Last week, we introduced the Work for Hire Doctrine, noting that those folks who make your logo or your website technically own the final art/work, unless you get a signed writing assigning the rights to you. We didn’t mention, though, that whether it’s properly assigned or not, you’ll want to be absolutely sure that the elements used in designing the logo or website are not subject to copyright or other claims!
To put this in context, it helps to think like a designer. A brewery typically gives the designer input about what kind of logo to make, then the designer heads off to craft some comps. The designer probably wouldn’t start from scratch, though, but would look to a personal or commercial library of stock art to start crafting the design—will there be sheathes of wheat, a vintage-looking crest shape? Whatever graphical elements the artist selects, you’ll want to be certain you’ve obtained the correct rights to incorporate them into your commercial logo.
But, did you know that even your use of a font could be infringing? ‘Tis true. Font/typeface law is actually sort of tricky (your rights flow from a software user agreement). But, sometimes it’s not crystal clear or even close to clear how you’re allowed to use a particular font. For example, check out one of our favorite font websites, dafont.com. Filter the offerings by “Stencil,” and the very first result is called “Capture it.” The font is listed as Donationware, which means that if you make a donation, you’re allowed to use the font in certain ways. There’s a document inside the downloaded font file that lets you know how you’re allowed to use it. Trouble is, the explanation is pretty cryptic.
Check it out for yourself in the picture above. Can’t sell what directly? Merchandise bearing the typeface—or just the typeface itself? What’s an illegal copy?
We share all this to say, when you’re having your logo or beer labels designed, it’s good practice to be darn sure that you have the right to use each and every element. Friends who make awesome art, but don’t do it as a career, may not know the nuances of Copyright Law—putting your neck on the line, and maybe even risking a logo redesign, if you’re found to be using creative elements without first securing the proper permission.