What Intellectual Property Means to Marketing Clients
In marketing and advertising we don’t talk about intellectual property much, but we should. What we do for a living is all about intellectual property from the seeds of promotional ideas that form in our heads when we are meeting with clients, to the completed one hundred plus page website on launch day. Every ad we create, every headline we write, every brochure we design is intellectual property, and as such, they are all protected under US Copyright Law. However, the general public, and more specifically, our clients, are not aware of that fact, or the logic behind it.
As marketers and designers, we make our livelihood with our creativity and skills, which we translate into graphics, designs, descriptions, slogans and advertisements to help our clients promote their business, sell more products, and make more money. That creativity and skill is intangible and immeasurable, but it certainly has value like any other business asset, and therefore, needs to be protected.
In the world of graphic design and marketing, imitation is NOT the finest form of flattery; it is disrespectful, unethical and may be illegal. It is similar to the Coach purse craze from a couple of years ago. Coach purses became all the rage for women as owning one (or several) became a status symbol. However, at several hundred dollars each, many simply could not afford to buy them. Some enterprising (albeit unscrupulous) companies began manufacturing and distributing “knock-off” Coach purses and selling them for a fraction of the originals. The knock-off manufacturers did not have permission, therefore, did not have the right to produce and sell purses with Coach logos and designs. Coach, Inc. has been very aggressively defending its intellectual property rights and filed federal trademark and copyright infringement lawsuits against the offending companies complaining of “trademark counterfeiting, trademark infringement, trade dress infringement, false designation of origin and false advertising, trademark dilution, copyright infringement, unfair competition, criminal forgery, and criminal counterfeiting.” (INiplaw.org, Sept. 29, 2011)
While it is not on as large a scale as the Coach situation, 44º North Advertising & Design and other companies that offer graphic design services are in the same situation. When our graphic artist creates an original logo, piece of artwork or a design for our clients, that client will use that graphic as a visual means to identify his business. The shape, colors and typeface were carefully thought out and strategically planned to appeal specifically to a particular group of people that business is trying to attract. Years of training, experience and talent were combined to create just the right combination to evoke the desired emotions and prompt the targeted customer to buy the client’s product or visit his business. If a competitor across town simply copies our hard-fraught work, or even blatantly imitates it, they are violating US Copyright law.
Copyright Law places ownership of “original works of authorship, including pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” (US Copyright Circular 40.0613) with the original creator or the company that employs the creator. This intellectual property is automatically copyrighted when it is created for the first time. Neither registration in the Copyright Office nor publication is required for copyright protection.
Copyright protection gives the owner of original, creative works the exclusive right to copy, publish, distribute and adapt their works. Essentially, the owner has the right to stop others from copying, adapting, publishing and distributing their work without permission. (Amanda Duffy on blog.kunvay.com) This is a key issue in the design, advertising and marketing industry. It is our practice to educate our clients that all right, title and interest in intellectual property developed during the course of discussions between our companies, or developed in the course of our work for our clients belongs to 44º North. While we will not provide raw art files to our clients or their representatives as a practical matter, we will provide un-editable .pdf proofs to our clients for their records, and will provide printers, publications, and such with appropriate files so they can perform their work.
Does this mean you don’t own your company logo?
Yes, and no. Under the law, if 44º North Advertising & Design created your logo, we own the copyright to it. However, it is our practice to provide our clients with a complete digital set of logo files for their use.
Technically, 44º North still owns the work, but we understand that companies need to have quick and easy access to their logo. Our solution is to provide you with your logo files digitally because we believe you should not have to pay us to forward your logo every time you want to use it. In addition, we always keep logos, and brands we create and are happy to supply them to various vendors when requested by our clients, at no charge, provided there are no sizing changes to the files.
Of course other firms may have different policies concerning logo files. Be aware that some marketing firms retain full rights to all of your creative, including your logo, and will charge you each time they send out your logo to various vendors. Also be aware that they are perfectly within their legal rights to do so.