands.

Trademarking a Design that Is Not Yours

There is one tricky scenario that comes to mind: if this 'partner' has managed to register the logo design, or part of it, as a Trademark/Registered Trademark, then this could be a whole different problem for you/your friend. Something I can't really advise on, as this really needs to become a legal matter.

Technically, I believe, you still own the logo, so you'd need to contact this 'partner', and carefully explain they have in fact registered a design that they had no rights to register, mostly because it's not theirs to register. If this 'partner' is reasonable, then hopefully you can come to some sort of financial solution, but this would probably mean you no longer have a name, OR a logo design.

However, not so good for your friend.

If they are not so reasonable, then you still need to start creating a digital 'paper trail' of correspondence, at the very least, showing you have made attempts to explain to this 'partner' that they are using a logo design that does not belong to them.

You can ask them to provide proof of hiring you to design them a logo, proof that they paid for it, proof that you signed over your Ownership of the design to them, all of which they won't be able to do. Maybe, just maybe, once that realisation hits them, you might be able to negotiation some form of financial compromise/settlement.




This post is just a little primer on Logo Design Copyright, I'll cover it in more detail in a forthcoming post.

The topic of Copyright seems to leave some folk quite baffled, but in actuality, the important basics are pretty straightforward.

Not to say copyright in general is straightforward, but it can be a nasty messy business when designs clash, ideas are borrowed etc.

The very action of designing something/anything unique means the creator has the copyright; an exception to this is if you copy, steal or plagiarise a design! On it's most basic level, copyright of unique visual design is automatic, and originates with the designer.

Thus, any unique logo that I designed for a client will have automatically had copyright assigned to it, and to me. Everyone of my unique logo designs and more detail brand identity projects, in my portfolio, started off with it's copyright belonging to your's truly. I didn't need to register it with any fancy office, I didn't need to sign any documents, or use my blood to create an unbreakable moral seal.

One can help define Logo Design Copyright (ownership), by adding the immortal words: All Logo Designs © Copyright 2014 The Logo Smith, or something along those lines.

This simply helps advertise the fact you are claiming, staking your ownership, of anything that is appended with that text. It's a way of clarifying when a unique design was created, and who is taking ownership, in the case of a dispute: such as someone stealing, or simply accidentally coming up with a very similar design.

This is when blogging (then quickly submitting it to Google and Bing etc) about that cool new logo design, and submitting that logo to various popular online portfolios, all help define who and when something was created, and greatly aids in any possible copyright clash as they all provide times, dates and clarity on who was there with that design first.

Transferring Logo Design Copyright To My Client

Transferring any Logo Design Copyright is simple, and yet I see instances where clients are almost extorted out of further money in order to obtain full Logo Design Copyright copyright of a unique design they have paid a designer to create. I have covered this topic in a previous post: Logo Design Ownership: Make it Easy For Your Client To Own The Logo

As a logo designer: it's an obligation to ensure your client ends up owning the the copyright of the logo you have designed for them, and this includes any additional brand identity elements and visual assets etc.

The transfer of the existing copyright and ownership, as the creator, isn't done automatically, and neither is it a 'given' when invoices are settled, and designer and client part ways. It's a process that has to be initiated by the designer, or suggested by the client.

Transfer Copyright And Ownership To The Client

In order to transfer existing ownership of the logo design, to your client, you simply sign a written statement/contract, that states you are transferring all ownership and copyright to the named party, in this case your client.

For example, I have a Transfer of Copyright form that I sign and send when the project is all completed, and not likely to be subject to any last minute changes.

Once you do this, you no longer have any claim to that design, so if you want to ensure you are safe to showcase the logo and brand identity visuals in your portfolio etc, that this is agreed before signing over ownership.

This is something that actually could be briefly covered in your Logo Design Proposal, so at least the client is made aware of how they can obtain full design copyrights and ownership before proceeding—I think I will a actually update my Logo Design Proposal Template to include this soon!

Conclusion

As previously mentioned, this is a super quick primer on the initial aspects of copyright in logo design, and it's by far the end of the story. However, it should be enough to give you some peace of mind that you don't need to hire a lawyer to simply copyright your own logo design works, and that transfer of copyright and ownership is just as straight forward.

The real challenges come with: Trademarks, Registered Trademarks and aspects of supposed Copyright and Ownership of non-unique works, this is when epic battles are won and lost in the courtroom.

There are various online services, such as: http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/ and http://www.uktrademarkregistration.co.uk/ that help you to register a particular copyright and/or trademark, but they are often subscribed/premium services that assist you in times of conflict, but they are not compulsory. If a copyright/trademark conflict occurs, these services can help pin-point original ownership, and they can also provide legal advice and other services, but you'd still end up having to hire a lawyer in the worse case scenarios. But if you want extra peace-of-mind, then it does no harm (other than your wallet) to use one of them