Copyright for consultants

Most consultant appointments allow a licence for your client to use your drawings and designs for the Project for which you created them; and if your client uses them for other purposes then you are not liable for such use.

How ‘the Project’ is defined will affect how your client can use them.

As a consultant, when you provide designs, drawings and documents, that does not simultaneously transfer ownership of the intellectual property rights in those documents. If you were holding a can of coke, would you also believe that you own Coke’s trademarks too?

The problem is that intellectual property is intangible and is legally treated separately to the medium in which is it created – whether paper, electronic, digital or other. Many clients do not really understand the limits of what they can/can’t do.

What can you do?

If you believe your client has overstepped the mark and is in breach of your copyright licence, you can:

  • ignore it – get on with other projects and chalk it up to experience
  • send a cease & desist letter – threatening legal proceedings if they don’t stop breaching your rights. You’ll need an experienced IP lawyer
  • keep your relationship – by gently letting them know they are in breach and offering face-saving solutions for those who are innocent of bad intentions.

If you like the third option, your letter or email could simply state:

We understand you have submitted our drawings for your property for <purpose B>. You  did not ask us to prepare drawings for <purpose B> – we designed and provided them for <purpose  A>.  You should be aware that: we are not liable for those drawings when you use them for <purpose B>; and secondly, you are in breach of our copyright licence which allows you to use them for <purpose A>.

Please see clause <number> of our appointment document <date> which lists the purposes for which you can use the drawings under your copyright licence. We assume this is an oversight and propose [you pay an additional fee of £<insert>  to use those drawings for <purpose B>, including a fee for us to check that they are suitable for that purpose][that you stop using those drawings for <purpose B> immediately] [<add other solution>].”

Of course, you need to be sure that your client is in breach before sending even the gentlest of letters.

If your appointment doesn’t have a clear copyright licence, it might be time to get your paperwork in order! To learn more about copyright issues for consultant appointments, see chapter 12 of How to Write Simple and Effective Consultant Appointments in Just 500 Words, from Amazon.

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