Getting paid for (all) your work

Why do designers give up the copyright on their work so cheaply? Why don’t consultancies value their own intellectual property? And what can the design industry learn from other (more organised) sectors?


In this week’s Designer Breakfast, which looked to address these issues, Susan Griggs, a photographers’ agent who fought the battle to change UK law to allow photographers and illustrators to keep the copyright of their work, urged designers to unite and be more forceful for the rights to their intellectual property.

On one level, Griggs’ argument was very simple – if you’re creating something for a client – say a photograph for an advert, then the client should pay you for that particular usage. If the client then wants to, for example, broadcast that photograph in space, then they should pay you again.

This is the model that works in photography, in TV and in many other industries – so why not in design? Why do we get instances like that highlighted by Luke Pearson of Pearson Lloyd, who says his consultancy was involved in a pitch for a project that could have been worth £2 million for the client – and for a token fee of £5000 Pearson Lloyd was asked to hand over its IP?

Well for one thing the design industry isn’t like other sectors, it’s sprawling, disconnected and touches on every type of creation for every type of client. It’s not as clear-cut as, for example, photography.

But there are other, more solvable, reasons. For starters, IP and copyright (along with many other business issues) are barely covered on most design courses. The result is a situation where design graduates have spent three or four years honing their craft skills only to be released into the industry with no idea of how to make money – and avoid getting ripped off by clients.

There also seems to be a lack of communication over the issue. Several panellists at the Designer Breakfast asked whether or not the design industry had an organisation lobbying for change before an understandably frustrated Design Business Association chief executive Deborah Dawton pointed out that the DBA had – amongst other things – examples of contracts and case studies of copyright protection for designers to make use of.

Design is, of course, not like other sectors – it’s far bigger and it cuts far deeper. A one-size-fits-all approach to something like IP would be a disaster in design. But that leaves the onus on individual consultancies to solve their own problems – and there are plenty of organisations, not least the DBA and Anti-Copying in Design, to support them.

So if you want to get paid for your work – all your work – then the help is there for you to work out a copyright arrangement. But you also need to help yourself.

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  • da bishop November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Yes, it’s certainly possible to reduce the up-front fees, and get paid for usage. However, as with so many things, graphics is a service to businesses, it’s not technically a business in its own right. Therefore, the business suits tend to favour the companies that aren’t trying to maximise their revenues. Ultimately it doesn’t cost a supplier more, unless the work needs to be repurposed.

    Currently photographers often give out copyright licenses for particular usage and retain the copyright, soundtrack is very often licensed with both publishing and copyright retained, but typographic arrangements… not so much.

  • Nick Garrett November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Good points but a lot of issues arise in grey area exchanges see this article

  • Rob Andrews November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    There then comes the issue of who actually owns the copyright. If company A design a beautiful identity which company B interprets into an award-winning poster or brochure or website, to whom should the financial credit go?
    This factor alone makes copyright almost impossible to enforce and so all you can do is shrug your shoulders and win the best fee you can at the time you do the job, hoping your client honours your design in its future interpretations.

  • derek johnston November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think the biggest challenge is convincing clients that they effectively have to pay twice – once for you to devise a logo/visual identity/retail environment/light/sofa etc and then again when they want to use it for themselves or advertise it.

    could you possibly conceive that if you design a ‘thing’ , that your client would happily send you another cheque to feature it in an ad campaign or flyer, or thier webiste?

    just negotiate enough fees upfront to satisfy you financial expectations.

    I’d also like to highlight that clients loathe all the managed rights stuff associated with photographers and illustrators fees and generally puts them off selecting the best talent – rather they go for ‘cheaper’ .

  • David Bartholomew November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    If you tell a client you want to retain copyright they will simply go to another design company that is prepared to assign it. It’s just like free pitching – the disparate design industry is its own worst enemy.

  • Maxine Horn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Fear and lack of understanding of Intellectual Property including Copyright even at its most basic level is what prevents the design sector from dealing with it in a upfront and professional manner.

    Photographers, illustrators and artists would have been in the same position if it were not for the likes of Susan Griggs who fought their corner – but the difference was that these creatives were represented by agents whose own income relied on a % of fees and re-use fees.

    And there are those of us who have dealt with the issues and created simple, low cost, non-complex, fair and ethical mechanisms to help the design sector – and they are legally robust and non-threatening to clients and agencies alike.

    Yet despite that designers still avoid using the tools created for them at the same time as ask again for other organisations to repeat the same work on their behalf and at their cost, so that they can avoid the solutions again and again ask for help

    No wonder Deborah Dawton got so frustrated – so would I have done – and still do

    Agencies simply have to start taking responsibility themselves, over come their fears, stop burying their heads in the sand and stop making other responsible for their professional practice –

    The self help tools, the mechanisms, the myriad of free IP seminars, workshops and training is out there – just do something about it and use what is available to you and suits you best.

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