But surely it belongs to me; after all, I hired them …
… is what you would think when your business hires a creative professional to help with your marketing efforts; however, it may surprise you to know that marketing agencies, web development companies and similar organisations in fact own the material that you ask them to produce for you!
Even we think this is a strange quirk in the law; but the fact that you may have commissioned the creative work from an agency, and ultimately paid for it, does not result in you owning the copyright or intellectual property rights unless this is specifically transferred to you. Often creative companies’ terms and conditions provide for this, but this should not be assumed; a transfer of ownership may be subject to an additional fee, but in any event we recommend that the issue is always considered.
The author of design work is the original owner of the copyright within it, save for a few exceptions. An agency that creates design and similar marketing collateral will therefore be its original owner under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and must specifically transfer ownership rights to the commissioner, if the company intends to own all of its IP, which we would obviously always recommend; updates and changes may also be difficult if an agency is able to control ownership rights of branding and design material that is associated with the company that originally hired them.
In 2014, intellectual property, including branding, trademarks, website and promotional content, guides, manuals and other materials have become much more valuable business assets. Their ownership has become increasingly important and should certainly no longer be overlooked. Within our work buying and selling companies and businesses for clients, there is now much more focus on such intangible property and a real focus on where real ownership lies. In recent years we have worked alongside many training, development and coaching businesses whose programmes and training materials form the core asset of their business; confusion over ownership when the company is being sold, could stifle what might otherwise be a prosperous deal.