Avoiding Copyright Infringement In The Sign Industry

Copyright laws can be a pain to understand, especially in a world where digital media is transferred so readily and frequently. This guide will show you how to stay compliant.

What is Intellectual Property?


“Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.” (Source) In other words, all of the artwork created by sign companies is considered IP. IP is protected under copyright law.

If you wanted to apply this knowledge to signs, any and all logos, monument layouts, sign shapes, colors, and decorations provided by Signs West or another sign company is considered to Intellectual Property owned by the company until rights have been signed over. This requires a simple legal contract. Keep reading to see an example of such contract.

What is a Copyright?

Copyright is the protection given to the creator of an original work. Copyright laws protect designers’ right to the use and distribution of the work. Copyright can be transferred from one entity to another through a simple contract.


What is protected?

“Copyrights come into being upon the creation of the work in any tangible medium.” (Source) This includes digital media. Any and all artwork created by Signs West is owned by Signs West until rights have been signed off. We will not sign away our right to artwork until artwork has been paid for in full. Here’s a list of protected media we often create:

  • Logos
  • Sign shapes
  • Architectural drawings
  • Color combinations
  • Any artwork created by our designers


What isn’t protected?

“Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, TrademarkAssistanceCenter@uspto.gov or see Circular 34, for further information.” (Source: copyright.gov)

Both ideas and facts are not protected under copyright law. An example of an idea would be if we designed a logo with a river passing through it. The idea of putting a river in the logo is not protected under intellectual property law, but any artwork we created with the river is protected.


How to gain ownership?

In order to gain full legal ownership of designs created by Signs West or another company that provides artwork, you must sign a simple Copyright Release Form. Most of the time, we create and produce artwork for clients, but there are rare occasions when our clients would like to switch fabrication companies. If you want to use our artwork, you must pay for the designer’s time and for the artwork itself in order for us to sign away rights. Conversely, if you would like for us to fabricate signs based upon artwork from another sign company you must also provide us with a Copyright Release Form signed by the other company. This is to ensure we are not accused of IP theft in the future and to keep the entire process legally sound.