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Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


Logo vs Clip Art for Website Design

September 22nd, 2008

If you’re undertaking a new website design, one of the things to consider is whether you want to have a custom logo designed, or simply use clip art or stock photography for your website. Since one of my clients, Jefferson Coulter, is a trademark attorney in Seattle, I asked him to write an article about this topic.

Here’s an exerpt from Jefferson’s article:

Designers and business owners often wonder about using clip art when designing logos for their or their clients’ business. Should I hire a designer or come up with something on my own? Should I use clip art?

Two things are going on when you create a logo for your business or product. One, you are creating work of authorship that is subject to copyright protection. Two, you are creating a brand (sizzle…mooo! I hope people don’t still brand cows) that designates the origin of the goods or services you are marketing and that distinguishes them from the goods or services of others, a trademark.

Copyrights are about original works of authorship. Trademarks are about marketing.

Copyright infringement (use without permission) is all about originality. If someone is using art that looks identical to yours, that would be ok if it was created independently. For example, two people painted independent images of a frog that just happen to look very similar. As long as its independently created, you are ok. However, if you copy the image, that would be copyright infringement.

Trademarks infringement is all about customer confusion-does a competitor’s use of the same or similar mark trick the public or trade on my goodwill and reputation? With trademarks, it doesn’t matter if its independently created if it causes confusion. All that matters is who used it first and whether it is distinctive. So a trademark protects use of the image in similar industries or for similar goods. A copyright protects the work no matter how it’s used. (This issue only comes up with logos, because they are both works of arts and may serve as a trademark. For “word marks” we’d likely only be dealing with trademark issues.”)

Jefferson goes on to explain that logos can be both copyrighted and trademarked, and he discusses when and why a small business owner is able, or might want to pursue either status. He further explains that clip art is always copyrighted by someone else, and therefore while it may be fine (according to the specific license) to use clip art on your website, he does not recommend using clip art at your small business logo because you can’t copyright it, nor can you prevent anyone else from using it.

Go here to read the whole article “Can I Copyright My Clip Art Logo?

And many thanks to Jefferson for this excellent article.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

2 Responses to “Logo vs Clip Art for Website Design”

  1. Kali Says:

    Hi, I love that you put this article online. It answers a lot of questions. I am beginning to get more into web design and I would like to design sites, logos and business cards for clients. My only question is how to copyright them myself and is it okay to sell the same logo to multiple business’ (hey, they were just gonna use clip art anyway) so long as I maintain the copyright and let them know that it is still available to other clients?

  2. Jill Olkoski Says:

    This is a legal question – but as a business owner, if I paid someone to design a logo, you bet I would want to own the copyright to it. You’d have to be clear with them who owns the copyright.

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