Who can I copyright an infographic to?

Portfolio & references

Design Law series by Art Lawyer

Anyone who earns their money as a freelance graphic artist, illustrator, designer, advertiser, photographer, etc. must draw attention to themselves and their achievements. Well-made websites are often the first step in contacting a customer and thus the start of a new job. But not only the look of a website is decisive, but also the content. The more a potential client learns about the graphic artist's work, the easier it will be for him to decide to hire him.

Future clients can best get a good first impression through a meaningful portfolio or by providing references. On the one hand, this can be done by listing the individual companies for which you have already worked. On the other hand, however, also through the presentation of specific work for the respective company. Sounds easy, but as is so often the case, there are some legal pitfalls to be aware of. Right of use, copyright, trademark law and also competition law play an essential role.

First the good news: in principle, you can advertise yourself and your work by making public who you count among your customers. But there is a small downer, because there are also customers who do not want that. However, disputes with customers can be avoided by asking beforehand whether the customer agrees to the publication of his name or specific work samples and project details. If the customer refuses to give his consent, there can be good reasons. For example, the protection of trade secrets. It is therefore advisable to assume a fundamental duty of confidentiality for every project and order. And you should always listen carefully to the customer, as it is sufficient if the customer verbally expresses the wish to keep the cooperation a secret. It is also essential to clarify from what point in time the customer agrees to publication. Anyone who advertises their work during the contract or immediately after the project has been completed can also get into trouble. Here, too, the customer can have an interest in secrecy, for example to protect himself from competitors.

If the customer agrees to the publication, the trademark rights, rights of use and copyrights should also be clarified in any case.

Once the client's logo or brand name is published, approval from the brand owner should be obtained. In addition, you should never give the impression that you are making someone else's brand your own or that you are promoting your own achievements by mentioning the brand name. The latter is especially true when there is not even a business relationship. One should think of cases in which there was only an inquiry but no specific order.

The same applies to copyright law. If you want to publish a photo, for example, you should also obtain written approval here; in this case, email is sufficient. In addition, the usage rights should always be clarified. If, for example, this has been given for a printed flyer, this does not mean that the flyer can also be published on the Internet.

What else has to be considered ...

The client can revoke his consent at any time and he can limit the time of use. If no time limit has been agreed, the so-called transfer-of-purpose theory is used in case of doubt. Here it is checked what purpose the agreement was subject to and whether this was fulfilled or is still being fulfilled.

Anyone who earns their money as an employee graphic designer, illustrator etc. may also be interested in publishing their references, e.g. when they are looking for a new job. The employment contract should be checked carefully here.

Basically, the rights to the work lie with the employer and there they remain even if you leave him. However, the copyrights to the work always remain with the author; the employer has only "bought" a right of use and exploitation by paying a fee. However, the employer can give permission to publish the work outside the company. However, the interests of the customers must also be protected in this case. Without a permit it can be expensive. In addition to copyright disputes, there is also a risk of competition law and trademark law disputes, which can result in warnings, injunctions, claims for information or claims for damages.

In summary, it can be said that with approval from all parties involved, you are always on the safe side. Anyone who does not work alone on projects should always be honest enough to name the contributors, so not only legal but also personal disputes are avoided. Even if a portfolio is to make an impression, you always have to remain honest in order to present yourself, your achievements and your skills in a credible way.

Article by Jens O. Brelle & Denise Jurack, Art Lawyer