As a branding agency, the term copyright often pops up during design projects. I’ve found some clients were unknowingly infringing other peoples copyrights whilst some wanted to know more with regards to protecting their own graphic design copyrights but overall there seems to be a lack of understanding with regards to what you can and can’t do, so….. Let me break it down.
The below explains what is copyright law and how it applies to anything such as trademark logos, product design or even authroing a book. The simple analogy below can be applied to almost anything making it very easy to understand.
Intellectual Property (aka IP)
Whether it’s a design, dance, patent, trademark, logo or song, it’s classed under the title of intellectual property.
Intellectual = from the mind
Property = Ownership, the thing owned
It’s quite simple. Any original idea conceived from your thought process is classed as intellectual property. All ideas starts in your head and because of that you want the right to own it, that’s why it covers any form of idea.
Here’s where it gets a little trickier.
It’s an odd law, because there’s no official form of registering a copyright, it’s like a natural law and it magically comes into effect when you produce an original idea.
E.g. I’ve designed a new lawnmower. The moment my pen hits the paper, I automatically own the copyright as the author of the work.
There may be 10’s, 100’s or 1000’s of people gdesigning lawmowers but Copyright provides me with some basic initial protection to say that I designed a particular lawnmower at that point in time. Any evidence such as rough workings, sketches or research that helped to me to design the lawnmower would also help me to have a stronger copyright as it proves my thought and working process to create that design.
The Copyright symbol and copyright work
Copyright is again quite simple in definition, “the right to copy work”. Naturally you have no right to copy someone else’s work without consent. The symbol itself works as a deterrent to warn possible thieves off but to be honest it’s not required. Whether there is a copyright symbol present or not, you do not have any rights to copy any work without consent.
Just because it may be publicly viewable it doesn’t mean you can just take it.
How can you use someone elses work?
Usually a copyright establishes the author/owner of any work and their terms of usage. Consent may be given by the owner for free, by licensing or in a hundred different ways. It comes down to the specific authors terms but permission must be given in any case.
A Registered Design
Maybe you’ve designed something which looks quite truly unique. You could say that it’s the visual dynamics of something and you want to protect that design.
E.g. I’ve designed a lawn mower shaped like a flying saucer for the purpose of style.
It’s not a trademark or patent but it can be a registered design to make sure that no one else’s lawnmower looks the same.
A more familiar, stronger and detailed form of protection is a patent. A Patent is a way of registering a design/idea but one that is much more technical. It protects the process of a design or the way a design is built via its components.
Used by inventors it can establish the ownership and authorship of an original idea and again give that person the copyrights as to who can produce/sell it.
E.g. The flying saucer shaped lawnmower runs not on petrol, electricity or solar power but the actual grass it cuts.
The lawn mower’s visual design can be a registered design but more importantly it’s the internal mechanism which turns grass into energy should be patented. What’s more it may be a smaller mechanism inside of that mechanism that holds another patent.
It can get tricky but an easy way to think of it is – Protecting a technical idea or process.
A trademark is what most people think a copyright is.
Mark: A distinguished sign
It’s an individual mark of ownership to distinguish itself from other companies and products. It is again a stronger and registered form of copyright which applies to logos and branding and a way of protecting your company’s identity.
E.g. Grassergy Lawnmower TM
If it’s all so simple then why do disputes occur?
Disputes occur because it’s not so simple. I’ve explained the basics of the topic but disputes create a twinned and tangled web of scenarios. It’s very specific to the individual case or industry its related to which may also bring in other forms of protection such as publishing, licensing and usage.
The best way to distinguish that an idea is yours, is to keep evidence.
Every good idea whether it’s a brainwave or not has to be researched and developed. These stages are imperative as evidence to how you created and finalized any idea. It’s the stepping stones of your work and could be worth more then the final idea itself.
Always keep all research and rough workings to show how you came up with and finalised that idea.
An Interesting and mind boggling copyright scenario
Who owns a photo: The photographer, The model or The company
Models are paid for their services and a release form is isgned to signify that the model gave their permission to be photographed. The release may also stipulate fees or conditions as to how their photos can be used.
The photographer owns the photo as the author.
The company hiring the photographer will have T’s & C’s to decide who does actually own the photos, them or the photographer or what license/permissions are allowed with the use of the photos.
With a twist……..
The model is an international celebrity and wants royalties on where the photo is to be used.
Who owns it now? Kind of like a joint ownership but T’s & C’s will establish that.
What if it’s a public model? Are you allowed to photograph people on the street? Is it not an invasion of privacy? If so who owns the photo now, the photographer or the innocent bystander?
The photographer owns the photo and has the right to take general photos of the public and public places as apart of the scene.
This is a generic scenario which changes according to each specific case. T’s & C’s usually explain all.