Is your creative work legal?

Last checked and updated on November 25, 2020

At school feeling someone peering over your shoulder to copy your hard work always made you feel so cheated. You were the one who put the hard work in, only for someone else to copy and take the victory as their own too.

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Fast forward to the digital world in 2016, and it’s easier than ever to copy someone else’s work, however unintentional it may be. There’s no such thing as an original idea anymore (if there ever really was such a thing anyway).

The internet has enabled us to view work from all corners of the world, gather inspiration and interact with whoever and wherever we want. And whilst it has creatively empowered us, it can also be our biggest weakness.

You may think you’re just taking inspiration but you could end up committing a creative crime if you aren’t checking if your work is legal.


Stay away from Google

We are a nation of ‘Googlers’. If we have a query, then Google will always have the answer. But when it comes to searching for images step away from Google altogether and whatever you do, don’t copy and paste any images into your work.

Don’t just assume because there are no watermarks or price tags on the photos that they are free to use as you could end up with a heft bill to pay if you are caught using the image without permission. Plus, don’t fall into the trap of adding a link back to the original source or crediting by name either as it isn’t good enough.

The best way to find free to use photos? This photography guide by Makerbook is packed full of free stock photography resources, so you don’t have to worry about using images you don’t have the rights to.

Check licenses

If you’re completing work on behalf of a client, then once it’s handed over it doesn’t mean you’ve effectively washed your hands of it. As the designer you are solely responsible for ensuring that any licences associated with the work you’ve completed are all in place.

This extends to everything from making sure you have the correct image, font and design licences in place to be included in your work, to making sure that they stand up across different countries and in different formats too.

What’s legal on a website, may not be on an app or mobile. Cover all bases and check and check again. It may take a bit of extra legwork but it far outweighs the alternative.

Say no to client pressure

We all work to deadlines, and when the pressure is piled on it can be tempting to cut corners in order to relieve the pressure and complete a project quickly. Resist the temptation to do things the easy (and illegal way) and remember it’s your business and work on the line too.

If creative assets have been supplied by an agency or another external, then make sure you don’t just take their word for it that the rights have already been secured. Sites such as Picscout allow content providers to trace copyrights so you can check what rights relate to that particular image.

Keep Third Parties in Check

There will be times when you simply can’t do it all on your own, and you’ll need to get another pair of hands in to help with a project or if you’re expanding your business. You obviously want to be able to trust who you work with, and whilst undoubtedly the majority of people are in it for real, there may be a few who are out to copy ideas from the inner workings of a business.

Keep this in mind when discussing new concepts and ideas. Whilst you will want to be as transparent as possible, it can sometimes backfire if information isn’t in the right hands.

“When in discussions with third parties about the idea, always make sure you impress upon the third party that the idea is strictly confidential – this can put a duty on them to keep that confidentiality.  You may employ someone who’s role is to invent things or design things. Their contract should include express reference to their creations being the intellectual property of the employer, otherwise they may be able to take them to a competitor. Finally, consider other ways of protecting company property such as buying copyrights, design rights, and patents” comments Luke Hutchings from Taylor Rose.

Keep your creativity on the right side of the law at all times and keep in mind this quick guide. You’d hate it if your idea or work was stolen, so make sure you aren’t ‘that guy’ either.

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