As an artist or designer, having your work copied is surely a frustrating and infuriating experience. As a company, receiving work that is not original sets you up for possible lawsuits, which can have a significant impact on not only your finances but your corporate image and reputation too. So, how to ensure that you only pay out for designs that are truly original and unique to your business?

Similar business logos

Red Hat vs DataPortability WorkGroup – a victim of logo copying?

Image via AndWat

With the innumerable businesses that exist in the world today, it seems inconceivable that there are enough logos to go around, so of course there are going to be similarities – just check out these top 10 similar logos for example. It makes you wonder whether the similarities were really coincidence, or if one designer was slightly more than influenced by the other.

Having a logo that is unique to your business has obvious benefits – you will stand out as a company that is individual and people will come to instantly associate that logo with your company – but, especially for smaller companies, it can sometimes be tempting to see a fantastic logo and think “I want that!

The law differentiates between ‘copied’ work, which is self explanatory, ‘derivative’ work which is a copy of the original used as a basis for something new, and ‘influenced’ work which is inspired by and similar to the original, but is not the same. Under copyright law, the artist of the original piece of work also has rights over any derivative work.

For example, let’s say company A’s logo is an image of an eagle on a branch. Company B copies the image outline exactly and fills it in black, creating a perfect silhouette of the original. This is a derivative logo and company B needs permission from company A to use it. Company C however likes the idea and picks a similar logo, but uses a different bird that is uniquely drawn for them by an artist – their logo is certainly influenced by the original, but is not directly copying it in any way and so does not require permission from company A.

As a business, you may have ideas on what you would like your logo to look like so it is a good idea to do some research and find out if logos like the one you want already exist, and then steer clear of anything that is too similar. It may mean a little bit of compromise on your ‘perfect’ design, but it will be well worth it to avoid problems. Always check out the artist you plan to work with and make sure they have not been sued before for copyright infringement, and if necessary ask them about their design process and how they would go from images of logos you like to creating something brand new and unique.

Once you’ve got your logo, make sure you copyright it to avoid being at the other end of the copying ladder – you certainly don’t want to see that image you paid out for being stolen by someone else! All original work is automatically copyrighted, but taking out an ‘official’ copyright is not expensive and will give you that extra power and backup should you ever need to prove in court that the image belongs to you.