Have you ever hired someone to: design a logo, take a photo, create an image or produce a jingle? If so, have you ever asked yourself: “Who owns this stuff?” The general rule of law for copyright ownership is as follows: whoever creates the work owns it. That means if you did not create it, you do NOT own it! So, if you don’t own the work, how do you go about securing ownership over images and other works? Great question! The following are several ways that you can obtain ownership of your logo, photos, graphics, jingles…etc.:
- Create the work yourself. Obviously, the easiest way to own your work is to… CREATE IT! Because copyright ownership/protection automatically vests in the creator of the work; if you create your work, you own it! BUT if the work you are seeking to protect is also a logo, consider seeking trademark protection in lieu of copyright protection.
- Create part of the work. A joint work is a work prepared by two or more individuals with the intention that their separate contributions be merged into a single work. Authors own the work jointly and equally, unless the authors make an agreement stating otherwise. Each joint author has the right to exercise any or all of the exclusive rights granted to all copyright owners including but not limited to: licensing the work, transferring his or her entire ownership interest to another person without the other joint authors’ consent and update the work for his or her own purpose. If you don’t wish to own the work equally, you can use a statement of joint work to outline the following: each individual author’s ownership interest in the work, each author’s share of any revenues generated by exploitation of the work, marketing rights, use rights and infringement prosecution rights.
- Copyright assignment agreement. A copyright assignment agreement is an instrument/document that transfers ownership of a copyright from one party to another. This type of agreement is ideal for “one-off” or isolated situations when you contract an artist, designer, photographer or musician…etc. for their services. You may have to pay the other party in exchange for ownership rights of the work. But once the agreement is executed, (both parties sign it) the work will be all yours.
- Work for hire clause/agreement. A work made for hire is a work that is created by an employee or independent contractor for an employer. If you hire someone to perform work for you on a regular or consistent basis, make sure you include a work for hire provision in your independent contractor or employment agreement. The provision will stipulate that any work created by the employee/independent contractor during the course of his/her employment shall be automatically owned by the employer (you). You may not, however, have ownership rights to any work the employee/independent contractor creates on his/her own time with his/her own money, equipment and/or resources.
Finally, since copyright protection is automatic at creation or lawful ownership, you do not need to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. However, if you wish to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement, you must register your work. To register a work, submit a completed application form, filing fee, and copies of the work to the U.S. Copyright Office.