I'm a professional graphic designer, new to freelancing, and I am preparing a proposal for an identity project. The project includes a logo, a business card design, and an electronic letterhead template.

I am going to transfer the copyright of the logo to the client but I'm wondering whether or not I should assign copyright of the business card design and letterhead template as well or instead provide an exclusive license?

I don't plan to copy or reuse the design of the business cards and letterhead template for another client, but business cards and letterhead often look pretty similar and I wouldn't want to be accused of infringement for creating a similar layout for another project.

Does anyone know what the standard practice is in this situation?


  • 1
    So it's proposal not a job? It's simply bad practice to work on spec. And yes you may want to clearly define ownership of EVERYTHING if you are working on spec. Most designers wouldn't create a full id package on teh "hopes" of getting work.
    – Scott
    Sep 9 '12 at 22:34
  • 1
    Yes, I'm aware that it's bad practice to work on spec, which is why I don't work on spec :) This is a project proposal, which only includes estimates of cost, the anticipated timeline, descriptions of the deliverables, and IP considerations. I'm asking what the standard practice is for assigning or not assigning copyright to the client for business card and letterhead designs.
    – Liz
    Sep 9 '12 at 23:04

I'm in basically the same business situation you are. I would transfer the copyright of the final design for all the stationery pieces to the client upon final payment. Any unused comps, however, remain your copyright.

The brand/ID will belong to the client, and the client may use another designer to do other work with the identity, so the client should own the copyright to all their own branding (once they've paid you for it).

I asked a related question which may be of use to you: Copyright ownership: paid by hour vs. paid by project


This is rather dependent upon legislation and custom, both depending upon your location. I can only speak for the Netherlands, where it's usually the case that you retain the copyright for everything you make. The contract specifies that, upon completion, the customer obtains a license to use the product in ways it was originally intended.

A clause to this effect is in my standard terms and conditions. If a customer explicitly wants the copyright for the product, I specify this in the contract and usually charge at least 20% more.

In short, I'd grant a license in the case you present. It's safest, enables you to use the work in your portfolio without any problems and indeed protects you from your customer should you ever design something that looks similar.


Work for hire typically implies that ownership of final product is transferred to the ones hiring you unless otherwise explicitly stated.

I see no need to register the copyright on a business card layout.

IANAL, etc.

  • 1
    Hi @DA01, Thanks for your answer. This particular project isn't work for hire instead I'll be working as an independent contractor. I would like to have the intellectual property rights for the work clearly stated in the proposal to avoid any confusion down the road. My understanding is that freelancers retain the copyright to their work unless they specifically assign it to their client.
    – Liz
    Sep 9 '12 at 21:38
  • Yea, you are correct from what I understand. Where it gets fuzzy is that apparently work-for-hire (at least in the US) isn't always strictly an employee situation and that at times contracted workers can be considered work for hire. Either way, though, I think that's a separate issue than if business cards need to be explicitly copyrighted. Since a b-card is really just an extension of the branding, I don't see a need to specifically copyright the cards.
    – DA01
    Sep 9 '12 at 23:58
  • I'll already own the copyright to the business card design, what I'm wondering is if I should transfer the copyright to the client. Basically, I'm new to freelancing and don't want to make a silly mistake, especially if it is not standard practice to assign the copyright to the client.
    – Liz
    Sep 10 '12 at 1:16
  • You technically own the copyright, but it's of little value given that you aren't registering it and it primarily consists of your client's copyrighted branding. I guess what I'm trying to say (in a convoluted way) is that it's not a huge deal either way. If you want to state that you transfer it in the contract, I say go for it.
    – DA01
    Sep 10 '12 at 3:17
  • i-anal?? :p what's that?
    – paddotk
    Sep 11 '12 at 22:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.