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Work for Hire Rights?

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  • Work for Hire Rights?

    I do contract work for a consulting firm and do not work directly for the clients I design for. I built a logo for one of their clients, finished a draft, they sent it on to the client, then the client decided to change to something completely different.

    My question is: who owns the rights to the first logo design, me or the consulting firm?

    I billed them by the hour for the work, including the time for the first draft. Normally when I design a logo, the price for the final product takes into account the fact that I went through several drafts, but I wouldn't think the client owned all my drafts. I wonder if this is different because it's going through the firm first.

  • #2
    NB there is no "Work for Hire" language in my contract, so I guess my question is mainly whether billing someone for the time I put into the first draft means they own that draft or if I was hired to produce the final product and all the time I put toward that would be considered part of the final product even if I was working on a separate concept for the same project.


    • #3
      Those are questions best asked of an attorney, and as far as I know, no attorneys regularly post here. I'm most definitely not an attorney, so take the following with a grain or two of salt.

      As I understand it, in the U.S., in the absence of a contract stating otherwise, payment for design work is only for usage rights to the work. The copyright itself still belongs to the creator of the work unless that copyright is transferred. In the case of an employer, like a agency, the copyright to work of the employees created as part of their employment belongs to the employer.

      Clients don't typically understand this, so in my contracts, I always spell out that the copyright to the finished work belongs to me and is transferred to the client only upon payment in full. I'm also very specific in the contract regarding deliverables, and those deliverables almost never include sketches or alternate versions.

      In your case, it sounds like your contract hasn't really adequately covered all these things. This creates some ambiguity, which might cause some misunderstandings about who owns what. I don't think it makes any difference that you're working for a client that resells your work. Your client is the consulting firm. Them reselling your work makes no particular difference.

      What i'm about to say is a little off subject, but still might apply in general (even if it doesn't apply directly to your situation). There are a whole lot of designers who want to know what the law says, which is important, but what they fail to consider is that what the law says and what a court might decide is not typically either the first or final word.

      Getting lawyers and courts involved in settling client/designer disputes is always bad news -- no matter how it turns out. The anxiety, expense, lost time, alienated clients, hassle and sleepless nights spent worrying about this stuff, in most cases just isn't worth it.

      Citing laws in an ownership misunderstanding and implying the possibility of legal action draws a line in the sand which instantly polarises the situation with a client. Unless it's absolutely necessary, all other avenues have been explored and there's a ton of money involved, it's just not usually worth it. It's much, much, much better to get this stuff into the contract and discuss it with the client ahead of time to make absolutely sure that everyone is on the same page before the work begins.


      • #4
        Hi Acraigularjoe and welcome to GDF.

        We ask all new members to read very important links here and here. These explain the rules, how the forum runs and a few inside jokes. No, you haven't done anything wrong, we ask every new member to read them. Your first few posts will be moderated, so don't panic if they don't show up immediately. Enjoy your stay.
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        • #5
          <also not a lawyer.
          If you are doing contract work, your contract should state what your deliverables are.
          The other option here is to ask the firm you are working for. It sounds like you billed for the work and got paid. Are they now asking for the draft files? Does your contract state that you hand over files for payment (if you got paid, do you owe them the drafts even though they weren't used?)
          Why would you want to keep the rights on a logo drafts for a dead project anyway? It isn't like you can recycle them or something.


          • #6
            To add...
            Are you considered an offsite employee at this firm you work for. There are all kinds of contract work out there.
            Who's paying your taxes is usually a good indication who you work for. Are any benefits involved? Any loaned equipment? Do you have an assigned office or cubicle or work space at the firm's location? All little things that can add up to you being ''work for hire'' whether or not your contract states it.
            <not a lawyer.






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