You own the copyright so don’t hand it over

Posted on: June 7th, 2012

It surprises me that a number of fellow freelancers say in their terms and conditions that the copyright remains theirs until the client has paid them, at which point the copyright is owned by the client.

If you are self employed, the copyright of something you have created, whether it’s a photograph, a design or a piece of copy, is always yours unless the client decides they want to own it – in which case they will need to pay you for the ownership.

But only if you agree to grant them the copyright. You don’t have to. A photographer I know will very rarely agree to sign over the copyright of the work he has created, no matter how large a fee the client is prepared to pay.

It’s the law

In the UK, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 means that copyright of the work we create remains our intellectual property right.

For example, if you’ve written a website and the client wants to re-use your words for any other use or in any other medium, they will need to pay you a re-use fee. The problem is, it is the law, but it is extremely hard to get clients to agree to this. Just about the only time I have had success in this was when I did some work for the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society.

They understood the situation perfectly because they are in the business of ensuring authors receive fair payment for the various uses of their work.

Don’t sell yourself short

If you are a designer, you could be losing out on a small fortune if you hand over the copyright of logos to clients. Same goes for copywriters and slogans.

Take the Nike ‘tick’. I learned the other day that the designer who created it back in charged US$2 an hour for the time it took her to create it. Imagine how much that logo must be worth.

So we freelancers mustn’t sell ourselves short by settling for straight fees when we design logos and straplines.


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