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A few months ago I made a logo for a customer on Brandsupply. Brandsupply is a site that lets a customer upload their ideas for a logo, and then choose the logo they want from the design that a bunch of designers created for them. I got the idea for the logo from Shutterstock. If I would ever get sued in the future, will I be the one who’ll have to pay? The customer doesn’t have any way of my contacting me, except for mailing me. What would be the smartest thing to do?

The customer already said (before even choosing my logo) that if there ever has to be paid money for copyright, the designer will have to pay. But he simply typed this in a message; so of course it doesn’t mean much. Can I do anything to prevent trouble?

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    Did you learn anything from this? – Mawg Dec 4 '17 at 17:24
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    "Getting the idea from" X is not the same as copying X; copyright does not protect ideas. You don't have to be very different to have a defence under copyright law. Trademark law is different; a trademark must avoid the risk of confusion, which is a much more stringent requirement. But I would have thought it's your client that has the responsibility to decide whether the design passes that test. At any rate, I would think you'd be well advised to tell them that it's their responsibility. – Michael Kay Dec 5 '17 at 10:28
  • nah, it's not the designer who faces trouble, it's the company using the logo. BUT note that (1) it is all-but inconceivable they will ever have legal trouble (2) all you have to do is buy the item for $10 from shutter and all problems vanish. Mostly (3) the client will (possibly) think you are lame for pinching a logo idea, but (quite possibly) they just couldn't give a stuff about the issue, and would gladly and willingly steal a logo themselves if they knew how! – Fattie Dec 5 '17 at 14:59
  • @Fatie – I've been in a meeting on the other end of this, where we found a design agency had very heavily borrowed from a vector stock – basically just added type. We complained, and the agency very embarrassedly bought us the rights to it, and returned their entire fee. So it does happen. Though probably a lot less likely on a spec-work site like that. – Dan W Dec 12 '17 at 23:45
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If you have copied something from a design on Shutterstock and it is in distinctive enough to be recognised then you are in danger of being pursued for copyright infringement.

However, Shutterstock images are sold as royalty free for commercial use, so all you need to do is purchase the image that the copied / used as inspiration on behalf of your customer (or if they purchase the rights to use it themselves) then you should be covered. If you have a license for using the image then you can also, adapt, recolour, rework, etc...

You’re not protected by any kind of anonymity here, if Shutterstock’s legal team get in touch with the freelancing website that you use, I’m willing to bet that your details will be handed over in a heartbeat. It probably even says that in the terms and conditions that you (read and) signed.

UPDATE: Based on the comments below, I think it’s worth clarifying some of the assumptions that I have made when formulating my answer. Firstly, I’m assuming that the company name forms the main part of the logo and the copied element is just styling or embellishment (swirls, stripes, text treatment, etc). Secondly, I’m assuming that the copied part is not an image or recognisable photo of people. Finally, I’m assuming that the logo does not form part of a product that is resold. That would require a completely different kind of license. If these assumptions are correct then the answer stands.

As others have said... I’m not a lawyer.

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    I'm not certain that merely purchasing the image from Shutterstock grants permission to create derivative works and then, like with all logos, transfer all rights to the end client. I believe the license grants usage rights to that image, not permission for derivative work reselling. But, I also haven't scoured Shutterstock's license and I'm not an attorney. So, maybe I'm wrong. – Scott Dec 4 '17 at 15:05
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    "The Shutterstock TOS does not allow for images to be used as part of a logo, so you won't be covered even if you do purchase the image. See: Using images for logos and trademarks". From this anonymous suggested edit – Cai Dec 4 '17 at 15:10
  • @Cai And it looks like they can't get exclusive rights (for a presumably heftier price) either, since "exclusive rights would only apply to use from the date of the exclusive contract". – EKons Dec 4 '17 at 21:25
  • Thanks for the comments. I’ve added some clarification which I hope will help. The reworking is definitely ok, I’ve done it on many occasions. The only problem would be if you then tried to resell the reworked image, assuming it was still recognisable. – Westside Dec 4 '17 at 21:38
  • I agree that "reworking is okay" .. but I disagree that "reworking then selling as a logo" may be "okay", I don't think it is in any instance. Kind of impossible to say without direct reference to before and after images. :) – Scott Dec 4 '17 at 22:00
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If you infringe upon a copyright, then you are responsible, not (only) your client/customer. You are creating the artwork and it’s your responsibility to act without negligence. Using artwork from a source you know is infringement is clear negligence. Beyond that, you’d need to speak to an attorney. And I am not an attorney. None of this should be seen as legal advice.

No one here can predict whether or not you’ll be sued. In the United States, anyone can sue anyone else, for anything. Whether or not they win is up to the judge. I see that site appears to be European-based. So, I don't know if things are different in Europe or your country of origin.

I would imagine if the client has a problem, they will contact the website, which will either provide your information to the client or contact you directly about the matter. Although you are essentially a third party, there's no protection merely because there is a middleman (website) between you and the end client.

Item 4 of that site's Terms of Service clearly reads:

(II) Postings. Users are responsible for all contents placed/posted on our site and resulting consequences.

And Item 8 reads:

In breach of copyright, trademark or other rights within or outside of a contest, it is up to the injured party to take legal action against the infringer and, where appropriate, to contact the relevant authorities for the protection of intellectual property. Brandsupply is not responsible for this.

Although Item 8 seems to infer more what to do if a client feels they have been infringed upon, it would seem to indicate an overall mindset that the client needs to take action against the infringing party, even it it is the user/uploader.

If you are concerned about this matter moving forward, you may consider being proactive and reaching out the website to inform them that you mistakenly used artwork in the logo which you do not have rights to use.

  • I have tried looking for the logo i got my design from, but it's no where to be found on shutterstock. Even searching with the item number doesn't work. I'm guessing it's deleted off the site. – honeyboo Dec 5 '17 at 0:43
  • @MarèlBruins Do a reverse image lookup in google image search by uploading the image as the search option. It's really simple just images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl and click on the camera icon. That guarantees that you will find it if you still have the original unmodified art. It might even find it with the modified logo. You can also try this for reverse image searching. tineye.com – LateralTerminal Dec 5 '17 at 14:25
  • "If you infringe upon a copyright, then you are responsible, not (only) your client/customer" this is utterly incorrect. Only the company using the logo could get it "copyright trouble!" for it. It's certainly true that the company could fire, yell at, get angry at, or whatever, some staff member or freelancer who made a derivative logo, but the legal "copyright responsibility" is utterly the company's using the logo in advertising. – Fattie Dec 5 '17 at 15:01
  • And that company can fault the artist for using KNOWN copyrighted material. – Scott Dec 5 '17 at 16:17
  • I have already reversed image searched the photo. it does show up, but when I click on the site (shutterstock) that the photo links to, it's no where to be found. I'm guessing it's completely deleted from shutterstock. – honeyboo Dec 6 '17 at 1:04
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Talk to your insurance company and check; unless you've been negligent, your professional indemnity will likely cover you if you're sued.

If you don't have professional indemnity, get it, or get out of the business. Also, I'd really recommend you stop doing spec work. This stuff devalues design work: https://www.nospec.com/

Stock site licences often exclude use as a logo; I can't remember what Shutterstock's licence says. Go check.

However, it's likely there's no infringement, if it's really just inspired by a stock image and you've actually done some creative work. If you've just pasted together a stock image and the client's name, yeah, that's probably infringing – regardless of whether you win the content, and regardless of whether the client picks your design.

  • Thank you for your comment, Dan. The reason I'm doing spec work is because I'm currently doing an unpaid internship. I'm in my last year of college and it's nice to have some extra cash on hand and even something to show off in my portfolio. Thanks for the link, it has some useful information. I don't think the page 'Brandsupply', will cover me when I'm getting sued, since there's an option you have to click on before submitting your work, which states that it's all original work. – honeyboo Dec 6 '17 at 23:57
  • @honeyboo – in that situation, spec work may seem like a good idea – as you're doing it mainly for experience not money – but it is still undermining your future career! There's no chance that Brandsupply will cover you; you'd need to be paying them a lot, and sites like that have very little interest other than taking a %. A design agency would (should!) have professional indemnity. If you're self-employed, you should still get it, though many self-employed designers don't. – Dan W Dec 12 '17 at 23:41

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