Once upon a time there was a new business owner named Jane*. Jane wanted to do everything right for her business, so she hired someone who claimed to be a professional in her niche market… someone who only worked with her type of business. She spent money on a logo and a website design, and then ordered signs, business cards, and other things for her new business with her brand new logo.

Jane is friends with my client, Jack*. Jack called me because he’d been trying to help Jane with changes to her website, but the site was acting strangely and Jack was afraid he’d broken something. I dove in to take a look and…

Although I could write a separate blog post about the ahem… “professional” website design she paid for, today’s post is not about that; it’s about the logo. You see, something was bugging me about that logo…

… it looked familiar.

The Investigation

I headed over to TinEye to see what I could find out. TinEye is a reverse image search engine. It’s super handy (and a little bit scary) because it indexes billions of images, and can tell you if your image has been used elsewhere, even if it has been modified.

As it turns out, I was right. It was familiar because her logo had been used before. Jane’s logo was clip art.

(Cue music… dun dun DUN!)

You might be asking, “So it’s clip art. So what?”

Be Unique

The first problem with using clip art is that there’s no way to copyright your logo because your logo is not unique. Clip art is sold to anyone who wants to buy it.

The Business Dictionary defines a logo as “a recognizable and distinctive graphic design, stylized name, unique symbol, or other device for identifying an organization.” (emphasis mine). There are an undetermined number of other people on the planet also using that clip art right now, and might be using it as their logo too. Just adding some words (like a business name) isn’t enough to make a logo unique.

Be Aware

The second (and larger) problem with using clip art has to do with the licensing agreement that is attached to that image. When you purchase an image, you are purchasing the rights to use that image in accordance with the licensing agreement. Many royalty-free stock houses exclusively prohibit the use of their images as logos. Sometimes you can purchase special licensing for exclusive rights to the image, but that’s usually very expensive and very rare.

Always Check Your License Agreement

No matter where you get your images, videos, audio files, fonts, … really any kind of file(!) from, you should always check the license agreement to make sure you have permission to use it the way you want to. For instance, iStock’s licensing agreement says this (3d. of the iStock Content License Agreement):No Use in Trademark or Logo. You may not use content as part of a trademark, design mark, tradename, business name, service mark, or logo.”

Shutterstock (2h. of Shutterstock License Agreement): “You may not use any Visual Content (in whole or in part) as a trademark, service mark, logo, or other indication of origin, or as part thereof.”

Are you using Canva? You might want to read their licensing a little more carefully to make sure you’re using the right licensing for your needs. In all cases, they also prohibit “use any of the Stock Media as part of a trade-mark, design-mark, trade-name, business name, service mark, or logo”.

So what happened?

So, what happened with Jane? According to the licensing agreement, her logo is in violation of copyright. She’s currently exploring options to resolve the situation, and we’re working together to get it all sorted out.

It always frustrates me to see business owners taken advantage of by people who claim to be “professionals” in a given area when they’re not. Often, it’s the newest and smallest businesses that pay the highest price. They choose the most inexpensive option because they don’t have a bottomless checking account, but in the end they end up spending more than they would have if they’d worked with someone they could trust… and often, that trust comes via good reviews and referrals. If you know someone who is struggling with their brand or website, I’d be happy to talk with them. Let me know.

*Names have been changed because that’s the right thing to do 😉