If you are a designer, your bread and butter is your creative work. Unfortunately, the internet and other digital technologies have made it easier for copycats to steal your work or pass it off as their own. The law of copyright is there to protect you. But if you don’t know how copyright works or how you can use it to protect your work, it is pretty useless.
In this series of articles, we hope to arm you with some working knowledge on copyright and how you can use it to protect your creative work.
What is copyright?
Without getting into the legalese, copyright is basically the right to stop other people from copying, publishing or adapting your creative work without your permission.
Looking at from the opposite angle, the owner of the copyright in an original work has the exclusive right to copy it, publish it, display it, distribute it, or make new works from it.
What is not copyrightable?
Designers need to take into account that the following items cannot be copyrighted:
– titles, names, short phrases, and slogans;
– familiar symbols or designs;
– mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring;
– mere listings of ingredients or contents
– Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices
– Common information such as calendars, measurement charts, TV guides
– Government or legal documents
A number of these things may be protected by trademarks. But it will be the client, and not the designer, who will be entitled to apply for trademark protection.
If you are not sure whether your new logo design would qualify for copyright protection, consult a specialist attorney.
When do I have these rights?
Copyright comes into force as soon as you have transferred a great idea from your head to something written, drawn, doodled or typed on a pad, computer or sandstone tablet.
Do I need to register my copyright?
Registration is not a requirement for enjoying copyright protection. However in the US, registration is necessary if you want to enjoy certain benefits (presumption of copyright ownership, right to claim statutory damages) when suing a copycat in court.
What does the © do and do I need to put it on my work?
Putting a copyright notice on your work is not compulsory (unless you can use it as a new design element). But it does tell people that the work is copyrighted and prevents defendant’s from claiming innocent infringement when you sue them (damages are not payable by an innocent infringer).
Does my new creation need to be absolutely original to enjoy protection?
Your work does need to be original if you want to enjoy copyright protection. But the test for originality is not a strict one. Your work doesn’t need to be of the “never been seen or done before” kind. It simply needs to originate from you with an ounce of independent skill and effort thrown in.