I bought it. I own it. Right?

Sure you can go to your local store and buy a loaf of bread, bring it home and make what ever sandwiches you like with it.  After all, it’s your loaf of bread.

But when purchasing artwork and designs from your graphic designer, you may not be aware of the level of ownership you actually have over what you have purchased or what your are legally permitted to do with it.

When your graphic designer creates material for your business, they are legally permitted to claim copyright over its use.  For example, they may create a logo, newsletter, drawings or designs for you.  You as the customer are paying for the final designs and purchasing specific rights to use it. However, your Designer is the likely the owner of original copyright which affords them protection against others using or infringing that copyright in certain circumstances.

Copyright laws protect against additional use without proper compensation or agreement and provides exclusive rights to control the use of creative work.

What types of graphic designs are covered by Copyright?

Australian Copyright laws protect all creative work in both hard copy and electronic forms, which have sufficient connection to Australia.  Examples of creative and graphic design work include logos, written publications, drawings, illustrations, maps, music, photographs and house plans.

When I purchase graphic design services, who owns the Copyright?

Company or business newsletters, drawings, logos, illustrations and other graphic designs will be protected by copyright. However, if your company commissions a design from a graphic artist, that artist may own the copyright in your newsletter or website designs, unless you have made an agreement to accept the transfer of copyright from the graphic designer.

Your agreement or lack of, with your graphic designer, will affect your ability to use and reproduce graphic designs in the future. If you are in doubt about who owns the copyright for your designs, discuss this with your graphic designer or consult a copyright lawyer.

The Copyright Act states that copyright can also be dealt with in the same way as personal property. It can be assigned, licensed, sold or left by will. When your graphic designer grants you the copyright licence for your designs, they are giving permission for the licensee to use their copyright in specified ways.

Martlette Graphic Design provides transparent agreements with all of its clients, outlining who owns the copyright of all artwork created.  In almost all cases, the copyright license is granted directly to Martlette’s clients upon final payment for services.  To put it simply, you bought it.  You own it.

Is Copyright the same as Trade Mark Protection or Patent Protection?

Copyright differs from trade mark protection. A trade mark is used to distinguish the goods and services of one trader from those of another such as the blue Twitter ‘bird’ and the purple cursive writing of Cadbury. A trade mark is a right that is granted for a letter, number, word, phrase, sound, smell, shape, logo, picture and/or aspect of packaging. Unlike trade mark protection, there is no system of registration for copyright protection in Australia – it is free and automatic. However, whilst there are no registration requirements in respect of copyright, where possible, you can still place a label or symbol on your work to indicate your copyright in the materials.

Copyright law also differs from design and patent protection law. Patent protection covers the visual appearance of new and distinctive manufactured articles with an industrial or commercial use such as Nintendo Wii and iPhone. They are protected by registering the design or invention with IP Australia.

Need more information about Copyright and your graphic designs?  Contact the Australian Copyright Council or visit  The Australian Copyright Council host regular events and seminars aimed at helping small businesses understand the most common copyright issues.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide. Professional legal advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.