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Is it OK to use clipart in a business logo?

The legal snag that occurs when using clip art, whether it is free or Royalty Free, is that a business cannot copyright their logo. The reason for this is because the intellectual property rights of the art belongs to someone else.

Usage permissions at popular stock image agencies are spelled out in the licensing agreement. Be sure to read license restrictions, or prohibited use clauses that one must agree to before downloading art from stock houses such as iStockphoto, Getty Images and Corbis Images. They clearly state that such art cannot be used for trademarks and logos. These companies want to sell the same art over and over again, as many times as they can but they can spot a potential legal infringement and want to avoid that for themselves, their artists and the end users of the art – the buyers.

Even “free” clip art has a creator. That artist, by copyright law maintains Intellectual Property Rights and can sue for usage infringement.

If you use art that another company also used there is a chance that you’ll run up against a lawsuit from the company that copyrighted their logo first. Can you see the sticky wicket of the predicament? Read more about trademark dilution.

Why go there (to court) if you don’t need to?

In the end, it’s so much easier and can be much less expensive to procure an original logo for your business. If you value your business identity then maximize the visual impact of its logo by making sure it is unique and memorable – and make certain that it can be legally trademarked.

When a logo is professionally designed then permission for the buyer to trademark the logo is granted by the designer on receipt of full payment. In other words, rights are transferred as per a contract between the designer and the client.


There is a movement afoot to offer ready-made logos at stock houses. Currently iStockphoto is putting together a collection of logos that will be sold much differently than their other images. A logo design will be sold only one time, to one buyer. Since the logos are designed prior to any connection, or knowledge of a real company they are bound to be generic solutions — but that is another topic.

Note that sometimes when searching for clip art the word “logo” is used interchangeably with the word “icon”. Do not confuse this use of the word with “trademark”.


  1. iStockphoto license restrictions
  2. Getty Images license prohibitions
  3. Jupiter Images licensing
  4. U.S. Trademark Law
  5. Trademark distinctiveness
  6. Trademark dilution
  7. United States Patent and Trademark Office

Posted by Kristy Ewing on October 12, 2010

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