If you own a computer and used Microsoft Word, you have come across clip arts. They’re premade graphics and characters that you can use for personal projects. They’re mostly used in graphics designing as they help cut down the time it takes to come up with new characters. Recently, there have been questions on whether it’s legal to use clip arts in a logo, and it’s only fair if we discuss this at length.
It’s illegal to use clip arts in a logo as they’re not considered original and might face potential legal complications. Even with royalty-free clip arts, their use is usually limited to personal and not commercial projects. Using clips arts in your logo, even after modifying them, could lead to copyright infringement.
That’s not all, as you still need to know whether you need permission to use clip arts, if you can use these images freely and whether you can copyright a logo you’ve designed, which you will learn if you read on.
Is Using Clip Art in a Logo Illegal?
Clip arts are not considered original, and using them in your logo might lead to copyright infringement. Stock images are also a type of clip art, and it’s important to avoid using them in your logo. There has been confusion as to why you’re allowed to use clip arts (royalty-free or premium) in certain projects and prohibited in others. The answer to this is very simple:
Clip arts have a clause in their terms and conditions prohibiting their use in a commercial project, and a logo falls under this category. Even though you’re allowed to use them within your presentation, fliers and other files, they shouldn’t be displayed publicly as part of your business identity.
Clip arts are very popular in graphics design as they help to cut down work when coming up with new designs. Without copyright infringement, royalty-free clip arts can be used freely in brochures, work presentations, and digital projects. This freedom of use has prompted many to consider using clip arts in their business logos, but doing so is not legal.
A logo should contain original artwork made from scratch. It could be the first letter of your company’s name, like Facebook, or an original clip art like Apple Inc. However, it cannot contain any existing artwork.
Do you Need Permission to Use Clip Arts?
You’ll need permission from the owner to use their clip art if they have copyrighted it. Such use is considered Fair Use, and you won’t be sued for copyright infringement. However, you’re allowed to use clip arts in the public domain without needing permission from the owner.
Fair use is where the owner permits you to use clip art or part of the clip art, and they hold the right to limit the extent of use. For instance, they can allow you to use their clip art in your blog posts, but not on YouTube, where you can monetize the videos. Alternatively, they can allow you to use their work commercially only if you agree to compensate them. This type of permission is usually a written consent that you can present if there is a dispute.
Another option is to use clip arts from the public domain, where it’s unnecessary to ask for permission. Clip arts in public domains are those whose copyright claim has expired or didn’t have one. However, check if there are any limitations of use in the terms and conditions to avoid unnecessary lawsuits.
Can you Use Clip Arts Freely?
You’re allowed to freely use clip arts, especially royalty-free images, as you see fit. However, you should only use them in personal projects and attribute the owner. Here’s how you can use clip arts without triggering copyright problems:
- PowerPoint projects – you can have as many clip arts in your slides as possible. Microsoft comes equipped with hundreds of clip arts you can use.
- Gift tags – you can include several clip arts in gift tags without breaking any law.
- Party fliers – accessorize your party fliers with impressive clip arts
- Blog posts – Microsoft permits using their clip arts in personal blogs.
Additionally, it depends on where you get the clip arts, as not every website offering them has the license to do so. Although Microsoft allows you to use their clip arts, they prohibit packaging and reselling them to your clients.
Can You Copyright a Logo You Have Designed?
You could copyright a logo you designed if you used original artwork. The logo has to be unique and not a derivative of an existing one. Once copyrighted, the logo is protected under the law as an artistic work, and you can sue someone who uses it without your permission.
A logo is not limited to a symbol or a picture, as you can use a company’s name as Coca-Cola does. A company logo assigns you a ‘common law trademark,’ which gives you the legal rights to use the logo without filing any paperwork. Logos under common law trademarks are still protected, and you can sue someone for using them without your permission.
Although common law trademark offers protection, there are some crucial things you must know, such as:
- Geographical limitations – the law can prevent someone in your geo-location from using your logo or business name if you have registered it but allow someone from another state to use it.
- No fees – you don’t pay any fees under common law trademark, unlike federal registration.
- Enforcement – it’s tricky reinforcing common law trademark as there is no paperwork to attest to this, unlike federal registration.
- You can’t pass it on – a common law trademark cannot be passed once you sell a business, and the buyer would be required to rebrand or file for federal registration.
It’s considered illegal to use clip arts in a logo as they’re not original work. The same applies to royalty-free clip arts since most of them restrict commercial use. You need permission from the owner before using their clip arts in your projects, which is considered Fair Use.
For those seeking a better way to make logos, that are copyright-free and commercially usable, I highly recommend Placeit. They have a logo maker that allows you to browse through thousands of professional logo templates, and quickly customize one to use for your business.