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Logos are intellectual properties. And as with any property, they can be stolen. Yes, if a physical possession can be stolen, what prevents others from stealing an idea or a design concept?

Yet, it is not only others who can steal ideas; you can become a culprit as well if you don’t know the details of copyright law. If a designer is not well versed in the law, he or she can inadvertently violate copyright laws as well. Thus as a rule of thumb, if it’s not yours, you can’t use it, plain and simple.

Copyright infringement is an issue that does not get the exposure it deserves. There must be enough awareness that this offense is serious. Copyright infringement is a criminal act and the law does not differentiate between stealing jewels and stealing ideas.

Copyright for Logo Designers

The professional design association called AIGA listed its definition of copyright in the context of creative design. Copyright refers to “the exclusive right to control reproduction and commercial exploitation of your creative work.” Copyright provides creative minds with the protection they sorely need. Any type of artwork, photograph or logo design can be subject to a copyright.

For an intellectual property to have copyright protection, it must have “fixed form of expression.” This refers to any tangible medium that can be perceived by people. This covers traditional forms such as sculptures, texts and paintings as well as new forms such as websites, digital picture files and CDs. You can also trademark your logo design.

Copyright Protection for Logo Fonts

In an article, author Mark Monlux discussed the extent of copyright protection for logos especially those which use fonts or letters. Although there are no specific provisions about typeface logo design (according to the USA Copyright Office), the use of fonts have restrictions too. Thus, it pays to study and determine the “artistic features capable of existing separately and independently of the overall utilitarian shape.”

Fonts cannot be sold to a client because they are only “mere lettering.” It is therefore illegal to sell derivatives of a typeface especially if it will be used for a logo.

A tried and tested solution to avoid copyright infringements is to seek the permission of the typeface owner. It does not have to be a face to face meeting. There are also downloadable typefaces with attached user agreements. Designers should verify the extent of these documents.

Logo design is a different case when it comes to font usage. Because logos are used for commercial projects, the owner of the copyright should get compensation for their work.

Font Licensing

Font licensing is not the same as owning a typeface. It only means that the licensee has permission to use a font on only one computer. To be sure, fonts must be bought separately per user. Failure to do so will lead to violations of the end-user license agreement between the logo designer and the typeface owner.

Legal Alternatives to Using Fonts

A logo designer has a legal alternative if he or she wishes to copy a font. The designer should print each letter of the font at a large printer. Scan the resulting image and import in a font design program. This may be morally ambivalent but technically it is legal in the United States.

Another alternative would be to create one’s own typeface. This gives a logo designer more leeway in playing with the design. If the text of the logo is customized, the designer can craft a very specific look according to the needs of the client. This can also lead to additional sources of income because the typeface can be licensed to other designers as well.

Ignorance is bliss, some people say. But ignorance of the law has no excuse. Copyright protection is put in place to look after the welfare of creative minds. It must be carefully studied so that designers will be reminded that they have their rights and responsibilities as well.

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & CEO of SpellBrand. Since 1998, Mash has helped conscious brands differentiate themselves and AWAKEN through Brand Strategy and Brand Identity Design. Schedule a Brand Strategy Video Call with Mash.