Who Owns the Artwork?

What is Graphic Design?In addition to my book publishing background, I’ve also worked in the world of print advertising sales for many years. What these two industries have in common is that each business (whether it be a newspaper, magazine, phone directory, or publisher) creates artwork for its respective clients as part of its overall service offering.

A company’s artwork policy can vary: some believe that once you’ve paid for and published a creative, the copyright belongs to you, and you can reproduce it at your discretion as part of your own marketing campaign; others believe that any artwork they have created for you belongs to them and can only be reused with their permission at an additional charge. Having been on both sides of this coinas the service provider and the paying clientit is my opinion that the copyright for a creative belongs to the paying client, and all the high-resolution artwork should be returned to that client upon receipt of payment. I won’t delve into any examples related to print advertising here, but I will discuss my experience with book publishing.

Each time I write a new book, I tie it into the preceding book(s) by including graphics of my past book cover(s) at the end of the story along with an updated author bio. I reproduce this promotional copy on my author website and printed flyers, as well. This helps me to sell my backlist along with my frontlist at signings and various other events.

On one particular occasion, I wanted to create a large poster with all my book covers included on it. I intended to use this as an eye-catching display at a craft sale. Great idea, right? Unfortunately, one of the book publishing companies I had published through would not release a high-resolution copy of my book cover to me. “We own it,” they said. “It belongs to us.”

It seems to me, this is a “nobody wins” sort of scenario. This company was not keeping my artwork with the intention of ever using it themselves. They were simply keeping the files to prevent someone else (me) from ever using them.

I founded PPG with the philosophy that self-publishers are not only entitled to 100% copyright ownership of their written words, but they are also entitled to 100% copyright ownership of their artwork. (After all, they are the ones paying for the production of their books.) Rather than storing their print-ready cover and interior files ourselves, we return everything to our self-publishers (working files, finished files, everything). This enables our clients to print extra copies of their books wherever they choose, and it allows them to produce marketing materials at their discretion. To me, this is an “everybody wins” sort of scenario because each time they display their book covers with one of our logos on it, it helps to promote them, the designer, and PPG. That’s how it should be, wouldn’t you agree?

Again, I’m open to hearing from my fellow writers and self-publishers on this one. What is your experience regarding artwork copyright? What’s your opinion on this topic?

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