Legalities in Design

Takeaways from AIGA Raleigh August Community Meeting


If you are a designer, how can you not love AIGA? It is the oldest organization in the country dedicated to advancing design as a profession. Our team tries to attend AIGA meetings and events when we can to stay up to date on the latest and greatest information. The topic of this month’s meeting was all about how design and the legal system intersect. We came away with some great information to share with our clients about design trademarks, copyrights, and other tidbits. Here is a brief list of what we learned:




  • Don’t listen to “if you change it 15%” or “change 3 things about it” rule. That’s not true. There is always gray area, there are no defining lines or boundaries in IP Law.
  • The U.S. is the only country that has this registration system.
  • Your boss (most likely) owns your work.
  • Getting something copyrighted is generally inexpensive – around $55.
  • You can use TM without ever registering, it means you are planning on registering it as a design trademark
  • The circle with the R (®) means it is registered. You should probably use it since you paid for it.




  • Be Original. You (probably) won’t have a problem if you start from your own idea and your own art. If you google something that you like, break it down why you like it and how you can make it your own. Never straight up copy someone else’s work.
  • Don’t post design work you’ve done for clients unless it’s approved.
  • If you get guidance a couple of times, it will help you a lot in the long run in understanding the process.
  • Read contracts. Read NDAs.
  • Get anything important or of value to you copyrighted.
  • Do not manipulate other company’s logos in your work and do not false advertise about other companies.
  • Stay away from parodies. Do you really want to go to supreme court over one? Read More.
  • If you purchase stock photos, it’s in your best interest to read the terms.
  • Is there anyone that could claim your work as theirs? If you get input from others, there could be problems with ownership of ideas later on. You should legally collaborate and consult, it’s never just “friends talking about ideas.”


Panelists included:
Brandon Huffman, Devon White, Ed Timberlake, Jose Ciceraro