I was involved in a relationship of which I designed logos and product labels for a few companies. At that time, I was not knowledgeable of intellectual property laws. Also at that time, Due to my ignorance, I didn't have them or me sign any documentation to sign over intellectual property. In this instance, am I still able to claim intellectual property theft if I do not want them to use said graphics anymore if I have proof that I am the one that created these designs?

  • Was the the design work between you and the other companies verbally understood to be work for hire? You work, they pay? And what's your jurisdiction? Dec 5, 2017 at 17:32
  • Where are you & the company located? "Work for hire" provisions must be specifically agreed to in writing to be valid in some jurisdictions (e.g., the US), assuming that you were not an employee of the company at the time. Dec 5, 2017 at 17:36
  • We (as in all three of us) were all under a verbal agreement. We didn't have companies at first but grew to have our own after a while. Which led to no contract. It was technically, at first, from person to person. Not company to company. The agreement was that I receive a percentage of the companies as well as a couple lump payments. The other parties only kept 1/4 of their agreement and I was not interested in moving forward with after a long wait. As said, I was not knowledgeable enough about intellectual property. Which, in turn, made me ignorance to those contracts and how they work.
    – kmkmkm
    Dec 5, 2017 at 18:03

1 Answer 1


Disclaimer: armchair lawyerin' by a non-lawyer below. The following answer is specific to US law.

Under US law, the copyright of a "work for hire" belongs to the party paying for it, not the creator. However, to be considered as a work for hire, the creator must either be an employee or have a signed a written contract stating that this is a work for hire:

A “work made for hire” is—

  1. a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or

  2. a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.

Whether or not the creator is an employee of the company hinges upon many factors; see Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid (1989) for more details. But if the work was not a "work for hire", then the creator generally retains copyright.

That said, it is also likely that if someone does work for a company without a contract, that company gains an implied license to use the work for the originally intended purposes. Moreover, if the creator receives "consideration" (i.e., anything else of value) for the work, this license is irrevocable. In Asset Marketing Systems, Inc. v. Gagnon (2008), a contractor tried to revoke his permission for a company to use code that he had written. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that if a company pays a creator to create a work, the work is delivered to the company, and the creator intends for the company to copy & distribute that work, then the company has an implied, non-exclusive, irrevocable license to distribute the work.

If this situation applies, then a creator probably can't force the company to stop using the work for the originally intended purposes. However, if the company started using it for substantially different purposes, the creator might be able to stop them from doing that. Establishing what counts as "substantially different", and what was "originally intended" in the case of a verbal contract, is something that gets established in court on a case-by-case basis; that's why lawyers get the big money.

ETA, after seeing your comment: nothing in what I've said is specific to "companies" licensing and/or owning copyright in the work. Even if the original transaction was "person to person", the above principles probably still apply.

  • Thus, any of the wording that states "company" I replaced with "person", in favor of probability, and then read the statements again. In reading, my understanding is that myself receiving any sort of compensation from the party receiving the designs, whether the payment made is half of what was agreed upon or not, they have a right to design's license, so it seems.
    – kmkmkm
    Dec 8, 2017 at 22:32

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