Copyright issues in Logo Design

February 01, 2015/POSTED BY /0 Comments
Copyright is an issue that doesn’t come up very often in blog articles, especially in logo design so I thought I would bring this topic up to see if we could learn something from it, myself included.I should mention that this article starts off a bit technical, but bear with it… clarifications come further in the article.What Is Copyright?
AIGA, the professional association for design, defines copyright as:“The exclusive right to control reproduction and commercial exploitation of your creative work. Copyright protects any kind of artwork, including illustrations, photographs and graphic design. Except under certain circumstances (see “work made for hire” section), you own the copyright in your work at the moment you create it in a “fixed form of expression.” A fixed form of expression is any tangible medium that can be perceived by humans, including traditional forms—such as paintings, sculptures, writings—and new forms that require a machine to perceive (e.g., GIF files, CDs, websites).
I am not going to go into the basics of copyright here, as you can read about that in the link above but I would like to bring up some areas worthy of discussion…Copyright Laws In Logo Design
Based on the definition given by AIGA above, you own the copyright of your own design once “you create it in a “fixed” form of expression” but the question is where can you draw this line?For example, say I am going to design a logotype (ie. a logo that is made out of a typeface only)… this means I will have to use a typeface designed by another designer. Assuming I have paid for the license of that particular typeface, does this give me exclusive rights to change / alter the typeface and then resell it onto a client?The closest answer I came across was found in this article titled Can We Use Fonts In Logo Design? by Mark Monlux, of the Graphic Artists Guild.It is true that the USA Copyright Office does not copyright typeface design. However, that does not mean that typeface does not have some restrictions. Specifically in the Copyright Ruling of 1988 it says regarding typefaces: “Useful articles are not protected except to the extent the articles contain artistic features capable of existing separately and independently of the overall utilitarian shape. Variations of typographic ornamentation [or] “mere lettering” are not copyrightable.”

Turning that legal jumble into English, it is to my understanding (correct me if I am wrong) that we CAN NOT edit a font and sell it to a client as “mere lettering” of the font. ie. Since our logo will be using characters out of a copyrighted typeface (scalable fonts are copyrightable) it is classified as “mere lettering” and it is “independent of the overall utilitarian shape” which means that it exists separately from the typeface itself, therefore making it illegal to sell on as a derivative of the typeface.

So what can we do? Monlux continues on in the article:

“Ask first [the type foundry], get permission [to use the typeface]. Most type foundries have user agreements printed with the disks they supply or posted online at their websites. All user agreements are not alike. Read through them and see if permission is already granted. If the foundry does not hold all the licensing to the typeface then they should be able to provide you with the name of the artist who created it.”
So to clarify, to use any part of a scalable typeface in a logo design that we want to resell onto a client, we must first read the user agreement and / or check with foundry to confirm whether we may use the typeface in the logo design.

Monlux confirms this in his replies saying that:

It’s typically permissible to use typefaces in brochures, books, magazines, and other enlightening, and informative works because the typeface is being used as typeface. But speciality uses (such as logo design) are going to require that you do a little homework. Be sure to read that user agreement which comes with your font.

Font Licensing / Design Patents / Trademarks
On this topic of font licensing one should also know that:

“When a font is ‘purchased’ the user never really owns the font – they typically receive a license to use that font ON ONLY ONE COMPUTER. These End User License Agreements (EULAs) differ between companies but generally state quite clearly that the fonts may only be used on machines for which there is a valid license.”
Based on this fact, this means that you can not send clients any fonts unless the user agreement specifically allows it. Fonts must be purchased separately per user otherwise it is a violation of the end-user license agreement between the logo designer and the typeface designer.

This leaves me to one question that I could not find the answer to… Does this mean the client will have to pay for another license of the font to be able to use the logo design or do they only have to purchase another license if they want to use the whole typeface? I would presume the latter but I could be wrong.

You Can Still Legally Copy A Font
While researching I also came across something that really caught my eye… According to the SIL:

“If a type designer wants to ‘copy’ a font in a manner legal in the USA, they would now be required to print out every glyph at large size on a printer, then scan the image and import it into the font design program. They could then manually or automatically trace the image. This seems to be perfectly legal under current understandings of US copyright law, but may not be morally acceptable.”
So in the end if worse comes to worst (and I mean worst), you could still technically ‘copy’ a font.

So, what do you know about copyright in logo design? Please share your knowledge in the comments below.

Further Copyright Resources
Copyright Resources

Copyright Basics For Graphic Designers (USA)
Copyright Office (USA)
Design and Artists Copyright Society (UK)
Australian Copyright Council (Australia)
Font Copyright / Licensing

Guide to Ethical Type
Font Licensing and Protection Details
Are Fonts Copyrightable?
General Copyright Resources

10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained
All About Creative Commons
6 Steps To Stop Content Theft


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