logo / Artwork you make for customer, thoughts - (Yes another one)

Andy D

Active Member
This is just a curiosity question, personally, after the project is over I don't care if the customer wants
to use my design for other purposes, even signs.

I was just asked about that by a customer, "who owns the logo" and it occurred to me that unless
he trademarks that logo, it might be more protected if I didn't sign away rights ( he didn't ask for that &
I have never been asked for that) because the logo is automatically protected as "Art" for me, I'm not required to do anything else... if I sign the art over to the customer, is that protection lost (assuming he doesn't trade mark it)



This is from legal zoom:

It must be your original work: it must originate with you and show some minimal amount of creativity.
 

Andy D

Active Member
How are you "signing it over" to the customer exactly?
Good question, I have never actually done it, I assume you sign away your right to the design via a standard legal form.
The question is, if you sign away your rights of the design to the business owner, and the business owner never takes steps to protect it, would the design become
available for anyone to use, were as, if you didn't sign away rights the design would have protections?
 

Boudica

I'm here for educational purposes.
Now, I'm wondering about the protections you speak of. Who has the $$ for the Lawyer that will pursue and enforce said protections? Even a legal document won't prevent intellectual property from being stolen. The real problem is who's got the money to follow through with the "Protection"?

My Dad and his wife live on some property (beautiful view overlooking Lake Coure D Alene). The property is sandwiched between other property. They have have a legal easement to use the road to get to their property. Ahole neighbors were pulling guns on them for traveling that road. They went to court and spent thousands of dollars to enforce the easement that was already in place. Not exactly the same as what you were asking about - just trying to say a legal document is only as valuable as the money you're willing to plunk down to enforce it.
 

GAC05

Very Active Member
Good to know I have been in compliance all these years by showing 'some minimal amount of creativity' in my designs.
 

signbrad

Member
I was just asked about that by a customer, "who owns the logo" and it occurred to me that unless
he trademarks that logo, it might be more protected if I didn't sign away rights ( he didn't ask for that &
I have never been asked for that) because the logo is automatically protected as "Art" for me, I'm not required to do anything else... if I sign the art over to the customer, is that protection lost (assuming he doesn't trade mark it)

This is from legal zoom:
It must be your original work: it must originate with you and show some minimal amount of creativity.


Is a logo protected by copyright?

When you create a logo, an important question to answer is, "What rights are there to sign away?"
A common misconception in the sign industry is that everything we design, including logos, qualifies for copyright protection. This is not true.
Typically, logo designs do not have automatic copyright protection in the US, though a few do. Why? Because they don't qualify for it

If a logo consists of mere lettering and/or common shapes, it is not protected by copyright and you will never be granted a copyright registration for it. Why? Because it does not show the "minimal amount of creativity" or originality as defined by the US Copyright Office. [2]
This does not mean that the statement by Legal Zoom above is untrue. It is true, but it commonly does not apply to logo designs. This statement is also from Legal Zoom:
"Logos are protected with a trademark, not a copyright." [1]

In 2012 an application for copyright was filed for the (now outdated) Geek Squad logo. It was denied. The decision was appealed and it was denied again.
Geek Squad02.png

In my blog post referred to below [3] is contained a link to the government's final decision denying copyright protection along with the government's explanation for the denial. The decision clearly indicates that the Geek Squad logo does not have the required creative content to qualify for copyright protection.

Here's the point—when you design a logo there may be no "rights," either to transfer or hang on to. That means you cannot keep charging the client for subsequent uses of the logo. And once they have it in their possession they can probably do whatever they want. If you don't receive money up front for logo design, you may be at the client's mercy once they have the artwork.
Now, can you create a work contract forbidding a client to use the logo design without your permission? I don't know. This a question for a lawyer. But what client is going to sign that, especially if they know copyright law?
What about trademark protection, then? The designer does not own trademark protection for a logo. Trademark is owned by the first person to use the mark in commerce to identify goods or services. Which, of course, would be the client.

Interestingly, American Airlines was denied copyright protection for their new logo. But after a two-year litigation, the US Copyright Office relented and reversed itself.
So...it is not completely cut and dry, is it? Sometimes it seems to be a judgment call.

Many designers do not believe the position of the US Copyright Office regarding logos is fair. I don't think it is reasonable. Geek Squad didn't think so, either, as do most in the sign industry, I would assume. Logo design is a highly creative endeavor, in my opinion. Creating a logo typically requires the talent of a designer that knows what he or she is doing. To say that a logo is not protectable as a creative work seems silly.

But, it is what it is, right?

Brad in Kansas City






[1] https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/trademark-a-logo
[2] https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ33.pdf
[3] https://signbrad.com/2015/09/05/can-logos-receive-copyright-protection/
 

Bobby H

Member
For specific logo creation tasks, we charge up front for that. Due to issues with geometry and aspect ratio sometimes it is necessary to work in the logo design as part of the sign project. But the logo design is a line item thing since such work has the potential to involve a lot of revisions and burn up time.

If a customer buys a sign from us, especially a large lighted sign, we won't have any problems giving the client digital copies of the logo to use in other advertising purposes.

On the other hand the client has no right to our full size production art files, detailed shop drawings and other stuff like that. That material belongs to us. If the client is going to open another location but wants to shop the project around to other sign companies we won't give him any more in the way of files than just that logo.

Regarding "logos" that are little more than a "word mark" set in a specific typeface, yeah that kind of thing is difficult to protect with things like copyright. One trick is investing in good quality commercial typefaces. New type families are often first released with considerable discounts, sometimes as much as 90% off. Then the price goes way up. A rival trying to copy your work would have to spend full price on that type family to match your work.

In the end, you have to consider creating your client sketches in a manner that assumes your sketches will be shopped to rival sign companies and attempts will be made to steal your artwork and other information. If it's a repeat customer I trust I won't worry about it. But someone new and perhaps a little sketchy will get PDFs where all the vector artwork has been rasterized into pixel objects, maybe even trashed with watermarks. The sketch may be very basic on dimensions and other details. And the artwork may not even be to scale. Password protect the PDF on the editing level for good measure. The client's main concern is how the design looks and the price. He can see that just fine with a trashed PDF, but the same PDF would be pretty useless to rival sign companies.
 
For specific logo creation tasks, we charge up front for that. Due to issues with geometry and aspect ratio sometimes it is necessary to work in the logo design as part of the sign project. But the logo design is a line item thing since such work has the potential to involve a lot of revisions and burn up time.

If a customer buys a sign from us, especially a large lighted sign, we won't have any problems giving the client digital copies of the logo to use in other advertising purposes.

On the other hand the client has no right to our full size production art files, detailed shop drawings and other stuff like that. That material belongs to us. If the client is going to open another location but wants to shop the project around to other sign companies we won't give him any more in the way of files than just that logo.

Regarding "logos" that are little more than a "word mark" set in a specific typeface, yeah that kind of thing is difficult to protect with things like copyright. One trick is investing in good quality commercial typefaces. New type families are often first released with considerable discounts, sometimes as much as 90% off. Then the price goes way up. A rival trying to copy your work would have to spend full price on that type family to match your work.

In the end, you have to consider creating your client sketches in a manner that assumes your sketches will be shopped to rival sign companies and attempts will be made to steal your artwork and other information. If it's a repeat customer I trust I won't worry about it. But someone new and perhaps a little sketchy will get PDFs where all the vector artwork has been rasterized into pixel objects, maybe even trashed with watermarks. The sketch may be very basic on dimensions and other details. And the artwork may not even be to scale. Password protect the PDF on the editing level for good measure. The client's main concern is how the design looks and the price. He can see that just fine with a trashed PDF, but the same PDF would be pretty useless to rival sign companies.

I agree with this almost 100% - we charge for logo designs and graphic design separately from sign making - sometimes they go hand in hand. And sometimes we offer "yeah we can re-make that logo for you while we prep your large sign" - but after a deposit. We don't want to throw hours away for a client to take it and go elsewhere.

Don't bother "locking" a PDF though, they're very easy to open. Just rasterize the proofs before you send them.
 
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