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Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Design Competitions

Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Design Competitions

Design competitions, contest and awards could create issues with regards to various types of intellectual property ranging from copyrights, industrial design rights, model releases and trademarks. This article discusses some of the issues.

First of all, there could be significant issues relating to industrial rights (i.e. rights that protects the visual design of objects without utilitarian requirements). Industrial right issues have two dimensions: First, there could be unintentional infringement cases resulted by designers submitting works similar to that of others. Since this could create potential lawsuits and problems, design competition organizers are advised to include an indemnity clause and hold the designer responsible for issues relating to their designs.
Secondly, designers could lose their possibility to register for industrial design rights and patents for their works, especially when the organizers would publish them in any media. Therefore, designers are advised to register their works before applying for awards, if they want to protect their rights. Meanwhile, organizers are advised to communicate this reality to designers in their competition terms and agreements to avoid any issues. It should be noted that, the losing of registration of patents usually is related to utility works since art-works are automatically protected by copyrights instead of patents.
Thirdly, there is the issue of transfer of industrial design rights. It has been observed that some competition organizers could potentially exploit designers by introducing a transfer of industrial rights cause into their terms and agreements, since a large proportion of designers do not actually read these agreements, they could end up losing their rights – i.e. the case of legal design theft. This mostly happens when competitions offer monetary award prizes; by stating that the winners works would be realized or bought. Designers usually think that they will have option to sell, but in reality the terms are prepared in a way to oblige designers to transfer their rights to the designs.
Issues with trademarks in design competition is yet another hot topic. In most cases, this happens because designers use the logos or trademarks of famous brands in their communication, design or presentation. Designers should avoid taking such actions unless they are explicitly granted to do so, otherwise they could be subject to cease and desist letters, lawsuits and fines. Organizers should not let any designers to submit such works, and should also held the designers responsible for such actions by including an indemnity clause in terms and agreements.
Issues with copyrights in design competition usually covers areas for data submitted by the participants, such as design description texts, comments, and documents. In most cases, since the organizers would like to publish winners information, participant designers would be required to transfer their copyrights relating to such items to the organizers. Organizers are advised to include this information explicitly in their terms and agreements. While the copyright transformation might seem not fair, it is also a required item in terms as otherwise organizers could not publish winner works or their details without having legal issues.
Issues with model releases and others’ copyrights in design competitions are usually overlooked, however they should be addressed in the terms and agreements. Most importantly, designers must themselves obtain any rights to use others’ works for embedding or incorporating to their designs. For any legal issues arising from such misuse should be forward to the designers, and the only possible way to do so is by introducing this information in the competition terms and agreements through indemnity. Most common forms of infringement is through using photographs, or using others designs within the presentation.
Another case where problems could arise relates to the issues with personal information and privacy. In most countries private information is protected by privacy laws, thus competition organizers are not permitted to publish names of winners. Since not publishing name of winners is impossible; organizers should include privacy and personal information causes in their competition terms and agreements. On the other hand, some competition organizers might need to share the participants names and contact information with third parties; for instance with PR agents for preparing press releases or with sponsors who would provide benefits, or for any other commercial purposes. This reality should also be communicated to the designers.
Another item to discuss is regarding the usage of copyright indicator text and symbol in submitted images. In most cases, organizers do not use designers name in images, however, using the names with the copyright symbol is always considered positive. In some cases, competition organizers could write their own names to the images, or both the name of the award and the competition might appear depending on the initial terms and conditions.
For commercial issues, such as yearbooks which are normally distributed free to participants but that could also be sold separately, design competition organizers should explicitly seek permission from the participants and let them know that their designs would be published without any commercial returns to them: if this is the case, a statement regarding publication and compilations could be introduced in the competition terms and agreements.
Another copyright and intellectual property issue concerning design competitions is about photos taken during events organized within the competition: For instance photos of participants could be taken during gala-nights, exhibitions or award ceremonies for pr and publicity purposes, to publish such photos online etc. While it may seem natural to organizers that using participants photos is something they would be allowed to do so, in legal terms they require permission. The permissions for such photography can be obtained prior to the events by communicating this fact in terms and condition of the competition.
In any condition, design competition organizers are suggested to hire an advocate or legal consultant for preparing a good and fair terms and agreements. Meanwhile, all designers who wish to take part in design competitions should read and confirm the terms and agreements of the design competitions, and ask questions to organizers or their legal representatives for clarifications. Alternative, consultancy companies such as Design Mediators could be hired.
Finally, in some rare cases, it could be observed that participants could infringe copyrights of the competition organizers. This could seem rather strange, but indeed it happens frequently in competitions which offer license to use award logos. While some design competitions would grant free usage of logos to winner works, others might require annual licensing fees. In any case, the winners’ logos are only permitted to be used together with winning works, and in most cases without modification of the logo; however winners are observed to use the competition logos in ambiguous ways or by modifying them which should be both not allowed by the organizers. Any licensing fee requirements or the way the identity could be used must be clearly communicated to the participants and winners in the competition terms and agreements.
As a general guideline and summary, organizers are advised to be very careful regarding copyright issues, and they are suggested protect themselves with explanations in terms and condition agreements, through indemnity clauses. Meanwhile designers must beware that they could lose their copyrights or lose their chances of registering for patents, and should read any competition terms in detail. Both parties are suggested to get expert consultancy on this manner.

This article was added on Monday, 27th of January, 2014 at 06.26 am by author Onur Cobanli Tags: intellectual property, trademark, model release, copyrights, design competition. Read our copyright policy here.





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