U.S. copyright law covers a logo designer's rights to her design. The rights follow those of other graphic works and share the same exceptions. While copyright infringement in the field of graphic design exists as a "gray area" in the law, a designer should still protect his creation by registering each graphic element with the U.S. Copyright Office, and by understanding his rights if he signs a contract with a client.
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression." The law gives an author (or artist) exclusive rights to control when, how and how often his creation is used. Under the law, “logo artwork copyright protection may be available for logo artwork that contains sufficient authorship. In some circumstances, an artistic logo may also be protected as a trademark.” A trademark protects designs that identify a particular brand of goods or services.
Use of Type
If you are using type in the design of a logo, you may need to obtain permission from the type foundry that owns the typeface, or font. Certain foundries, such as Linotype and Adobe, allow use of their fonts for resale in logo design as part of their End User License Agreements (EULAs). Other foundries prohibit use unless the designer pays an additional royalty. Check the foundry's rules before you spend time designing with type.
Copyright infringement happens when someone reproduces the artistic creation of another without first obtaining permission. “Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission,” according to the Copyright Office. The second, or copied, work must be “substantially similar” to the first, or original. Only the courts can determine what constitutes “substantially similar."
The “fair use” doctrine, as codified in section 107 of the copyright law, lists limitations to copyright. This section lays out uses for which infringement cannot be claimed, such as “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.”
The “work made for hire” doctrine assumes that the employer, not the employee, owns artwork produced by an employed artist. If an independent contractor produces the logo artwork, the client pays for the right to use that work. To protect her interests, the designer will want to define in the contract whether or not she will sell all rights to a logo.
Importance of Registration
“Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work," according to the U.S. Copyright Office. You cannot prove ownership of a copyright in court without registration. “Many artists know that they cannot afford litigation, so they believe these advantages of early registration are not relevant,” says Linda Joy Kattwinkel, a visual artist and attorney. “However, in most cases it is the possibility of a lawsuit, rather than actual litigation, that gives you the bargaining power to stop an infringement, and often, obtain a monetary settlement.”