When you have designers create artwork for your company, who owns the design? Are you allowed to use it anyway you like? Do you have to give credit? These are questions that might have answers that will surprise you.
In General, Who Actually Owns the Art?
As a general rule of thumb, you can assume that the person who drew the work actually retains the rights. Even if you were charged a fee for the artwork, the person who put it together actually owns the copyright.
The Copyright Act of 1976 (USC Title 17) was put into place in order to protect artists and their work. Independently contracted artists retain the rights to the work they create for their clients unless otherwise specified.
Exceptions to the Rule
There are some exceptions to the copyright act that was established. If an artist is work for hire, then the one who hired them owns the work.
For example, if a person is hired by a company and they pay an hourly or salary wage to the individual, then their artwork is owned by the one who pays the salary. That would be considered a duty or responsibility of the job.
If you hire a person on staff to draw or create artwork, then you have the rights to the work they create.
Agreements Should Be Made Ahead of Time
It is important that you understand that without an agreement, when you hire an independent contractor or firm, they have the rights to the artwork they put together for you. That is why it is very important to get written contracts ahead of time.
Be sure that you ask the firm or independent contractor to draft an agreement with you stating that you retain ownership of the artwork and that they relinquish the rights. The same goes with print shops.
If you do not own the rights to the artwork that is created for you, then the artist has the ability to charge you for its use. Basically, the fees you have paid to the artist is for their time, not their finished product. Get it in writing!