Last week we left off with our client, a national scholarly organization, sharing with us the new logo it they just paid for. Unbeknownst to them though, their designer had used a shiny, generic globe stock illustration as the primary graphical element in their logo. Ethically I knew I couldn't move forward without having a serious chat with my point of contact at the organization.Why? What's the big deal and why can't you use stock art in your logo, you ask?Aren't stock photos and illustrations simply pre-created images you can use in anything you want? I mean, that's what they're there for, right?Nope.Here's the problem: Using a stock image (or even just a portion of a stock image) as part of a business name, logo, trademark, design mark or service mark is absolutely illegal unless you've taken the necessary, deliberate steps to obtain specific rights to use it.Know that unique logo your nephew/sister/buddy designed for you when he was in that high school/college weekend Photoshop course? You know, that logo for which they grabbed that royalty-free illustration of the chef jumping in the air, bride holding a bouquet of flowers, or mountains beneath the sun - and then changed it up just a touch and placed the name of your business above it in that cool font? Yes, that's right. It's probably (very) illegal and you could be in big trouble. (Don't believe me? Stay tuned next week for a real life "this happened to me" story.)Why is your logo illegal? Because you're infringing upon the rights of the artist who created the original artwork. Most likely, you're breaking the agreement that was made when the image was downloaded from the stock photo site. Need an example? Here's iStockPhoto.com's licensing agreement: http://istockphoto.com/license.phpSadly, we've run into this exact issue with clients many times over the past decade. Back to the example at hand. I shared the bad news with my point of contact at the organization. He adamantly insisted the logo was custom - in fact, he personally knew the designer they'd paid to create it. I pushed back, sharing that we couldn't ethically use what we knew was essentially an "illegal logo" in the new website we were designing and building for them. The client dug in their heels, hard. So, as with times past, I hopped online and used my super Internet powers to, in a matter of minutes, locate the exact globe that had been used in the logo, right from a popular stock photo site.I shared the image (which was offered for free by the stock site) with the client. Silence. Then some crickets.Two weeks later I received the client's all-new logo in my inbox. It was most definitely a custom without a piece of stock in it. Excellent. Disaster averted.(Tip: If you absolutely love a piece of stock art or find a piece of stock art you wish your logo looked like, ask your logo designer to use that piece's style as inspiration. Or, contact the stock image's creator directly and see if she'd be willing to create a custom piece just for you.)Erin Pheil is the owner of timeforcake creative media - the Web Design & Strategy company voted #1 in Best of Summit. Visit the timeforcake website at www.timeforcake.com or email Erin at email@example.com.
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