Who Owns My Logo?

Copyright Law in Australia is much more straightforward than some other common-law countries, in that no one needs to register their work for copyright to exist.  There is, however, still plenty of confusion and open discussion about the details of Australian Copyright law.

The general rules for who owns the copyright over something, when we’re talking about graphic design, is:

  1. If the person is an employee, then whatever they create as part of their job belongs to the employer;
  2. If they are a contractor, then whatever general material they create belongs to the contractor, but the person commissioning the work can use it;
  3. If they are a contractor that has been asked to create a specific work like a logo, then the rights of that work can be assigned to the person who paid for it.
We find that is where the most confusion is.
A contractor who is paid to say create sets for a concert owns the copyright on the design.  However the Courts have found that a logo is very different.  A simple logo, with no agreement, and sometimes no payment for it, is automatically the copyright of the designer.
The Australian Copyright Council has a great fact-sheet about logos, however be careful; an agreement for transfer of copyright does not have to be a formal agreement.  The Courts have held that a simple email is more than enough to transfer the copyright, especially where the intent is clear.
When we create artist and designer agreements, we make certain to address the copyright issues involved so all parties can be open about their expectations and their concerns.  There has to be an element of reasonableness to any copyright consideration of artistic work created for a business purpose, such as a logo; the business should be free to use the logo however they wish, as it is their brand and identity, and the artist should be able to use the work for their portfolio in seeking further employment.
We’re pedantic and precise about our contracts and agreements for a very good reason; if relationships break down, clarity and conciseness can save a lot of money, time and emotion.