Confusing copyright laws and lack of well laid out contracts might leave some clients out in the cold when it comes to intellectual property and as shocking as it sounds, you might not be the rightful owner of your company’s creative assets.

If an employee has created content, creative assets or designs within your organisation then it’s quite clear that your organisation owns the rights to the work and the intellectual property. But what happens when you’ve hired a creative agency or freelancer? You might be scratching your head and thinking that if you’ve commissioned an agency to produce creative work and you’ve paid your invoices, then of course you own it.

The harsh reality is that many agencies retain the intellectual property of designs, code and content and you are licensed the use of that creative work. We are more commonly seeing agencies creating complex IP clauses and even performance based licenses. We hope this blog will help you identify what is open to IP and how to get to the nitty-gritty of it in your contracts.

Intellectual property of creative work

Before we carry on, I have to point out that I am not a trained solicitor in the field of copyright. This field of law is very confusing and in depth so if you have any current or particular IP queries, it’s best to seek the advice of a solicitor.

intellectual-propertyAny work done by a freelancer or agency, you can safely assume that they own the work unless they have explicitly signed over or transferred the IP to you upon payment. In our standard contracts, we do handover the IP of the final logo designs, html front-end design, creative content, packaging design and such to a client upon final payment of the project. And rightly so, you’ve paid for a final product and that should be yours.

The things that we don’t handover as standard are as follows, this illustration might save you some arguments and costs down the line with your freelancer or creative agency.

  • Unused creative work or work that is developed during the process of the project belongs to us. (You own the final, approved designs and content that is paid for in full).
  • Source files and fonts are generally licensed to an agency and for that reason among others, we don’t hand over design files such as Photoshop documents or Illustrator files etc. You’re paying for the final, approved work which might be the print ready files for a brochure in a PDF format or the web design which will be the html.
  • Code that we’ve created from scratch which can be defined as an application or code that we’ve created where you could sell it for commercial benefit. Anything that requires custom work from scratch would have a separate contract agreed. Otherwise though as standard, we build websites in open systems and they are all yours once paid for.

One of your biggest risks in business is not owning the rights to your brand logo, your designs and creative content. Ensure that your agreement with your freelancer or design agency is in place and it’s clear covering what will and what won’t be transferred to you.

If in doubt, please seek the legal advice of a solicitor! Here are some further lessons on protecting your brand from an unfortunate trademark battle for the name Ugg. All is not as it seems and your Ugg boots are definitely fakes!