Copyright—how does it apply to graphic designers and their clients? 

Copyright is concerned with ownership that arises when an artist such as a graphic artist, or a designer, a writer, an image creator, or a music maker, for example uses their own creative skills and labour to produce something. 

In the context of the design industry, it is useful to think of copyright as a way of providing graphic design artists and the companies they work for with an incentive to continue producing new material. For their clients it provides protection over ownership of the finished product they have paid for. The Australian Copyright Council’s website has some great free resources and is a good place to visit to gain insight to copyright law and how it applies in Australia. 


Legal framework

Copyright provides a legal framework for the control of creations that protects both the client’s final product and the intellectual property of the graphic design agency. In Australia copyright law is covered by the Copyright Act 1968 and is administered by the Commonwealth Attorney-General and applies throughout Australia. 

Graphic designers are remunerated for their expertise in creative problem solving and for using their experience to design things such as annual reports, brochures, websites, social media campaigns and much more. Graphic artists and designers receive automatic protection of their creative processes under several different and separate copyrights. According to the Australian Copyright Council, copyright is designed to protect textual material, computer programs, artistic work, dramatic work, musical works, cinematograph films, sound recordings, broadcasts and published editions. 

What the client owns at the end of a project

As the client of a graphic design agency, you may be wondering what you own at the end of the process. How does copyright impact the relationship between you and your favourite graphic designer? What copyright protections extend to you at the completion of your project? 

When I pay for something, I am comfortable with the fact that I now own that thing. The product is mine, but I do not own the developed plans from prototype to finished product. Planning, trial and error and creative problem solving is the intellectual property of the entity such as a graphic design agency that produced the thing. Within these creative processes are the elements of a company’s competitive edge and the essence of what keeps their customers coming back. 

When buying a car, we may choose the colour and whether we want leather or material seats but the big brand car company during this process is not agreeing to share their design planning and technology development strategies with you. They are simply offering their customers the opportunity of choice. Like the finished product from a graphic design agency such as a brochure, advertisement, or social media campaign, because you bought one of their cars or paid for a design service, it does not follow that you are now entitled to confidential company information. 

Copyright situations that automatically apply

If you are a client of a graphic design company, it is useful to think about the several different copyright situations that automatically apply. For example, if you provide actual material at the briefing stage then that material is considered your intellectual property. Creative processes and problem-solving skills that the graphic artist and design company engage in to produce that amazing logo, fantastic branding solution, or incredible website are the intellectual property of the design company. These creative processes are known as the working design files. The final product is owned and paid for by you the client. 

In almost every case the client owns the final artwork however the designer retains ownership of the working design files and all non-final design drafts. Sometimes this concept can be hard to understand as the relationship between client and graphic designer is collaborative by nature. 

Ask questions

The best way to think of copyright it is to ask questions at the start of a project and feel positive that automatic protections under copyright law are there to serve everybody including you the client, the graphic artists, and the graphic design companies. 

Just as the finished product has a monetary value that you pay for, so does the working materials and processes undertaken by the design company. It is up to both parties to resolve whether the working design files are included in the negotiations for a design project. A Design Services Agreement or Graphic Design Agreement governs the relationship between the graphic designer and the client and not only includes things such as what work will be undertaken, the timing, and payment but also the ownership details of the work. If you’d like to know more chat to us!