A Layman's Guide to Legal Problems faced by UX Designers

08 July, 2020

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What constitutes an original design? Who takes responsibility for a design that offends a certain section of society? How do you protect your work from being misused or copied? Laws that govern the world of design are complex. In this layman's guide to legal problems, we at Team Codesign try and address a few legal issues faced by UX designers.

The Impact of Globalization on UX Design Agencies

Gone are the days when small design studios held sway over local business houses and bigger agencies catered to national-level business houses. With increased globalization in the last few decades, marketplaces world over have witnessed a sea change.

Globalized competition has opened doors to all types of design entities. From agencies of any size to individual freelancers; everybody now has the opportunity to vie for their market share. Today, it is even possible for a startup design agency to be ranked among the top 10 or top 5 global UX designers.

While this competitiveness has encouraged growth, it has also posed a few challenges. One such challenge that UX designers face is to stay updated with the laws governing the design industry. This is easier said than done. 

Gaining a foothold in the fiercely competitive market of UX design is hard enough as it is. And to assume that one would have the time to study even just the relevant laws is almost absurd. Hiring legal aid is also difficult. In light of this, we at Team Codesign give you a sneak peek into legal issues faced by UX designers.

Statutory Warning

A word of caution; laws and their implications differ across geographical regions. We at Team Codesign are not legal professionals. We are UX designers. The laws we will discuss below are based solely on our experiences in the design industry. Hence, this article is not an alternative to qualified legal advice. As mentioned earlier, it is a layman’s guide.

Common Legal Problems UX Designers Face

Copyright Violations: Copyright can only be claimed when it is established that your work is original, unique, and uncommon. To do this, a designer must ensure that his/her work is completely distinct and does not share too many similarities with anyone else’s work. Similarly, any existing imagery used must get due credit or must be absolutely original.

Trademark Violations: Some kinds of work are governed by trademark laws. These works are not necessarily unique. They are judged on the context in which they have been used. An advertising slogan or tagline is an example of the kind of work protected by trademarks.

Payment Violations: A designer has the right to claim payment for artwork created for clients. However, according to the Berne Convention, this right only exists when the designer can prove that the design was originally created by him/her. Therefore, when creating a contract, be sure to detail out payment violations & copyright infringements.

Photo from: https://unsplash.com/photos/v9FQR4tbIq8

How to Avoid Legal Problems: TIPS FOR UX DESIGNERS

Use Authentic Software:
It’s always tempting to get something without paying for it, and if you search hard enough, there are always plenty of ways to avoid authentic software. However, doing so can land you in a lot of legal trouble. As easy as it is to obtain illegal software, there is no dearth of inexpensive software in the market either. Using authentic, genuine software will help protect your work. 

Honour your Contract:
When you begin a new job, be sure to lay down all your terms and conditions on paper. Go over this with your client, so that you both are on the same page. At no point should your client feel aggrieved or cheated. And making things clear right from the start will help prevent this. Honouring your contract will not only help you build a good reputation, but it will also keep you out of legal issues.

Use Fonts Correctly:
The way your words look plays an important part in defining your brand identity. That is why designers spend so much time finding the perfect font. However, fonts are also governed by certain laws.
Most often one just needs to read the End User License Agreement (EULA), to understand how to use the fonts legally. Remember, even free fonts have usage restrictions. As a UX designer, it is important that you familiarise yourself with these rules and follow them correctly.

Avoid the use of Dummy copy:
Sometimes, UX designers use dummy copy as a placeholder. Under no circumstances should this copy be taken from another's website. Instead, either use text shared directly by the client or use true lorem ipsum copy.

Give credit where it's due:
mages, music, videos & the written word, and even HTML code; everything we are so familiar with is protected by different copyright laws. Sometimes, we even use different online platforms to create our work, which has their own licensing rules. In general, if you are using the work of someone else, or the assistance of someone else (directly or indirectly) be sure to give them due credit.

Find out if your design legally belongs to you:
In some cases, a design you create automatically belongs to you. In others, however, it may belong to your organization, the client, or maybe even every person who worked on it. Before you try and claim your design, find out who actually has the rights to it.

Regularly search the internet for copies:
Once you know if you have the rights to your design, frequently check the internet for copies. Often UX Designers put up their portfolios on various platforms. While this helps them expand their work, it also opens them up to the risk of being cheated.

Put your work out there:
The thought of opening-up yourself to the risks of being cheated or copied can be daunting, but it may have to be done. In most copyright battles, one is required to show proof that the work is original. Displaying it on the internet is not just a possible way to establish proof; it also lets others keep a lookout for you. The more people see your work, the more they will recognize a copy. So, don’t be shy, put your work out there.

Ensure your Work is Not Offensive:
Be careful not to hurt the sentiments of any caste, creed, group, or race of people with your design. Offensive designs don’t just attract legal consequences, they also ruin your reputation and build personal enmity. 

Final Thoughts

One of the worst experiences for any creative professional is to see their work being misused or used without permission. Unfortunately, though, most UX designers are not well-versed enough with the laws. Moreover, this leads to them inadvertently using someone else’s work. If you find yourself in either situation, it is advisable to first contact the owner of the original/copied work and try and reach a settlement. Only when this fails, should one take legal action. Legal battles are usually time-consuming and expensive, so be very sure of yourself before taking them on.

As you can see, nobody can protect themselves or their work from exploitation, without understanding what they are entitled to in the first place. Legally aware designers are in a better position to protect their work & prevent accidental violations. Perhaps, it is time for smaller design studios & startups to begin investing in legal counsel?