Copyright and Print


More often than not, clients come in or request a bid with their own files to be printed.

We, as a printer, assume that you’ve obtained the proper copyright permissions to print/use the images you bring in. Sometimes, this isn’t the case and someone comes knocking on our door – so we thought we’d arm you with a few little tidbits about copyright.


This is just a quick overview, get more details from the Copyright office here.


What is copyright?

First let’s define copyright. The creator (author, photographer, designer, etc) of work owns the exclusive rights to edit, use, copy, and distribute by sale or transfer.

These exclusive rights mean that it is illegal for anyone (even the subject in the images) to copy, scan, edit, share, distribute or sell these works without the creator’s permission. And yes, this is a Federal Law and is subject to civil and criminal penalties if violated.

Wow! That sounds scary!

Honestly, it can be. Not only can it mean a lot of money for a business, but it can also tarnish a brand with legal scandal. No one wants that.


So what does copyright cover?

Copyright protects a number of different created works, including:

  • Literary works like articles, plays, scripts and stories
  • Images and pictures
  • Music, lyrics and sound recordings
  • Architectural blueprints
  • Fonts and typefaces
  • Logo designs
  • On the web: codes, images, words and text on a page, web docs are all copyrighted. Reproduction can mean printing a web page, copying HTML code, CSS or JavaScript off a site, downloading media to your drive or printing an image.


 I found this on the web, doesn’t that mean I can use it?

Nope. Just because something is online doesn’t mean its copyright has been released. While you might feel the risk is small over being caught, I can assure you, it happens more often that you realize. It’s always a safer bet to purchase stock images and commercial use fonts, or contact the creators and ask to purchase (don’t expect it to be free, these artists are businesses too) a limited use release for their art. And make sure you’re specific what you want to use it for, so they can prepare the image properly before they sell that limited release to you.


So once I’ve bought that release, I now own the copyright, right?

Again, this is a no. Unless the creator sold you the copyright (which would remove it from their possession and ability to use ever again, so it’s unlikely) then, no. You own a limited use or print right. Make sure you have it in writing and that it’s clearly outlined for both parties how long and what it can be used for.


Who owns the copyright?

If you created the art, then this one should be easy. If not, then the copyright is owned by the creators of each of the pieces you want to use in your design. This could be photographers, designers, or even authors. The copyright owner is who you will need to talk to, to get permission to use the works.

There is an exception – work made for hire belongs to the company or employer, not the creator (example, you’re a graphic designer for a design firm, any works you create for clients under their commission is under the copyright of the firm, not you).


The bottom line here, if you didn’t create it, you don’t own it.

It’s also better safe than sorry: even if the creator hasn’t registered the works with the US Copyright office, almost every court will uphold their copyrights and decide in favor of the creator. When in doubt, ask permission, and get it in writing.


Let’s pass your work through the copyright check points:


  1. Did I create the images?

Yes – move on to 2.

No – If you have permission to use, move to 2. If not, get written permission from the creator, and then move to 2.

  1. Did I create the font?

Yes – move on to 3

No – check to see if the license is for commercial use, if so move to 3. If not, contact the creator, or find another commercial use font to replace it.


  1. Did I create the copy (text)?

Yes – move on to 4.

No – Uh oh! Rework the text, and then move on to 4.


  1. Did I create the design?

Yes – that’s it, you’ve passed!

No – Did the designer release the layout for use? If not, get written permission or create your own design.


Does your art pass the copyright checkpoints?

We hope so! Now that you’re ready for print, check out our file specifications here, and then let’s head over to submit your job!

Are you a printer? Want to know what this means for you? Click here.