[thelist] Logo Design company graphics

Mattias Thorslund mattias at inreach.com
Wed Jan 26 16:31:27 CST 2005

Maximillian Schwanekamp wrote:

> Mattias Thorslund wrote:
>> It is true that when you create something new, you hold the copyright 
>> to it. But selling a logo without the copyright is like selling 
>> someone a car but witholding the right to drive it.  Or a left shoe 
>> without the right.
> Perhaps I missed the point, but that's not a good analogy.  When you 
> "sell" intellectual property you're generally really selling a usage 
> license.  So if I sell you a logo, a photo, a song, or computer 
> program, I am really selling you a usage license, while retaining 
> copyright.  In the case of logos, it generally means that you can use 
> that logo according to the contractual terms of the sale, which may be 
> very restrictive or nearly unlimited.  It is quite unlike selling a 
> physical product.

Yes you CAN sell or give away the copyright itself, so I think the 
analogy is good. Happens all the time. Just to take an example: The XSLT 
Cookbook by Sal Mangano is Copyright © O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. The 
Apache Cookbook, also published by O'Reilly is © Ken Coar & Rich Bowen, 
the authors.

It is ALSO possible to retain the copyright and sell or give away usage 
rights of almost any kind imaginable, as you mention.  It's also 
possible to assign co-copyright and that's nor uncommon either: A 
magazine might require that authors share their copyright with the 
magazine so that either party can use it any way they please.

The scenario: Imagine I'm a customer who wants a logo for my company. I 
hire a graphic professional to design a logo for me. After I get the 
logo I don't want to have to ask his permission to modify it, or to use 
it in a different country or anything. The logo is part of the company's 
identity. I will likely invest lots of money in web sites, stationery, 
business cards, advertising etc, etc, using this logo.

It would be highly unwise from my point of view not to own my logo, in 
every respect. If I didn't own all the rights, the designer could 
blackmail me every time I wanted to do something with it.  And, the 
designer could sell (non-exclusive) usage rights to someone else! So, no 
customer in their right mind would buy a logo if they don't get to 
actually own it.  The actual ownership of the work is part of its utility.

That's how, as a commodity, a logo is different in kind from other types 
of copyrightable material. But even if I hire someone to write an 
article for me, I'd expect to get the rights to that too, though that 
could be negotiable if the writer has some use for it that would 
motivate a discount in price for keeping some of the rights. I suddenly 
get uncertain: When it's hired work, it might be that the transfer of 
rights is implicit, at least in some countries or juristictions. In any 
case it doesn't hurt to put in plain writing what rights are transferred 
and which are reserved so that both parties know precisely where they stand.

The only legitimate use for the logo by the designer is for 
self-promotion, to put it in their portfolio. That can be arranged with 
the buyer, and it's a very limited use.  And the buyer probably won't 
have an issue with giving you "credit", or attribution, for creating it 
either. Any other motivation would be extortion, and no buyer would go 
for it. If you can't part with the copyright, don't sell logos...

> > In the end, the success of a logo is part "magical ju-ju", which is
> > what you hope you're more likely to get by hiring some expensive logo
> > designer firm, and part marketing dollars - lots of them.
> Well put!


More views at http://www.thorslund.us

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