Legalese for Art and Design


Recap: 02/15/17

Hosted by LWD member Rena Simon at ZFG


Legalese for Art and Design

We invited attorney, Anne Koch to discuss any and all legal issues that surround women in art and design fields. She has been working with creative businesses for 15 years and specializes in Intellectual Property Law, Business/Corporate Law, Trademark and Contracts.

She discussed some of the best ways designers, as employees and self-employed, can protect themselves in the creative fields.


  • Set up LLC as your business entity to separate your personal assets from the business
  • Look into S Corp election to see if it would be best for your company.
  • Work with a lawyer when drafting partnership agreements, commercial lease agreements, filing trademarks or patents
  • Draft NDA agreements
  • Draft an Independent contract agreement to protect your IP Ownership
    • Especially true for graphic designers or web designers to have a clear line with clients what they own and what you own from the work you complete for them as an independent contractor
  • License agreements

Employee – protecting yourself when working for larger design firms:

  • Have a lawyer look over a non-competition contracts before starting a job or when you are leaving a job so you have all the information that you need.
  • Have a lawyer look at non-solicitation contracts
  • Max for both of these agreements is generally 2 years from terminating a job
  • Consult a lawyer before signing a separation agreement if laid off or fired from a job
  • There is a timeline that your employer has to grant you, you do not need to sign on the spot
  • Oregon has at will employment – you can leave or get fired anytime unless under contract.
  • Protective class – if you feel you are being fired for religion, race, sex (which includes pregnancy) you should consult a lawyer, especially before signing any separation agreements

Protecting your creative assets:

  • Copyright – Can be done yourself online for $35
    • Best to copyright within 3 months of creating, selling, launching the work
  • Trademark – Consult with a lawyer
  • Patent – Consult with a lawyer – design patents can cost $15,000+

Elements that can be copy written:

  • Artistic expressions can be copy written
  • Must be fixed – Tangible Medium of Expression

Elements that generally can not be copy written:

  • Functional elements

We spoke a lot about what we can do if we feel your work has been copied or used without your consent, especially in cases where a larger company takes a designers work.  We all know designers this has happened to.  There can be a lot of grey area but there are a few steps you can take in protecting yourself or defending your work.

  1. Register your copyrights
  2. If you copy wrote your work 3 months after launching you may be able to get defined money for damages and attorney fees
  3. Have a lawyer draft and send a cease and desist letter to demand the company stop the sale of their copy.
  4. You can pursue further and take company to court to collect their net profits, royalties,  or profits lost

Resources Mentioned:

Oregon Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts

Oregon Women Lawyers

Lawyers for Good Government

Small Business Legal Clinic

Creative Commons