Key intellectual property and copyright Issues

What are intellectual Property Rights?

Intellectual property rights are the rights you would have over a creation or invention in our minds. They tend to give you as a creator or an artist, the rights over the use of your creation. These rights are put into place to try and help people who have an original idea to be able to use it without the worry that someone might steal the idea from you or pass it off as their own. As a Digital designer this may seem like a very positive and helpful right but it does mean that you need to be careful when using any images or even music from the web.

One common misperceptions is that anything on the net, be it streamed, through a web site or on a search engine, i.e. Google, Bing or even Flicker is free to the public for anyone to use, this is not in fact true. Search engines record an imprint of original material and they are not there as a free library of material for people to use for their own work. Even if you are altering an image from an original photo you must in fact ask the original creator for permission beforehand. Although there are a few exceptions to the rules for example, if the original creator has been dead for more than 50 years then it may well be copyright free.

Copyright protects the following:

  • Literary works. This includes novels, articles, manuals and song lyrics.
  • Dramatic works. Including plays, Musicals and Dance.
  • Musical works. From bands, orchestral pieces and instrumental pieces.
  • Art. Anything from Paintings, Photography, technical drawings and illustrations.
  • Recordings. Both sound and film.
  • Broadcasts of a work.

You should only use a piece of the previous work that has been protected with comprehensive permission from the owner. This applies to all mediums and so you must not reproduce any pieces of work that are protected by copyright. This could include doing a painting of a copyrighted photograph, recording an audio book and publishing. To do any of these you must gain permission from the owner.


While copyright does protect your work you could also protect it further by registering it as a trademark. A trademark is a sign, image or logo which distinguishes your work from others. You have to register your trademark but this can be expensive and there are rules on doing so, for example the trademark image or logo can not be offensive or promote illegal activities such as drug us. The owner of a trademark if someone copies or uses their image may pursue legal action; countries require formal registration of a trademark as a precondition for pursuing this type of action.

Images and clips found on search engines are not copyright free, they are merely an imprint of the original image from the original web site. To use the image it is essential to contact the owner and ask permission. If you cannot find the original author or artist it does not mean it is fair gain for anyone to use the image. You cannot reproduce copyright protected images. For example this painting I have painted from the original without permission from the original creator of the image, even if it is not for commercial use. Just creating the painting infringes copyright law. However this image, due to its age is now in the public domain as it was created prior to 1923. This means it is creative common and as long as you credit the original piece you can use the image. “The creator and year of publication are essential information and must be provided”


To perform a search for similar creative common material on Flickr simply click on advanced search and click on the Creative Commons search box. This should then only provide you with images that it is ok to use. Similarly on Google you can find the advanced search via the setting button (the cog in the top right hand corner) and then scroll down the usage options and choose the option that suits your needs.

Ethical Constraints
if you are making a Design for a client you need to make a decision or sign a contract before hand stating who owns the copyright. Generally speaking the Designer will still own the copyright of a design he has put together. You are not necessarily paying the designer for a product but for the service. Obviously you can decide otherwise but that is why it is so important to decide and state beforehand the rights of the design. If a client is being difficult it is best to deal with them calmly and as long as you have done the work before hand by writing up a contract the client should have no complaints.

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