Design rights, legal terms… learn everything | Bypeople

Design rights, legal terms… learn everything

The term ‘Copyright’ has been a theme of discussion for many years, though ending the argument was a lot easier in the past and people were actually able to set up an agreement. Now that we’re living on the Internet era, understanding copyright has become a more complicated issue that affects among others, us designers.

For graphic and web designers, understanding how copyright works is something that they don’t really care about, because you could say that in this alcove there’s still a lot of confidence in people’s good manners and therefore many design jobs are contracted through simple oral agreements (or not even that), but now we’re going to study why designers need to pay more attention to legal terms, contracts, copyright, Creative Commons and others.



Although we have made a large research to learn how copyrighting works, this cannot be considered as a legal article written by a lawyer but an analysis made by designers for designers where we will be sharing the results of a careful investigation that wants to help clarify all the major doubts regarding copyright and legal issues surrounding graphic and web design. It’s also important to state that though many of the copyright licenses mentioned on this article can have a worldwide coverage, it’s important to study the laws that apply in each country so you can know how to proceed properly.


Understanding copyright is submerge into a huge palette of legal grays that look like they were almost made in purpose to persuade us from reaching our target. To prevent this from happening on this article we will try to explain all the basics behind copyright that web designers need to understand, so they will always be standing on solid ground.

When you’re working as a freelance, some of the doubts that come to your head at the time of signing with the contractor are “Is my name going to be displayed?”, “may I showcase this work in my portfolio?”, “Am I still owning the rights over the original artworks?”. To answer the first question we must comprehend the contractor’s situation: Sometimes when an agency is hired to create a campaign, a design or something similar, they delegate some of the job in freelancers with the final work will being presented as an internal work, making your name difficult of being showcased because then, the client will find out about your existence and the whole meaning of the agency will be gone.


The second question is more favorable for designers. There’s nothing wrong in exhibiting something that you did for a third party in your portfolio, just make sure to specify the role you played on the development on that project and also clarify that this was a job delegated by the agency, that way you won’t jeopardize the company’s name and besides, it’s commonly known on these days that companies hire freelancers occasionally. In any case the most important thing is to maintain an amiable relationship with the agency so you can continue to work as a team in the future.

Regarding the third question, it’s between you and the company. Usually when an agency hires a freelancer to design something for them, the freelancer ceases the rights of his artwork when signing the contract. This issue has a lot of legal implications that we will try to explain later, in any case you’ll have to leave all clear on the contract so there won’t be any problems later on.

Always make a contract!

Beyond all the lessons we can give you regarding copyright, the truth is that the most effective way to avoid any copyright issues is signing a contract, this is not only beneficial for you but also for the agency. A contract will establish all the legal aspects, including design times, payment, disclaimer, ownership and basically everything (legally viable) you want to write down.

Copyright and images

There’s something that we all have done (here come the denials) and it’s taking pictures from the internet without permission. Using Google Images is a bullet-proof system that anyone can understand after a few seconds, just type the image you’re looking for, click Search and then click on the image you like. To copy the image you can either hit right click and select Copy Image or if you’re more of a hacker then click Print Screen and paste it in Paint, this is a clean cut that apparently does not harm anybody but the truth is that what you’re doing can be sued.

Usually when someone finds that you’re using his image without permission they will only ask you to remove the picture from your site but this could take you up to jail. Tracking every duplicate of your design is just cumbersome and you will usually let it go, but if you definitely want to keep your image immaculate, there’s something called electronic trademark. With electronic trademarks a little piece of code is embedded  within the image file and even if the person modifies the file, the mark will remain, you will now think “So he’s going to check picture by picture?”, well the truth is that technology allows designers to track their work easily and find out who is behind the robbery.

How to avoid this?

To keep you safe from any legal issues regarding web pictures you only have to keep the obvious things in mind. Make sure that the picture you want is free to use and if not, then what permissions do you need to use it, it’s a process that will not take you much time and will avoid you later frights. There are many image stocks out there that for a reasonable price can provide you tons of high quality pictures, you should check them out.

Protecting your images

Fortunately there’s still a lot of decency and it’s likely possible that nothing awful will happen to your images. In any case if you want to protect them, here are some very effective methods that can prevent people from stealing your work:

  • Use electronic trademarks, they’re hard to detect by average users and will help you keep track of all the duplicates that are being made of your pictures.
  • Register your images 3 months before making them public, this will grant you the entire ownership over them and the right to sue anyone who uses it without permission. Let people know that your images are copyrighted by placing a (© 2008 Your Name Here) somewhere in the picture.
  • Leverage your design skills, do not upload the original version of your designs, instead of that, you can upload 72 dpi versions that are harder to use and more to print. Make them suitable for the web but not for thieves.
  • Put an advice on your site where you clearly say that your images cannot be taken without permission and that every artwork on the site is covered by copyright laws.
  • If the site that stole your designs it’s taking profit of your design through ads, you can contact Google AdSense at and report that the site in question is violating the AdSense’s terms of service.

A simple Copyright mark in your pictures can persuade people from stealing it.

Copyright registration (1)

We know that all this information is useful but now you’re probably saying “OK, so how can I register my designs?”, to help you with that we found an excellent article by Chris Jackson where he discusses copyright on the web, let’s take a look at the requirements to register an original design.

Artwork is registered on Copyright Form VA, available from the U.S. Copyright Office by calling the Copyright Forms number at (202) 707-9100 or by visiting

  • Cost is about $35 to $45 US to register each work you’ve created.
  • The form comes with instructions and you can make as many copies of the form as you need. You can probably fill it out without a lawyer’s help.
  • Remember to keep copies of everything you use to file your registration.
  • It usually takes up to 16 weeks to receive the copyright registration with your registration number.

(1) This section was originally written by Chris Jackson, all rights reserved.


As an alternative to Copyright, we find Copyleft, a practice that leverages Copyright to offer the chance of making a program or work free for distribution and modification, but requires that the same rights are preserved in the modified versions of that program / work.

Copyleft guarantees every user’s freedom by demanding that the same freedom rights are passed to the person who received them to the next one. One of the incentives for using Copyleft is that it helps programmers that want to modify a free software obtain the proper permissions for do so.

To copyleft a program or artwork, the first thing to do is state that the work in question is copyrighted, then add to it some specific distribution terms that gives everyone legal rights to utilize, modify and redistribute the program’s code as long as the distribution terms remain unchanged, making both the program/artwork and freedom terms inseparable.

How to use GNU licenses for your own software



This term refers to the legal right of using copyrighted work or intellectual property without having to pay royalties for every use or per volume sold, sometimes it also applies to a time period of use or sales. Most open standards are royalty-free as well as many proprietary standards.

The term does also apply to the photography field, in which case refers to a certain copyright license that grants the user a one-time right to utilize a photograph without restrictions, meaning that the user can use the picture in several projects without having to purchase a new license in every occasion.

NDA (Non-disclosure agreement)

Have you ever kept a secret from a friend and he told you “I’m revealing this to you because I need your help, but please don’t tell anyone”?, well, that’s the essence of a non-disclosure agreement, only that taken to a professional level.

A non-disclosure agreement, also known as a confidentiality agreement, is a legal contract that two or more parts sign promising to maintain an absolute secrecy regarding certain non-public sources that are being shared for certain purposes. This contract is signed when two or more parties are going to work together and in order to do that they have to share classified information with the other partner but at the same time they want to restrict that information from coming out from any of the parts.

Don’t break your associates’ trust

Signing this contract often helps to create a thriving relation via a legal document between the parties, as they promise not to reveal any delicate information. This document can tie both parts or just one of the two, though this last style is not much appreciated by law experts because they say that it creates a mistrustful environment between the parts. NDA are often implicit on employer-employee contracts, where the employee agrees not to reveal any classified information for the company.

In design business is very common to see these agreements. Usually when an agency hires a freelancer to work on a new campaign, they ask the designer to sign the agreement so he can receive confidential information in exchange of not disclosing it. Another case is when a company hires a copywriter to create a high quality document, business proposal or an article, in order for him to be able to write the document is likely that you’ll have to provide some classified information and is in that moment when the NDA should be signed.

A third situation occurs when a group of people is working on a new project that they consider is going to give them big profits and/or recognizance, what they do is sign an NDA between all of them where they promise not to reveal any secret information regarding the project. To finish this section here are some free examples written by Gene Quinn where you can find the main types of Non-disclosure agreements.

Cease and Desist

Also known as C&D, cease-and-desist is an order or formal request to detain an activity and desist of performing it again at risk of facing legal actions. Cease-and-desist can be remitted to both individuals and organizations.

As far as U.S concerns, cease-and-desist orders can be requested by established authorities with all its legal implications or be sent by a natural person that is usually assisted by a lawyer. Usually when a judge issues a cease-and-desist order, the reason is to stop an illegal activity, this order is usually given at the outcome of a court trial, providing this order a permanent character. The measure can also be utilized in case of potential irreparable harm, on this case the C&D will only be issued temporarily.

Quit stealing my designs!

Regarding web design, C&D orders are very helpful for those cases when a person makes an unauthorized copy and/or distribution of a design. If the designer took all the prevention measures that we mentioned previously, then it’s OK to issue a C&D to the person that’s leveraging the design without permission. Although there are different laws in every city and country, you can generally file a C&D when your designs are being plagiarized.

Another situation might come up when an agency hires a freelancer to make a design but they refuse to pay or comply other agreement that was settled at first instance. On this situation it may be possible to send a C&D but you need to consult a lawyer first, so in this case the best chance you got is to sue the agency for contract breaching.

GPL (General Public License)

The GNU General Public License is a free, Copyleft license for software and other kinds of works. The main purpose of GPL is saving your freedom to share and modify all versions of a program, ensuring that it will remain as free software for all the users. This license gives you the right to share and use a software to create new versions of it while knowing that you have the right to do these things.

When you distribute a GPL licensed program, you must rotate to the receivers the same liberties that you were given, it’s also important that the receivers can access the source code. Remember to always show the GPL terms so they can be aware of their rights. The people that utilize GNU licenses protect your rights in two basic ways:

  • Assert copyright over the shared software.
  • Give you this license with legal permission to share, modify or copy the shared work.

For developers’ and authors’ safety, the GNU license clarifies that there’s no real warranty for these free programs and that all modified versions have to be checked as changed to prevent further reclamations going to the wrong authors behind previous versions.


GPL linking exception

When we talk about a GPL linking exception we’re referring to a modification to the original GPL that creates a new, modified license. These altered licenses allow software projects that provide ‘library’ code to be linked to the programs that are making use of them, without the full terms of GPL being applied to the using program.

By linking we mean the technical procedure of connecting code within a library to the using code in order to generate a single executable file. Many free software libraries utilize this exception although with several variations, if the linking exception is not applied, the the code linked with GPL code must be utilizing a GPL-compatible license.

To read more about GNU General Public License, please visit the official site where you can access the complete documentation on the subject.

Famous cases of design plagiarism

Rip-off or inspiration?, this is one of the most controversial questions in graphic design. With the amount of ads, logos and campaigns that are released daily, it’s difficult not to be influenced by some designs while working in our own, the problem comes when designer takes inspiration too far.

There’s nothing wrong in looking at references before starting a new design, because doing that actually gives a panorama of how other designers have approached that specific subject and help us prevent falling in the same graphic solution, the problem comes when designers grab these references and blatantly recycle them. Now we’re going to show you a few examples that have untied major controversy in the design sphere (original design to the left, copy design to the right):


A lot of controversy has been created around Rio 2016 logo. According to the members of Telluride Foundation, an organization based in Colorado USA, the design team behind Rio 2016 logo has plagiarized their foundation’s logo.


Even if you can avoid copyright breaching, to plagiarize a design and disguise it as ‘inspiration’ is something that can eventually lead you to legal consequences. On this case the worldwide conglomerate ‘Unilever’ saw its logo style being copied by an eastern Europe company.


Sometimes when designers create artworks just for fun and then put them in their sites, they don’t take the precautions needed to protect their designs and thus they end up being reutilized as you can see on the example above where a fan art poster has been utilized with no authorization in a website.


On this case we have two different companies with practically the same logo. The original company claims having tried to reach the persons behind the clone logo without receiving any response.


There’s one case that might be classified or not as plagiarism. Colombia’s professional soccer league based its logo in an original logo design that can be found in iStockPhoto. On this case if the people behind the league’s logo actually purchased the logo it can be catalogued as an insult for Colombian designers because the logo of their biggest soccer tournament cost 20 bucks instead of hiring qualified professionals. But if the logo was not actually purchased from the site, then the rip-off becomes quite blatant.


Plagiarism is particularly popular in t-shirt designs. What are the chances for an US-based designers to find out that one of his designs is being used and commercialized in a t-shirt store in a small town at the other side of the world?.


This is one of the most laughable cases of plagiarism. The original design was a Soviet Union stamp of more than 50 years ago, the replica took the same design and replaced the URSS map, which is something so blatant that looks like a satire.


Another case that happens often is music bands, specially independent ones, copying other’s work, mostly photographs and merging them into their album covers, flyers, etc. For those who did not know, the picture on the left is a famous photograph by Zhang Jingna titled ‘Redemption’.


Typography is one field that is also victim of constant plagiarisms. On this case we have a beautifully designed font on the left that was poorly ripped-off by the right example and then put on sale, so the person not only replicated the original design but he also obtained some income out of it.


Argentinean musician Fito Páez was accused of plagiarizing the album cover of ‘Pathaan’s Small World’, released 2 years before the famous’ musician album. The similarity is just too evident to ignore and it’s also sad seeing how one of the biggest rock musicians in Latin America was advised by a mediocre design team.


To discuss something more technical, we have these two websites that apparently have no art in common, but then we look at their diagramming and it’s identical, the same boxes and proportions throughout the entire site at the right.


It seems that even big pop stars such as Britney Spears can be prejudiced by cheeky designers, because that’s exactly what happened when the team behind her perfume ‘believe’ ripped-off the original logo from Mondonation, a non-commercial association.


One of the most obnoxious things about plagiarism is that usually the clone work does not reach the same design standards that the original does and only limits to create a simpler version of it.


One of the classic ways of plagiarism is taking an original design, subtract its more relevant elements and readapt them into a new creation that actually has nothing innovative besides some extra pieces.


When plagiarism invades the photography field things can get really delicate because after all, the essence of a photograph relies on its originality and the inspiration that moves the photographer to take every shot.


It seems like many Russian designs have been plagiarized by western Europe designers, as we can see on this gig flyer that practically traced the original design and gave it a ‘modern’ look.


When AOL launched its new beta version, the site received positive reviews until many designers noticed the resemblance between the site and Yahoo, the structure is practically the same with only some color changes. It’s sad seeing a big company such as AOL imitating Yahoo.


One of the most popular plagiarism cases goes around two technology giants. Microsoft Alumni Network, an organization that helps former Microsoft employees, its website has a logo design similar to Ubuntu’s, the famous operating system. Although there are some differences between both logos, many people have accused Microsoft of committing plagiarize.


Two beer companies face each other on this plagiarism case. The original design for Asahi features an old Japanese painting style, while the replica takes the same idea and turns it into something less attractive than Asahi’s.


Plagiarism scandals occur once in a while in the recording industry. The latest Lady Gaga album features a cover picture that remembers a lot of ‘2 Hearts’, a single by Kylie Minogue that was released in 2007.

Photographers rights and legal aspects

This is one of the most important benchmarks regarding copyright due the seriousness that can imply a photograph taken under different circumstances. There’s a lot of mysticism surrounding photographs and photographers, specially since the last decade when all the security measures were dramatically increased.

Can I shot inside a shopping mall?, can I take children’s pictures without their parent’s concern?, these are just some of the questions that photographers tend to ask because despite the current security restrictions, the truth is that photographers do have legal rights.

Note: In case you’re interested in knowing more about photographers rights, how to protect your work and find more useful tips, you may want to visit one of our previous articles where we discuss in more deep the legal aspects that lead being a photographer.

Article link: Photographers rights: When, where and what can I shoot?

Taking pictures in shopping malls

This is one of the most common things that does not only affect photographers but common people. Sometimes when a person is taking photographs of the mall’s Christmas decoration, the bouncer arrives and demands the person to stop shooting and can get up to confiscating people’s cameras, so what’s the legal response to this?.

As you probably know, a mall is a private building and therefore its managers have the authority to ban people from taking photographs without the proper permissions. But despite the right that administrators have to forbid taking pictures inside a mall, there’s no real legal breaching on it so you have nothing to worry about besides being banned from coming back to the mall. Taking a step aside from the legal terms that carries this theme there are basically two options that will allow you take pictures in a mall:

  • Sharpen your ninja skills, utilize your phone or cloak your camera as much as possible, that way you won’t have to face the annoying bouncer.
  • The other option is contact the administrators and let them know about your intentions of taking photographs in the mall, explain to them the use that you will be giving to those pictures and just play cool with the staff, they will probably end up giving you the authorization.


Award winning photographer Scott Rensberger was arrested a while ago for taking photographs inside a West Virginia shopping mall.

Photographing in airports, museums and stadiums

Other important places that present certain restrictions to photographers are airports, museums and stadiums. Airports are private places with public access, which means that by being public it grants people the right of taking informal photographs, though you can be asked to stop at any time because despite of being public, it’s also a private building at the end of the day. You should read about the specific legislations that rule on the different countries so you can establish the restriction level that applies regarding photographs.


Regarding museums, the answer that you will often receive is ‘NO’ if you’re photographing for commercial purposes and ‘perhaps’ if the pictures are going to be taken for private use only. Museums have some of the most tight regulations regarding photographs, with security guards watching people at all time and ‘no cameras allowed’ signals all over the place.

There’s definitely some good reasons to forbid photographs in museums, specially concerning paintings because as you might know, the use of flashes and other light equipment can severely damage these art pieces, so our suggestion regarding this point is that you need inform yourself about the specific rules that apply in the museum that you want to visit, this will save you a lot of problems.


Regarding photograph in stadiums, the general rule says that you are not allowed to shot pictures since you could be giving away along with your photographs material that people are charged to see, thus affecting their revenue stream. This allegation against photography is also used by theatres, cinemas  and museums. If people can film the event and broadcast it on online, then why should you pay a ticket to go? Although this is not exactly accurate, (the experience of a live spectacle is not comparable to anything) it’s true that event illegal broadcasting does hurt financially.

There are also copyright infringement issues. Every sports team has their logo and imagery tightly copyrighted. So it’s OK to shot as long as your photos are intended for private, educational and/or editorial purposes (if you are a credited photo reporter), but you can’t use them in any case for commercial and advertising intents.


When do I own a photograph?

Copyright applies to most artistic works, such as paintings, sculpture, Film, music and photography. Copyright laws give you the exclusive right to make and sell copies of the photo; to create derivative works (other art based on the photo); to display the photo publicly; and to license usage to third for profit.

Copyright is assigned automatically by international law. You own a photograph as long as you are the one that pressed the shutter-release and all intellectual property issues are cleared. (that means that you have all releases and you aren’t depicting any protected material). Another story applies if you are a hired photographer working for somebody else. In that case your employer is the copyright owner unless you have made any special arrangement subscribed under legal contract.

Note that you make anything but private use with your photographs if you don’t own them or have legal clearance to use them in any other way. Copyright laws are applicable 75 years after the author’s death.

For the case when you’re working with people on the creation of commercial products (this includes children’s photography), it’s necessary to get the person’s signature on a release form to keep everything inside the legal terms and avoid inconvenients for both parts in the future. Coming next we like to offer you four different samples of release forms that you can utilize during your photo sessions.

Freelancing in Web Design

Working as freelancer has a lot of benefits but also several disadvantages. On the good side we know that freelancing gives you a lot of freedom, granting you the chance to work with several associates, manage your schedule and not rely on intermediaries, just for mentioning some good points. Then we have the bad side, strenuous workdays followed by idle times, delayed payments and finally, legal issues. Now, let’s start by the beginning and read how a freelance process must be adequately addressed.

The Contract

We’ve already discussed this topic on the article though not specifically. Signing a contract will help establish all the game rules right from the beginning, the type of work you’ll be doing, how much and how are you going to be paid for your services and all the other trifles that you may consider relevant.

By having a signed contract you will obtain both rights and obligations and likewise the other party. The fact of signing a contract will let you know how to proceed regarding the work in question, the timeline and all the other clauses that might be incorporated.

5 Free to Use Freelance Design Contract Templates


Fix dates

During the time of signing the contract, is important to define the schedule. Both parts need to agree on the key dates of the project, which include revisions, final presentation, pay dates and others. Having a set schedule will help you and your partner to reach all due dates appropriately and complete the job without any mishap.

The meeting times are also important. Many times freelancers don’t think about this and when they go visit their client it turns out that the person is out of town or unavailable, so it’s very important to have this clear so both parts can save time.


Revision clauses

This is something that many freelancers tend to forget, in part for negligence and part due their big egos. Designers, specially newcomers, tend to think that their designs are going to change the world and that clients will not discard their opinions, almost all of us have passed through the bitter experience of realizing that we were not as good as we thought in college.

Once the designer is aware that often (if not always) the client will make corrections to their work, they can estipulate this point on the contract to prevent further setbacks. Usually designers include on their services up to three revisions with an extra charge included from the fourth revision onwards, setting this straight will save you future arguments with your client.

Delivery terms

Another problem that ails designers is the fact that they treat their clients as if they were talking with a colleague and they don’t realize that the client does not know what a PSD file is or what’s the difference between CMYK and RGB and even less the significance of words such as hosting, dominion or @font-face.

It’s very important to explain the client what’s he going to receive. If you’re designing a logo for the company then you’ll have to provide original files, screen and print versions, color tests or just a ZIP file with the original PSD, so make sure the client understands all this terminology and therefore you will be able to write down the delivery terms in the contract.

Learn to explain what you do

When the work that’s going to be executed is a website design, you need to be straightforward with the client and clarify whether you’ll be providing the hosting service or not, which platform you will be using (WordPress, Joomla, CMS) and all things regarding the design of a webpage.

All these points regarding the final presentation must be settled during the negotiations phase, that way the client will know what to expect and you will have a more pleasant time working on the project.

Licenses and taxes

Working as a freelance is not simply not leaving your room and wait for the arrival of a pay check, the truth is that it actually implies certain legal stipulations; every country and city has their own legislations and you need to inform yourself about them. Usually you will need a business license that will identify you as a professional on the field, this document could also be required by companies at the moment of paying for your services. Sometimes even a Home license can be necessary to grant you legal permission to work from the comfort of your house.

Regarding the second point, companies usually apply a percentage discount on the final price due taxes. These taxes have many different names and values depending on the country, so it’s important that you know which taxes will be applied and therefore you can heft that discount by including the tax price on the final price.


Charging methods

In our personal experience, it’s important to charge upfront a certain percentage of the total prior the start of the design stage, this figure goes usually around 50 %. Another way could be charging a design fee so given the case that the client is not satisfied with your design, both parts can take separate ways in that moment without further complications.

Another clause that you might want to insert is concerning time, like those cases when you have the design ready but the client has not finished yet the contents and will leave you waiting, in that case you can appeal to the time clause on the contract, charging an additional fee for when the client does not provide you all the necessary information in a range of time.


A good way for pushing your clients to finish their websites is through time discounts, e.g, you can establish a timeline of 30 days that will cover a discount over the final price, this discount will be lost once that period expires, so it’s probable that the client will rush to have their site ready before that date.

If you are about to start a web project with a new client, you may want to take a look at the following document with all the main aspects regarding how to carry on with a web design project:

Legal Aspects of Website Design

DBA (Doing business as)

Known in other countries as ‘Operating As’, DBA is a legal term utilized in U.S that indicates that the trade name under the business that’s being conducted isn’t actually the legal name of the person or group of persons behind it.

We touched this point because eventually you might be treating with companies that operate under a DBA figure. The only problem with this is that the actual identity of the legal representative of the company is probably unknown, which in that case can lead in problems when it comes to contract allegations or payment breaching. On the U.S case, you can visit the following site to register your DBA nick:

Register Your Fictitious or “Doing Business As” (DBA) Name


Creative Commons

For the last part of this article we have reserved what is probably the most important licensing tool for web designers. Creative Commons was created as a response to the limitations that Copyright showed when the rise of Internet began, quoting the official site, the goal of Creative Commons is to “achieve the vision of universal access, someone needed to provide a free, public, and standardized infrastructure that creates a balance between the reality of the Internet and the reality of copyright laws, that someone is Creative Commons.”

CC provides a series of copyright licenses that according to the person or company’s needs, allow people protect their work while permitting a certain use level of it by other people, which is something cumbersome with Copyright.


Creative Commons’ licenses

Thanks to CC licenses, people can choose different options to keep their work protected, while granting certain permissions for people to use their work. Now let’s make a quick review throughout the different Creative Commons licenses to find out which one suits you the best:

Three layer system

Before start scrolling through the different CC licenses, it’s important to understand how they work. During the era of Copyright, you only knew that by registering an artwork, you acquired ‘mysteriously’ the ownership over it, but no one besides lawyers knew actually how the system worked, so it was up to your lawyer enforce your rights. With Creative Commons things are different, thanks to a three layer system that makes licenses easily accessible for common people, legally functional and readable for machines.

Every license has strong legal foundations and is written in the way that lawyers love, this is known as the Legal Code Layer and is through this instance that CC gets all its legitimacy.

If we go deeper into CC we found the second layer, commonly known as The Commons Deed. This layer offers an user-friendly version of the license that explains all the basics behind each one of them in a way that every average user can understand.

And on the final layer we find CC REL (CC Rights Expression Language), a standardized system that embeds a format into every artwork and can be read by every software, search engine and other types of technology. Thanks to this system you can assure that your works are properly displayed on the internet.

Attribution (CC BY)

This is the most suitable license for most works. It permits you copy, distribute and transmit the artwork as well as readapt it. These rights apply as long as the person gives proper credits to the original author or licensor and without presenting it as if the author endorsed what you’re doing with his work.

Any of these conditions can stop applying if you obtain an official permission from the copyright holder. It’s important to inform about the CC that regulates the artwork in question when you share it with someone else.

Read License Deed
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Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA )

More restricted than the CC BY license but still very flexible, by granting you rights to copy, distribute, transmit and readapt licensed work. You need to attribute the work to the original author or licensor as well as with CC BY, but on this license another clause is added that states that when you alter in any way the work you can only distribute it under this same license.

Read License Deed
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Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND)

Under this license you can distribute, copy and transmit the licensed work but never alter, transform or build upon it. It’s also necessary to attribute to the original author or licensor in the same way that the previous licenses determine.

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Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

This license if often utilized in freebies. It gives the right to copy, distribute, transmit and even build upon the licensed work as long as it’s for Non-commercial purposes. As on the other licenses, CC BY-NC declares that you must always credit the work to the original author or licensor appropriately.

Read License Deed
View Legal Code

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

This is one of the most restrictive licenses. Although it concedes you the right to copy, distribute, transmit and even readapt the licensed work, you cannot use it for commercial uses and if you alter the original work, you can only distribute it under this same license. The attribution section applies exactly like it does on the other licenses, which means that you must attribute the work to the original author or licenser in an appropriate way.

Read License Deed
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)

The most restrictive of all the Creative Commons licenses, CC BY-NC-ND gives you the right to copy, distribute and share the licensed work, other than that you cannot use it for commercial purposes or build upon it. The attribution clause works the same and so you always need to give credit to the original author or licensor appropriately.

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This is a trimmed version of what Creative Commons is about. To find more information regarding Creative Commons, its licenses and how to properly use them in your work, please visit the official homepage.

Creative Commons official site

And so we have reached the end of this article. We did our best to present you a light and understandable summary of the essential legal issues surrounding web design; this article might be helpful at the moment you’re about to sign a contract or negotiate a new freelance job. If you know about any other licenses or legal tips that can be handy for web designers please leave us a comment, we will truly appreciate it and will also help us broaden the article, we hope you find these tips useful and well, thanks again for visiting us.

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