Design ownership - what does it mean?

I’ve crafted my first contract for someone who contacted me from a marketing agency. They want ongoing hourly work for things like letterheads, flyers, adverts. I Included in the contract something about the fact that I own the art I create by law and the agreement is they get to use it for reasonable uses.

They responded that they need to own the art and it is non-negotiable.

Would you all mind really dumbing it down for me? … Why should I care if they own the art and not me?
I’ve tried looking it up and all I get is legalese.

As long as I can display it in my portfolio, what’s the difference?

Also maybe this is just something I should not mention in the future since as the creator it automatically gives me ownership by law, and it confuses clients(and me)?

Thoughts? Prayers?

Basically, you told them that, as a contractor, you own the copyright and they’re only buying limited usage rights. When presented that way, most clients balk, even though that’s the way U.S. copyright laws are written.

Some designers, like most photographers and illustrators, only sell usage rights. It’s pretty standard since there’s always the possibility of selling additional rights to other people looking for the same thing. This is much less likely with graphic design since each design is, for the most part, custom made, bespoke and unique to that client’s needs.

In my contracts, I typically include a clause saying that all copyrights for all work belong to me, the seller, until final payment has been made and cleared, at which time the copyright immediately and automatically transfers to the client, the buyer.

I also typically include another clause in the contract saying that I retain certain rights to use the work for self-promotion purposes. Sometimes certain clients object to this or place limitations on it, but they usually don’t care. When they do object to this clause, I’ll gladly change it to meet their demands, but I’ll typically increase the overall price by about five percent citing lost revenue on my part from my inability to use the work for future self-promotion purposes.

For what it’s worth, say away from terms like “reasonable” in contracts. Words like that are open to interpretation and opinion. What’s reasonable to one person isn’t reasonable to another, and it’s this sort of disagreements that lead to bad feelings and attorney’s getting involved. It’s best to use more precise language, as in spelling out exactly what the terms are in tightly defined and unambiguous terms.


Good luck!

What they are wanting is something called Work-For-Hire, which means you do the work and release all rights to them. This is very common, especially when contracting for agencies. The reason for this is they are likely in contracts with their clients that need the full rights, and the agency wouldn’t be able to provide the rights to the client if you don’t provide those rights to the agency.

Echoing Just-B’s advice, add something in the agreement that allows you to retain certain rights if the project is a bust, options aren’t used, and/or use for self promotion / portfolio after projects have launched publicly.

“Design ownership” was not commonly practised even if it were a seller’s market. Right now, it definitely is a buyer’s market.

©2019 Graphic Design Forum | Contact | Legal | Twitter | Facebook