What do you do if a client uses your logo without paying you? The natural choice would be to take legal action. But what if your client’s attorney asks you to settle for the original amount that is due instead of taking the logo down?
One of our participants was forced to make this decision when a client used his logo without paying him –
- Should he accept the attorney’s offer and transfer the rights of the design to the client?
- Can he refuse to sell this client the rights to his logo and take legal action?
The natural course of action would be for him to refuse the sale. But can a designer do that after his design has been used?
Yes, he can.
In one of our previous posts, we discussed who actually owns logo design once a designer sells it to a client. In this post, we will discuss when designers can refuse to sell the rights of their designs to clients.
If You Work Freelance
Designers who work as employees or “for hire” cannot claim ownership of their work. Any designs they create are considered the properties of their respective employers.
That is, unless they work freelance.
Former owners of Jenesis Technologies John Tabita explains –
“The mere fact that the client paid for the work does not automatically assign him ownership. This means that, unless you are working as an employer rather than an independent contractor, anything you create – be it logo, website, or some PHP code – belongs to you…unless you specify otherwise.”
When The Client Doesn’t Pay
As a freelance designer, you own the rights to your design. Anyone who uses it without your permission is guilty of copyright theft. IT manager Peter Connolly echoes this sentiment –
“Copyright theft doesn’t have limits on it. Even if the logo was only for a time limited event, it was still used without permission and the client is liable.”
Until Its Rights Are Transferred In Writing
Apparently, you can still refuse to sell the rights to your design even after a client has paid for it. How is this possible? The “I paid for it, so I own it” mantra doesn’t work for copyrightable work. Even if a client pays for your work, he cannot claim it as his own until its rights are transferred to him in writing.
Designer Neil Tortorella says that a designer owns copyright until it has been transferred –
“You own copyright until it’s been transferred in writing. I’d have my lawyer send a cease and desist letter to the client and their attorney stating that he’s in copyright violation until full payment is made. If usage continues you leave them no recourse but to sue for infringement and non-payment.”
It can be concluded that designers have full rights to their logos unless they explicitly sell these rights to their clients in writing.