Invitation Advisor: Who Owns The Rights To Your Invitation Design?

August 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

So, who feels like talking about the scintillating world of copyright?

Hey wait, where are you going? No really…it may not be thrilling, but if you are working with a custom designer, it’s important for you to understand your rights when it comes to your invitation design.

It may *seem* obvious, but you may be surprised to hear the real answer to the question of who owns the copyright on your invitation design (and therefore who controls its usage)…

Here’s a scenario that happens frequently with custom invitation designers and couples:

You’ve hired a designer to create your invitation, which includes a monogram created specifically by the designer for you. When it comes time to create your day of stationery, you decide to DIY and ask the designer to send you the monogram, so that you can attempt to match your day-of stationery to your invitations. The designer replies they will be happy to do so, at a cost of $XX.XX.

Here’s where you may get confused – didn’t you already pay the designer? Why are they asking you to pay them again for something that has already been designed? What kind of business are they running?

The straightforward answer is that the designer owns the rights to their work and unless explicitly stated in your contract, anything outside of what you initially agreed upon and you will need to pay an additional usage fee, at the designer’s discretion. The fact that you’ve paid them already only covers the right to use the work as intended in the original contract (in most cases this covers creation and use of the artwork on your printed invitations – NOT providing you with digital files for your own use). Contracting someone to design your invitation (which is considered “work for hire”) does NOT grant you copyright or ownership of that work.

The next question (even if unspoken) is often “Why are they charging $XX.XX. How did they come up with that number?”.

Each designer will arrive at their pricing differently; so it’s difficult to answer the question of why your designer may be charging a specific amount; but, I can explain *why* they are charging you a fee, rather than simply providing it to you at no cost.

When you decide to use a designer’s work to create something on your own, you are in essence taking your business elsewhere. It only makes sense that a designer would much rather have you order your day-of stationery items from them, then lose out on hundreds of dollars of revenue by just handing over their work to you for free. You may claim you are just going to be creating your own stationery, but certainly there have been cases where a client requests artwork that they then take to another, generally less expensive, designer to have them use to create additional stationery items.

Not only is lost revenue part of the equation, but so is risk – once that digital file is handed over, the designer no longer has control over how and where their work is used.

Variations of this exist as well – a client may ask a designer to provide them with the fonts used on their invite, or with a stock illustration or photograph. In this case the designer does not own the rights to these items, they themselves have paid another artist for usage, and they would be violating that copyright by providing you with those works, whether free or paid.

Similarly, there are issues that may not violate a designers copyright, but infringe on their business “secrets” – whether it’s a client asking a designer to tell them the names of fonts used on their invitation or their supplier for paper or other items. Again, these are situations where, bottom line, a client is trying to save money by taking their business elsewhere (whether that’s DIY or another designer etc.), so it’s understandable that your designer may not want to share this type of information with you – in fact, your other vendors won’t want to either. Your florist isn’t going to tell you where she gets her flowers, your cake designer is not going to hand over the recipe for your cake and your decorator isn’t going to tell you where she shops – trust me.

Finally, there are some designers who do not ever provide artwork to clients for their own use. They choose to do so to protect the usage of their art – for example, a poorly designed or printed item that uses their artwork lessens it’s impact and it’s worth, and therefore there are many designers who will not allow clients to use custom artwork outside of their own designs. It’s important to be aware that, as the artist, your designer retains the right to refuse to sell the artwork created for, or used in, your invitation.

When it comes right down to it, I have no problem with my clients deciding to DIY their day-of stationery (although I certainly don’t recommend it, for a number of reasons), but I also don’t feel it necessary to give away my work to help them do it. Would you expect your DJ to burn you a CD so you can play it at your after-party? Or ask your florist to give you some flowers so you can make your own arrangements for your rehearsal dinner?

If you choose to DIY, whether to save money or otherwise, that’s great – but remember it means “Do It Yourself” not “Ask Your Vendor To Help You So You Don’t Have To Pay Them To Do It”.

Here’s my advice:

If you are having your invitation custom designed, make sure you talk to your designer about these issues, even if you don’t think you will be planning on using the work elsewhere. Knowing what the options and prices are up-front will allow you to may better, more informed decisions later on and will save you the stress of being surprised later on by unexpected costs etc.

Remember, the wedding professionals you hire want you to be happy and want you to have a fantastic wedding day – show that you respect them and their work and you will undoubtedly get 110% in return.

§ 2 Responses to Invitation Advisor: Who Owns The Rights To Your Invitation Design?

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