To preserve and enhance the value of their creative works, graphic designers and visual artists might use intellectual property (IP) rights. With today’s massive amounts of digital content being shared online, there’s a good chance that someone will exploit your work without properly crediting you. You can better enforce your rights and maintain control over your creations by understanding graphic design intellectual property protections. IP can help you benefit from the work you sell to website designers, marketing professionals, retailers, and publishers, for example.  

In this article, we’ll explore popular categories of IP owned by visual artists, talk about works done for hire, and show you how to sell IP to others via licensing and non-fungible tokens in this article. We’ll also go over some basic fair use principles so you can be sure you’re not violating anyone’s rights.  


Copyrights and trademarks are the most prevalent types of intellectual property earned by graphic designers and visual artists. Copyright protections are derived from the creation of original work, whereas trademarks help to distinguish your business in the marketplace.   

  1. Copyrights  

A copyright gives creators the exclusive right to publish, reproduce, adapt, and distribute their original work to the public. Copyright protections are automatic (regardless of whether or not a work is registered) and continue for the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years. While designers and artists are automatically protected by copyright, there are some advantages to registering unique works with the United States Copyright Office. Registration informs others that you are prepared to defend your intellectual property rights if necessary. If you have to sue for infringement, you can get statutory damages and attorney’s fees if you register your work.  

Even if you abandon an idea, the IP rights to the unfinished design remain yours. This makes keeping accurate records of all creations (even if you don’t utilize them right now) highly vital, as they may have financial value in the future.

  1. Trademarks

In the marketplace, a trademark defines your brand, products, and services, allowing customers to distinguish yours from others. Trademarks can be applied to a variety of designs, including logos, taglines, and advertising jingles. You don’t have to register a trademark to get certain legal protections, just like you don’t have to register a copyright. However, it may be helpful to register a trademark so that it can be published in the USPTO database, alerting others to the fact that you are the sole owner of the property.


Understanding who owns the rights to work is one of the most difficult aspects of IP for many designers. Many of your projects may be for a client. The employer-employee relationship is one of the few instances in which the creator does not control the intellectual property rights to a product (the employer is the copyright holder). In a nutshell, if you are hired to develop designs or graphic works for a company, all of the work you produce belongs to the corporation.

Another point to consider is joint ownership. If you collaborate with multiple artists to complete a piece, each person’s contribution may be protected by copyright. If someone wanted to recreate the work, they’d have to seek permission from each of the designers involved.


Licensing is a means of transferring your intellectual property rights to a client to maximize the value of your creative works. You can grant clients licenses that allow them to utilize your work without paying royalties. You can also use controlled rights, which allow you to choose how your work can be used. Licensing your creative works is a good approach to earn from your IP in any case.

NFTs Offer a New Way to Profit from Your Creative Works

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are one-of-a-kind digital files used as a unit of blockchain currency. NFTs can be issued for any sort of digital material, including images, videos, audio, games, and so on. This new method of payment is sweeping the creative world.

When artists sell files as an NFT, they are paid for the first sale as well as any subsequent purchases. NFTs are similar to royalties in that they can provide a steady stream of income, but they have the added benefit of automatically tracking future sales on the blockchain without the need for third-party oversight.

NFTs allow creators to automatically collect royalties and track future sales using the blockchain’s verification system, which links all sales to the original work. As this type of currency becomes more popular, it could provide yet another avenue for visual artists to profit from their work.


Unless the use of intellectual property qualifies as “fair use,” authorization is required if you want to use someone else’s or if someone wants to use yours. Fair use allows you to use, modify, or create a derivative work based on someone else’s original work. Fair use, in general, refers to the use of another’s copyrighted material for educational, commentary, criticism, research, or reporting purposes. Whether copyrighted information has been fairly used is a difficult task that frequently necessitates the assistance of an attorney. When assessing whether the use of another’s copyrighted material is “fair,” courts consider four main factors:

  1. The usage’s purpose and character: Using copyrighted content for non-profit educational purposes could be considered fair use. Fair use is when someone else’s work is used for profit or a commercial purpose.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work: Creative, rare, and unpublished work are less likely to be covered by fair use.
  3. The quantity of work used: Fair use may be defined as using an extractor reproducing a tiny piece of a protected work. However, copying a completely original work will very certainly not be recognized as fair use.
  4. The monetary impact of the use: It’s probably not fair use if your use of a protected work reduces the work’s market worth.

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