It usually starts with a new client asking you to create a design for them, either for web or print. It's a great thing right? Of course, until they ask you to send them the original or source files for the project. What do you do then?
The cases can be vary but one thing that you should know is that as designer, you are the one who own the copyright of your work. We have a small discussion about this issue at the office yesterday and decided to investigate it. And here are some of our original thoughts:
From a business owner perspective (represented by Peter):
I as a business owner, when I think of buying a design, I'd think that I own it and I can do what I want with it. I didn't buy a license to the design, I bought the design and everything with it.
From a creative/designer perspective (represented by me):
I believe that the client can own the copyright to the final design, but there are restriction on how they can modify it. I think only me as the designer have the right to modify the original design. Unless it's a template design for the client or end user to modify. I think the same rule would apply to stock images/graphic as well where the end user can use and modify it with certain restriction?
After an hour of discussion we found out the very first thing we need to know about the copyright for freelancer. Under U.S. copyright law, when you work as a freelancer (or “independent contractor”), you are the “author” and copyright owner of your work, even though your client is paying you to do it.
We also suggest that you offer the client to sign a release that will acknowledge you as the “author” and copyright owner of the design work(s). Or consider giving them a certain or specific license whenever necessary.
You might also want to highlight these things:
- You can decide what kind of usage rights to give to your client
- Your arrangement with the client determines usage rights, even if they aren’t spelled out
- Consider how a court would deal with the dispute
- Be proactive—educate your client before a dispute happens
- Update or draft a better contract
Still in doubt and want to learn more, consider reading this post from AIGA SF.