About a year ago when starting out on graphic design in school I started doing a bit of free work (something I'm not doing any longer) for a 'client' here and there.

For this one client I provided a logo and some other branding for free, but only for screen usage.
He recently asked me for a print version of the logo to print it on tshirts and when I stated that that would cost him a small fee he backed off.
But I have the feeling he is still going to print it either way (probably with the screen version).

Now I came to the conclusion it was stupid to not agree on some kind of contract or agreement, but the work I provided then was only for screen usage and I would like a cut or one time fee on any work that is being put on tshirts & merchandising.

What are my options here? Is this still protected as my work under copyright when he decides to publish it either way, and can I still take action when he does?
Would it be wise to send a contract now or have I just lost the thing and is he free to do whatever he wants and to print it on merchandising without my consent and paying me?

I couldn't find anything regarding copyrights on a free work on the web so I resorted to StackExchange. Thanks in advance.

  • @Scott even if I told him at the time that the logo I provided at the time was meant only for screen use (I provided a 72ppi jpeg) and he would have to contact me for a print version? (Seems this user deleted his comment, I'll leave it here anyway since it has some additional info)
    – thibmaek
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 16:53
  • you retain copyright until you give it away.
    – joojaa
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 16:54
  • @joojaa so at the point when I gave him the jpeg file, I lost my right to it? So it would be in his fair right to print it even though I asked him not to?
    – thibmaek
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 16:55
  • No you retain copyright until you give the copyright away. giving a file gave the other end no rights.
    – joojaa
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 17:43

2 Answers 2


I think the problem is that you conflated the size of the task with the importance of the end result.

You probably figured a piece of artwork on a few things was "a small job," so you didn't mind doing it for free. But once he took your work and started using it on everything, now it's "a big job," and it's a big job you didn't get paid for. So now you feel like you should be properly compensated.

Unfortunately it's too late for that. You did the work without a contract and you chose not to ask for payment. Logos are by definition important, and so even if it's only used on one hand-ironed T-shirt, it's still the client's logo.

You can't restrict his right to use his own branding. Call it a lesson learned and don't do work for free any more.

  • Thanks, I already thought so and will take no further actions. Thanks for the clear and concise reply.
    – thibmaek
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:09
  • I disagree. If the OP stated at the time in email "the logo I provided at the time was meant only for screen use (I provided a 72ppi jpeg) and he would have to contact me for a print version" then that is a contract. Not a great one, mind you, but it's actually pretty explicit. Is it worth pursuing this? That's a whole other question.
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 18:22
  • @DA01 that kind of restriction works for general illustration or photography, but not for a logo. I've never heard of restricting logo usage to one medium or one resolution only. Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 22:47
  • @LaurenIpsum I agree I haven't heard that before, but my point was that there was an agreement in place in the email. It's an atypical one, for sure.
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 22:53

Customarily logos do not have usage restrictions. That somewhat kills the whole idea of a logo.

I've never heard of a designer placing usage restrictions on a logo.

In any event without a contract, no matter what he does, it'll be up to the courts to decide if he's got the right or not.

Typically an artist retains all copyrights to things they create. Whether or not you receive payment has little to do with that. There are only 11 ways you lose your copyright. See here: Is it copyright infringement by US copyright law if someone else modifies and uses my design? -- In fact this may be a duplicate of your question.

Here are some related questions here:

Should graphic artists be scared at all about anyone stealing their artworks?

What are general practices in handing over usage rights to the client?

Charging an Intellectual Property transfer fee for design work

Copyright ownership: paid by hour vs. paid by project

Charging an Intellectual Property transfer fee for design work

I, personally, think it's bad practice to charge a client for usage when it comes to a logo. You're essentially holding them hostage.

  • Thanks for the reply. I have no problem with him using it on Facebook & Soundcloud because it's just representation of his identity. But when he is making profit of tshirt sale with my logo on it's just that I'd like a small cut of it because this is something we agreed upon, that he'd contact me for a print version first before actually printing it. I'll take a deeper look into those links and see what I can find there. Thanks
    – thibmaek
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 17:05
  • 1
    For standard artwork I'd see your point.. but that's really not how logos tend to work. For logos the artist customarily relinquishes all rights to the final design so the client is free to use it however they wish -- which is the entire point of a logo.
    – Scott
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 17:07
  • 1
    You'd be better off trying to get paid a lump sum for the logo and providing him with vector versions that he can use as he sees fit. If he's a musician (as I suspect), he should be sensitive to other people's creative output... You can ask him how he feels about playing for free.
    – Voxwoman
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 23:51

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