‘Who owns my logo?’ may seem like a straightforward question — the client paid for it, so therefore the client owns it, right? Well, not always. The question of ownership isn’t as simple to answer as you might think…
Even the definition of ‘ownership’ is a common misconception. This should refer to the legal ownership of the copyright that exists in the logo — not just the permission to use it, which is granted by the designer upon payment by the client. While this may not seem important to you right now, it could have costly implications in the future.
Why does it matter?
For a client, a logo is likely to be an essential part of its branding which will be used to identify the business online and in all marketing collateral and corporate materials. It’s therefore important that the client can use its logo freely and has the necessary permissions to evolve and change it over time.
If the ownership of the copyright in the logo remains with the designer (we explain why this might be the case below), your client may not have the right to use the logo how it wants to and certainly won’t have the right to make changes to it. The client also won’t be able to obtain valid registered IP rights such as trade marks or registered designs.
As a general rule, clients rarely want to spend time seeking permissions to use ‘their own’ logos or become embroiled in disputes with designers due to your lack of IP awareness.
So, who’s the owner?
In my experience, questions of copyright ownership usually arise when you undertake due diligence, for instance:
- as part of a finance raise or sale
- during a dispute with a designer
- when you need evidence of ownership for a dispute with a third-party
For the purpose of this article, we’ve assumed that your logo qualifies as an artistic work and is subject to copyright protection in the UK. The most frequent circumstances under which a logo is created are:
1. An employee creates the logo
Copyright law provides that the designer of the logo is the first owner, unless it’s made by an employee in the course of their employment, in which case the copyright will be owned by the employer. If you employ a designer who creates your new logo, you will own the copyright in it. The exception to this should be noted by the words “in the course of their employment”. If, for example, a member of your Accounts team who isn’t employed as a designer creates a logo that you want to use, you’ll first need them to transfer the copyright in it to you.
2. An agency creates the logo
If you used an agency to design your logo, the copyright will usually be owned by the employer of the designer who designed it, until it’s formally transferred to you.
3. A friend or partner creates the logo
In this case, your friend or partner will be the creator of the work and, therefore, the first owner of the copyright in it. You’ll need to ask your friend or partner to transfer the copyright in the logo to you before using it.
How do I transfer copyright?
When working with third-parties, it’s essential that you both understand your obligations and duties and for the terms of business to be clear. It’s rare that an agency’s terms of business cover the transfer of the copyright in a logo. Usually, at most they provide a bare, non-exclusive licence for the logo’s use.
Copyright law in the UK provides that for the legal ownership of copyright to pass from one person to another there must be a written assignment signed by the owner of the work. This would usually be signed by the parties once the client has paid for the logo. We can help you to put together the necessary assignment document as we did for this client which faced a copyright ownership dispute.
This additional administrative step can also work to your benefit — we also successfully used the ownership of the copyright in a logo as a mechanism for one agency to get paid when a client refused to play fair.
Disputes over the ownership of a logo arise more frequently than you may think. It’s essential that all terms relating to the ownership of the copyright in a logo are set out clearly in a contract at the outset. We can assist both brand owners and designers in drafting such contracts. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch.