I've developed several designs for military units over the past few years for one particular store on a military installation which is a not for profit entity. Most of the designs were developed for collector coins and t-shirts which involve military units. My company used to provide many items for this client. Now my client has found services cheaper. I noticed the designs used on the t-shirts, cups, mugs, etc... are the designs I've developed and created. Since we were providing a retail item for this client, they were only charged hourly for the labor involved in developing artwork for that specific item. I did not think it would be fair or reasonable to sell the rights to the artwork at that point. I have no written contract with this client. After noticing the logos on most of the clients retail items in their store, I've asked for a sit down meeting. What kind of advise can you give me relating to the written contract?

  • Are you asking what you should put in the contract? Because this is so far after the fact that I can't imagine how you're going to convince the client that they now have sign a contract agreeing to pay you for artwork which they've been using for free. You have no written contract right now. If you had some verbal agreement, and you have a really good lawyer, you might be able to bully them into signing, but I wouldn't bet the house on it. You basically have to hope that they're more moral than greedy. Jun 24, 2014 at 16:43
  • And since this is a "not-for-profit," my guess is that they're taking advantage of not having a contract to use the designs (for free) at every possible opportunity because they don't have the money to pay you. More than likely they will refuse to sign a contract and refuse to pay you; the best you can probably hope for is that they'll stop using your designs without permission. Jun 24, 2014 at 16:44
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    Thanks for the input. I understand this but was not aware of the fact that all of my designs were being sent all over the world for reproduction until I paid a visit to the shop. Even though the shop is not for profit they do make a lot of profit from the merchandise they sell. The issue on the table right now is that they'd like to have me develop several other pieces of artwork for a specific item. Now that I know that they are sending my designs out and making profit from them, I feel it would be foolish of me to consider creating any further art without addressing rights of new and old
    – Frank
    Jun 24, 2014 at 18:12
  • Yes, I'm asking for input for a contract based on the situation at hand. I'm most certain I'm not the only graphics company that's had to deal with this situation and can only hope I get some good input and can save the client.
    – Frank
    Jun 24, 2014 at 18:15
  • The shop is coming back to you for more work? That's a very salient point which you didn't include. Now you have them more or less over a barrel. They are coming to you for more work. You have complete leeway to set (fair) terms for the fair use of your work, previous and to be commissioned. Jun 24, 2014 at 21:45

1 Answer 1


You should consult a lawyer if you want to pursue this, but the general rule of copyright is that unless you have explicitly, in writing transferred the copyright for these designs, they remain yours.

This is one of those points that comes up quite frequently in the field of identity design, and I've more than once run into clients who wondered why I insisted that they must accept and sign a written transfer of my copyright to them, when I've created a logo. Savvier clients make sure that's in the contract before we start.

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