Copyright on free work

About a year ago when starting out on graphic design in school I started doing a bit of free work (something I’m not doing any longer) for a ‘client’ here and there.

For this one client I provided a logo and some other branding for free, but only for screen usage.
He recently asked me for a print version of the logo to print it on tshirts and when I stated that that would cost him a small fee he backed off.
But I have the feeling he is still going to print it either way (probably with the screen version).

Now I came to the conclusion it was stupid to not agree on some kind of contract or agreement, but the work I provided then was only for screen usage and I would like a cut or one time fee on any work that is being put on tshirts & merchandising.

What are my options here? Is this still protected as my work under copyright when he decides to publish it either way, and can I still take action when he does?
Would it be wise to send a contract now or have I just lost the thing and is he free to do whatever he wants and to print it on merchandising without my consent and paying me?

I couldn’t find anything regarding copyrights on a free work on the web so I resorted to StackExchange. Thanks in advance.


Thank you for visiting the Q&A section on Magenaut. Please note that all the answers may not help you solve the issue immediately. So please treat them as advisements. If you found the post helpful (or not), leave a comment & I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Method 1

I think the problem is that you conflated the size of the task with the importance of the end result.

You probably figured a piece of artwork on a few things was “a small job,” so you didn’t mind doing it for free. But once he took your work and started using it on everything, now it’s “a big job,” and it’s a big job you didn’t get paid for. So now you feel like you should be properly compensated.

Unfortunately it’s too late for that. You did the work without a contract and you chose not to ask for payment. Logos are by definition important, and so even if it’s only used on one hand-ironed T-shirt, it’s still the client’s logo.

You can’t restrict his right to use his own branding. Call it a lesson learned and don’t do work for free any more.

Method 2

Customarily logos do not have usage restrictions. That somewhat kills the whole idea of a logo.

I’ve never heard of a designer placing usage restrictions on a logo.

In any event without a contract, no matter what he does, it’ll be up to the courts to decide if he’s got the right or not.

Typically an artist retains all copyrights to things they create. Whether or not you receive payment has little to do with that. There are only 11 ways you lose your copyright. See here: Is it copyright infringement by US copyright law if someone else modifies and uses my design? — In fact this may be a duplicate of your question.

Here are some related questions here:

Should graphic artists be scared at all about anyone stealing their artworks?

What are general practices in handing over usage rights to the client?

Charging an Intellectual Property transfer fee for design work

Copyright ownership: paid by hour vs. paid by project

Charging an Intellectual Property transfer fee for design work

I, personally, think it’s bad practice to charge a client for usage when it comes to a logo. You’re essentially holding them hostage.

All methods was sourced from or, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5, cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0

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