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I have read many similar questions & answers, but since my situation is a bit specific I haven't been able to find information that I feel like really gets to the core of what I want to know. Basically, I am a recent volunteer for a small non-profit organization managing their social media for a product they sell to fund their organization.

Since my volunteer position is just to update their social media there is actually 0 expectation that I would create original graphical content for them, and any content I create would be purely voluntary. Correct me if I am wrong, but in my opinion I don't even have a 'client' in this situation. Even though the artwork will be produced for them and used to promote their organization, I will still be the one who decides 100% what will be created with no instructions from them. I will also be the one directly uploading it online to their accounts, and won't be actually giving them any work (e.g. emailing files).

I have already decided that if they do ask for files or want to reproduce/modify my work in any way (or even if they want to begin informing me what sort of content they want me to create in the future) I will let them know that we will need to draw up a contract to protect both our interests. I wanted to verify though that I am not giving up any ownership of my work before then.

Specifically I am curious about the following...

  1. By acting on behalf of an organization by uploading my work directly to their online accounts am I giving up any ownership rights to that work?
  2. If the artwork I create is purely voluntary, but also clearly created for an organization (e.g. contains their logo, name, etc.) do I still retain full ownership rights on it?
  3. As a followup to question 2, does the fact that the company is trademarked change anything? I would not be trying to sell any of my work that had their name on it, I just want to know if they could claim ownership/sell that work themselves.
  • All of this can be easily resolved with a contract. Just because you have a contract doesn't mean it has to involve money changing hands. It's meant to spell out rights and protect both parties. If they get queasy about it because you're volunteering, then stop volunteering for them. "Volunteer" doesn't have to mean "sucker." – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Oct 1 '16 at 10:51
  • @Lauren Ipsum I am mostly curious about how ownership works in this case than being scared of being taken advantage of. Actually, I don't feel like a contract makes much sense because there is no 'project' or 'client' or any expectation for me to produce any sort of work. A contract would just be basically "If EDOLLing chooses to produce work and upload it to X's online account, she retains ownership of said work" but I feel like (and wanted to confirm) that's already the default. – EDOLLing Oct 1 '16 at 11:04
  • The problem is that in the absence of a contract, the entity for whom you're doing work can claim anything, sell anything, and reuse anything without ever having to acknowledge, credit, or pay you. If you don't care, go for it. I see no downside to spelling out and protecting everyone's rights. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Oct 1 '16 at 20:41
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    @Lauren Ipsum the reason why I do not think they can just run with my work like that is because I am not doing any work technically for them - there is no verbal/written acknowledgement that I am to create content for them. I am not their employee, and as far as being their volunteer goes I am not even volunteering as a graphic content creator. ps - I am not arguing against a contract at all, just that as far as my interests go in this situation I believe with or without a contract I am protected. Actually, as mentioned in comments below, I think it is the org that would have to worry. – EDOLLing Oct 1 '16 at 21:35
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Okay after doing more research I believe I have found answers to my questions, and will post them for anyone in a similar situation/who feel curious!

Firstly, I am going to use an example situation for clarity:

  • I am a social media manager volunteer for some organization X which produces shoes.
  • I have not been asked to create any graphical content for them, but think it would be fun to use original content in social media posts for X.
  • I draw an image of some shoes (image A), and decide it would make for a nice & relevant post for X.
  • I edit image A to be more personalized to X including slapping their trademarked name on it and removing my personal signature. This creates image B.
  • I post image B directly to X's social media on behalf of X (e.g. I do not state anywhere that I am the author of the post and use the pronouns "we" and "us").
  • The creation & posting of image B is done without needed approval from X. Although, in good faith, I would make my plans aware to X after image B creation and before posting it.
  • At no point do I give them image B. At no point do I associate image A with their organization - in fact X may not even be aware of image A's existence outside of image B, and I may use image A outside of X.

To start - here are some basic ownership tidbits that would apply to images A and B:

  • Since images A and B are produced purely voluntarily and not done as a work-for-hire, pro-bono, or as a part of any sort of contract for someone else then I would get ownership of them upon creation:

    Except under certain circumstances (see “work made for hire” below), you own the copyright in your work at the moment you create it in a “fixed” form of “expression.” [...] You own your copyright unless you sign a written assignment giving copyright ownership to someone else.

    Might be useful to note here that I am not a graphic designer, nor do I have plans to pursue it professionally.

  • Since there is no sort of transfer between me and X where I give them rights to image B (or honestly even give them access to image B since I do not plan on emailing any files), I would maintain initial ownership via the Copyright Law of the USA:

    § 204 . Execution of transfers of copyright ownership

    (a) A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner's duly authorized agent.

Now, here are what I believe to be the answers to my questions:

QUESTION 1. My biggest curiosity here was if by basically acting as an employee of a organization, despite not being associated with it past being a garden-variety volunteer, does that mean that I enter into some sort of work-for-hire situation?

From my research online the answer seems to be no. First off, it's not so much what you do for an organization as what you agree to do for an organization. For X to have rights over my work I would have had to at some point sign something, or given some sort of verbal/written consent that I would be creating works for X. Since image B is created independently, and is posted to X's online account in good faith without any contract or written acknowledgement of it's creation/usage for X I should retain initial ownership.

Another thing that I wanted to know was if by posting on behalf of X (e.g. not identifying myself as the creator of the work, using plural pronouns, etc.) if that would somehow muddy the waters and provide X with ownership or co-ownership of my work? Again, the answer seems to be no. Just because I am not actively defining/defending ownership of a work does not mean that is some sort of waiver of ownership. In general it seems like it's pretty hard to lose copyright without some sort of explicit statement being made:

In fact, you cannot lose your copyright if people copy your work — no matter how much it is copied. Your work will not fall into the public domain if someone copybots it or rips it. [..] You also can’t lose your copyright if you don’t defend it. [...] You don’t lose your copyright if you don’t register the work. You don’t lose your copyright if you distribute you work under a Creative Commons license. You don’t lose your copyright if you give someone non-exclusive rights to your work

QUESTION 2&3. Mostly I wanted to know if by including an organization's trademark in my work can they claim ownership of it? The answer again seems to be no.

Even though image B is clearly made for X (based on the use of X's trademarked name and logo) I still maintain initial ownership of it, as a protection of my creative work. Since image B contains X's trademarked name they can naturally ask me to cease-and-desist given proper grounds, as a protection of their name. However, they cannot claim ownership of my work simply because it contains their trademark as trademarks & copyrights are two different types of IP rights that don't make implications about the other.

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    And this is exactly why the organisation you volunteer to needs a contract with you. Its in their best interest. It makes it clear for both parties what the rules are. Spelling them out even if the law is clear on the subject saves you and them from misunderstandings – joojaa Oct 1 '16 at 21:12
  • @joojaa Completely agree! The more I do research the more I feel like in this situation it is the organization that has to worry about their interests - I was given access to all their social media accounts and permission to do as I wish within days of meeting them. I plan on doing more research (none of this is related at all to my career...) and presenting it to them soon. Right now everything runs on good faith, I understand since non-profits often scramble for any help they can get, but it seems like right now if I wanted I could completely rebrand them, then pick up all my work and leave. – EDOLLing Oct 1 '16 at 21:26
  • @EDOLLing - dont be surprised, this is common with clients and naivety or simple lack of knowledge on the clients part. Yesterday I was given a clients login access to Vimeo because I have produced 12 clips for them – Applefanboy Oct 7 '16 at 8:23
  • apologies - got distracted with a call here... Yesterday, a client gave me their personal login to an international company Vimeo account - I have produced 12 branded clips for them FOC (charity) and provided a flash drive and upload instructions at conclusion. They didn't want to get involved with the file transfer. It's not worth spending too much thought on as I am helping them out of good nature in the first place. No fee, no contract, just a decent thing to do for the benefit of others. – Applefanboy Oct 7 '16 at 8:31

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