The headline is sort of a trick question. It’s true that once a glorious logo or beer label (or poster, etc.) is “done” in a sense, it’s already copyrighted. In fact, that finger painting your two-year-old niece made is copyrighted, too. Having a registered copyright, though, comes with benefits. We’ll get into those tomorrow. Today, though, we wanted to point out something really important about “Copyright Law,” maybe the most important takeaway for any brewery or small business: The Work For Hire Doctrine.
This is not fuzzy-wuzzy legal mumbo jumbo, the Work for Hire Doctrine is pretty darn important, especially in the brewing world. Craft breweries are really fortunate that a lot of people want to get involved and lend a hand. And, as future brewery owners start up and reach out to their networks, they probably have awesome artists, graphic designers, and web gurus in their corner, willing to help. Still, it doesn’t matter how much a brewery pays them (nada to thousands), that brewery technically doesn’t “own” all the rights to the logo/image/website/whatever unless they get a written document, signed, that expressly assigns all the rights in the work from the artist to the brewery.
Basically, if the person is an independent contractor and not a full-blown employee (there’s a legal test for that), copyright law tends to err on the side of safety, giving the artist/writer/designer the supreme rights to the material. Even though a brewery asks for it to be created, and pays for it to be created, the artist still hangs on to rights. The brewery might have the implied right to use the cool beer-release poster, say, around town and display it in the taproom…but if the artist wanted to have it published (for money) in a poster-compilation book, the doctrine gives them latitude to do it without asking the brewery (pocketing the cash).
Understandably, when you’re used to the handshake way of doing business, especially among friends, it can feel weird to “contract” in any way. A savvy designer, though, should be familiar with “work for hire” and it shouldn’t be a big deal. In fact, getting these things in writing will make your creative exchange work the way you might think it already does.
We hate to paint a doom & gloom picture because we’re glass-half-full kinds of people. For the most part, relationships don’t sour too often and the train tends to stay on the tracks, but to protect yourself, you need to know what’s out there. We’ll leave you with this real-life example, Conwell v. Gray Loon Outdoor Marketing Group, Inc., where the Work for Hire Doctrine was one piece of a puzzle that allowed a business’s entire website to get deleted, without real recourse. Poof.