Do I own the rights to a logo that I had someone design for me? 21 Answers as of February 07, 2014

We are a new small business and want to use our logo on marketing materials, but don't want to be tied to using this graphic artist for everything. She says we can't use the logo and other design materials without her permission.

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Webb IP Law Group
Webb IP Law Group | Jason P Webb
Rights in a logo may exist as a combination of copyright rights and/or trademark rights. Copyright rights belong to the "author" of the design unless that author (or authors) assign those rights to someone else in writing. Trademark rights are acquired through use in commerce and/or by filing for a trademark registration with the USPTO. The answer your question depends on the complexity and originality of the logo, your contribution to the design, what signed agreements you have with the graphic artist, what unwritten agreements you have with the graphic artist, and what you have done with the logo so far. You should go talk with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and go into those details so that you can get a clear picture of what your rights and her rights are.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 2/7/2014
Mains Law Office
Mains Law Office | Julie Mains
It depends on the contract you signed with her when you had her design the logo. People either pay for use rights or not. If you do not have a good contract, you will need to discuss buying the use rights from her or get a new logo designed and make sure you get full rights with the new one.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 2/6/2014
Sebby Law Office
Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
If you did not have the artist sign a transfer of rights document (also called a "work for hire" agreement) before the work was finished, the artist retains the copyright to the artwork and you will need her permission to use the logo. All you bought was the original piece of artwork; she still owns the rights to make copies of it.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 2/5/2014
Universal Law Group, Inc. | Francis John Cowhig
Your question requires an attorney consultation. It is not a simple question that can be answered on this type of forum. There are many factors that would need to be considered and evaluated. Usually, if you paid for the design of the logo, you should own the property rights.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 2/4/2014
DANIEL NESBITT | Hasse & Nesbitt
You should have an attorney look at the services contract that you had with the graphic artist. Graphic artists ordinarily own their copyrights unless the work was made for hire, as stated in a written contract.
Answer Applies to: Ohio
Replied: 2/4/2014
    IT Forensics, Inc.
    IT Forensics, Inc. | Christopher K. Steuart
    This is a contract issue. What does your contract with the designer say about rights and duties of the parties?
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    I do not know the answer to your question. You should consult with an attorney that handles intellectual property law. I know nothing about this.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Gates' Law, PLLC | Thomas E. Gates
    The logo belongs to you since she was under commission to design it. Get the logo trademarked immediately.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Mark S. Hubert PC
    Mark S. Hubert PC | Mark Hubert
    It all depends on what your agreement or contract with her said.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Peters Law, PLLC
    Peters Law, PLLC | Mark T. Peters, Sr.
    If you did not take ownership of the logo in the documentation, i.e. made it a "work made for hire," then no, you cannot use it without her permission. You should have had a written agreement explaining what you were paying for. Thus the need to talk to an attorney about what you are doing. It really does save money in the long run.
    Answer Applies to: Idaho
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler | Kirk A Buhler
    The answer depends entirely upon the contract. If there was no agreement that the design would be owned by you then she owns the logo. This is common with some people who create logos or manuals where you must use their printing companies to reproduce the logo. If your contract is a work for hire where you retain ownership for everything she does is for you then it is yours. You could offer a lump sum to use the logo without royalty, but typically graphic artists (of this type) do not agree or want an unreasonable lump sum. I was told that the creator of the "L" used by Lexus was paid a flat fee of $1,000 for the creation of the logo without any royalty. You may want to seek another company to redo the design material.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Gerald R. Black, Esq.
    Gerald R. Black, Esq. | Gerald R. Black
    The threshold question is, "When you hired this artist to design your logo, was there a written agreement whereby you acquired the Copyrights to the logo and the other design materials in exchange for paying her for her work?" If there was no such written agreement, she owns the Copyright. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the U.S. Constitution clearly empowers Congress: "To promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." I hope this helps, and good luck!
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    KEYL ADR Services, LLC | Mark D. Keyl
    If you contracted with her to design a logo, then you need to buy the rights from her so you own it, or else get permission as you use it. It really depends on what she was contracted to do.
    Answer Applies to: Mississippi
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Michael M. Ahmadshahi
    Michael M. Ahmadshahi | Michael M. Ahmadshahi, Ph.D., Esq.
    Did you have a "work for hire" agreement with her? If not, it may be hard, but not impossible, to show that she relinquished all intellectual property rights including copyrights to her design for receiving payment and working under your direction.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Barton Barton & Plotkin
    Barton Barton & Plotkin | Maurice Ross
    You are wise to raise this question. Absent a written "work for hire" agreement, the graphic designer (and not you) owns the copyright in the work. However, if you paid this graphic designer for the work, then you have an implied license to use the work in your business at least if your use is reasonable in scope. If the artist makes clear that you need her permission prior to using her logo and designs, then you can't use them because only the artist owns the copyrights in the photographs. Whenever you use a graphic artist to create designs for you, it is critical that you enter into a written "work for hire" agreement with such artist that makes clear that the designs and logos are works for hire, and that you and your company own the copyrights in them. Without such a written agreement (that needs to be carefully drafted by legal counsel), you face potential big problems because the designers retain ownership of the copyrights in the designs. In this case, this designer clearly has the upper hand because you made the mistake of commissioning designs without a written work for hire agreement. More fundamentally, I can tell from your question that you are making an even bigger mistake you have not retained intellectual property counsel to help you lay the proper legal foundation for your business. I certainly understand that small business owners have limited budgets. But in all candor, unless you retain IP counsel to deal with issues such as this, your business will fail. I have seen this happen time after time-it is inevitable. Intellectual property rights (patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade dress, rights of publicity, rights of privacy, etc.) are the foundation for every small business in one way or another. Your highest priority must be to assure that you have a comprehensive intellectual property strategy, and that you are free to operate your business and use the designs and marketing strategies you develop without violating IP rights owned by others. Any small business-even with a limited budget, needs IP counsel to conduct "clearance analyses" to make sure that the business is not violating third party IP rights. You might think that my comments are self-serving but they are not-lawyers don't make tons of money representing small businesses. But any small business that fails to have an adequate budget to lay the proper legal foundation is in trouble-I had a client in my office yesterday who will have to shut down his business and start from scratch because he did not retain counsel to conduct a patent and trademark search prior to beginning operations of the business 7 months after starting the business things looked great-sales of over $2.2 million. But then the client got served with a summons and complaint in a Federal Action alleging trademark and copyright infringement the brand selected by the new business infringed on trademarks owned by a competitor. The new business had failed to procure a trademark clearance analysis and was not aware that the "brand" it had chosen was already in use by a competitor. The small business had invested more than $2.5 million in inventory of products using this brand name-and now it cannot sell any of these products, and must stop using the brand name It also faces a law suit by its competitor pursuant to which it faces more than $4.5 million in statutory damages. What could have been a successful small business is blowing up in smoke because the owners were foolish enough to think they could operate their business without retaining IP counsel. I hope you are not making the same mistake, but it sure sounds that way.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Law Office of Richard Winkler | Richard Winkler
    Did you agree to that in writing? If not, the product is yours.
    Answer Applies to: Rhode Island
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Musilli Brennan Associates PLLC
    Musilli Brennan Associates PLLC | John F Brennan
    If she designs it for you will have to claim it s a work for hire. See an attorney and get the agreements right or find another artist.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Microtechnology Law & Analysis | Daniel Flamm
    That depends on the terms of your written agreement with them, assuming there was one.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Fox & Fox, S.C. | Richard F. Rice
    It depends on the agreement you had with the artist. Contact the attorney if needed.
    Answer Applies to: Wisconsin
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. | Ernie Linek
    She is right - the artist controls the rights to the artwork - absent a contract to the contrary. Typically - you would enter a contract that includes a transfer to you (or your company) of all rights (copyright and any others) in the artwork - and the artist would charge you an appropriate sum for that transfer. Absent such a contract - the artist sold you one copy to look at and enjoy. Ask her how much she now wants for full transfer of the rights to you - or go to another designer and start over.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 2/4/2014
    Goldstein and Peck. P.C.
    Goldstein and Peck. P.C. | William J. Kupinse, Jr
    Many times questions on what can and cannot be done between two parties can be answered by looking at the contract between the parties. While some think it great to be able to operate on an oral understanding and a handshake, contracts which memorialize the agreement between the parties are far better, and when used, often avoid future questions and conflicts. Every contract should, of course, be reviewed carefully. If there is anything which is not understood or acceptable, a lawyer should be consulted. The above is an answer to a general legal question and should not be considered as legal advice on your specific issues; nor does the answer constitute representation of you for any purpose.
    Answer Applies to: Connecticut
    Replied: 2/4/2014
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