If I commission someone to create something for me, do I own the rights in it?

When something is created, unregistered rights such as copyright, UK unregistered design right and European Community unregistered design right may subsist in that particular design. These rights may subsist individually, or they may all subsist together, depending on the nature of the work created.

The default position under the legislation is that the creator of the work, not the commissioner, will be the owner of any copyrights and European Community unregistered design right whereas the commissioner, and not the author, will be the owner of UK unregistered design right. Therefore different people could own different rights in the same work, with each of those rights having a different scope and duration.

The situation is further complicated in that, generally, if you commission the creation of something for a particular purpose, then an implied licence will arise in your favour to use the work for that purpose. However, determining the scope of any implied licence can often be difficult and has led to much litigation.

In summary of the above, unless the ownership of rights is dealt with expressly by the parties through a written agreement  (at a later date a disagreement may arise over the use of that work) enlisting the help of lawyers and the Courts to sort it out will be expensive. ACID members therefore should consider using the Freelance Designer generic agreement to ensure the ownership of rights is dealt with expressly at the outset so everyone is clear of the position.

Last update on 28.09.11 by the ACID Team.

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