Monday, 16 September 2019

Check the copyright rules on design

Employers should be wary of agreeing to allow staff to create company promotional material if it’s not in their actual job description - that's the warning from Andrew Oranjuik, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford.

“It may be tempting to accept an offer from one of your employees who enjoys design in their spare time – after all, wouldn’t that be much more cost effective than taking on an external creative firm to create a new logo for your business?

“But in fact, copyright law says the designer of any kind of promotional logo is the legal owner, unless it was created by an employee in the course of their employment. So if the person is employed as a designer in your firm and they create the logo during their normal working hours, the logo itself would be owned by the employer.

“If they don’t work in a design or creative role for your company though, you could find yourself in an extremely tricky situation.”

Mr Oranjuik said if the employee owned the logo and at some point they then left the firm on bad terms, it could lead to serious difficulties.

“You could find your firm held to ransom over the logo, with the employee demanding a large fee to transfer the logo, or they could refuse permission for it to be used at all. This in turn could lead to an expensive rebranding exercise with all the associated work involved and the cost of making changes to your company’s website, stationery, and promotional literature.”

Mr Oranjuik said employers should check the employee’s contract to see if it contained an intellectual property clause – this would prescribe the ownership of any copyright that’s created during their employment.

“If there isn’t an intellectual property clause, or the contact doesn’t cover the current situation, you should agree ownership of the logo in writing – and don’t just rely on a verbal agreement, as that risks becoming your word against theirs.

“You’ll need to agree a form of payment for signing over their legal rights to the ownership of the copyright too, but don’t ask them what amount they’d like. Just include a nominal amount of perhaps £1 – and if they query the figure, you can always negotiate or decide not to go ahead with the design process.”