South Africa: Do You Own Your Logo?

Last Updated: 4 September 2015
Article by Waldo Steyn

Most Read Contributor in South Africa, September 2016

"Of course I do," you say, "it's mine". But is it really? Did you or one of your employees create it? The chances are that it was created for you by an outsider, quite possibly by a design or branding agency. An agency that you instructed and paid.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that you own the copyright of the logo. A number of companies have come to realise this over the years.

Copyright law's a bit odd when it comes to what we refer to as "commissioned works". In South Africa, for example, section 21 (1)(c) of the Copyright Act provides that where one party commissions another party to create a work, the copyright belongs to the party that commissions the work if it pays or agrees to pay for the work, but only in the case of very specific works. These works are photographs, portraits, gravures, sound recordings and films.

The section makes no mention of all the other kinds of works that enjoy copyright protection, such as computer programs, written works, musical works and logos. Which means that for these works the usual rule applies. Generally speaking, the usual rule is that the person who created the work is the first owner of the copyright in that work. 

This rule can be circumvented easily enough. All you need to do is make sure that there's a clause in your contract with the design or branding agency that says that on completion of the job the copyright in the logo is transferred to you – it's important to know that an assignment (transfer) of copyright is only valid if it is in writing. It's all so simple. But it's often overlooked.

Lawyers love to tell the story of the company R Griggs, the owner of the famous Dr Martens footwear brand. A long time ago, the company commissioned an agency to create a logo and the agency was paid the agreed fee. Years later - by which time Dr Martens had become a very big brand - the agency claimed that it owned the copyright in the logo. The parties went  to court and the UK court came to the assistance of R Griggs. The court said that it was an implied term of the agreement between the parties that the agency would assign the copyright on completion of the job. The court therefore required the agency to formally assign the copyright to R Griggs.

More recently, there was a case in the UK involving Innocent, a company that produces smoothies. Many years back when Innocent was a start-up it commissioned an agency called Deepend to create the logo that it still uses today, one that's known as "Dude". The oral agreement was that the copyright would be assigned on completion of the job, and that Deepend would get shares in the start-up as payment. No written assignment of copyright ever took place, and no allocation of shares occurred.

Many years later, Deepend asserted its copyright in the logo. The matter went to court and the UK court again came to the assistance of the brand owner. On this occasion, the court didn't follow the implied term approach. Rather, it adopted a very pragmatic approach, saying that it simply didn't make sense for the copyright to belong to the agency. It ordered the agency to formally assign the copyright as had been orally agreed. As for the shares, the court said that this was a different matter that had to be dealt with separately.

There's been a certain amount of discussion in South African IP circles of late about a more recent UK decision that deals with copyright in logos, the case of Atelier Eighty Two Limited v Kilnworx Climbing Centre CIC & Others [2015] EWHC 2291 (IPEC]. Here, once again, the court favoured the brand owner and it adopted the implied term approach. It said this: "There was an implied term in the contract. It was a term of the usual nature to be implied into a contract for the creation of a logo, namely that Kilnworx would own the copyrights in the logos."

The court justified its finding by saying that it would be absurd to hold otherwise, given the nature of a trade mark: "Where a designer is commissioned to create a logo for a client, in order to give business efficacy to the contract of commission there will in the normal course be a presumption that the client has the right to prevent others from using the logo... after all, the client's logo is intended to signal to the world that the goods or services supplied under that logo come from the client and no one else."

The court described it as "unusual and commercially dangerous" for a brand owner to have its use of its logo subject to the approval of another. And even more bizarre for it to live with the knowledge that the logo could be sold to a third party: "Far less is the client likely to agree (or the designer likely to contemplate) that the designer will in certain circumstances be free to sell off the logo, possibly to a competitor of the client, and thereby give the competitor both the right to use the logo and to prevent others, including the client, from using it."

The court did, however, recognise that there might be exceptional circumstances, for example where payment has not been made: "On certain facts it may be that the designer is entitled to retain rights in the work pending further payment. Plainly it cannot be ruled out as an impossibility. But it seems to me that the facts would have to point very clearly to such an arrangement having been agreed by the parties."

Would a South African court take the same view? It might - South African copyright law is based on UK copyright law, and South African courts often regard UK decisions as being persuasive. And the argument that no company would contemplate its trade mark belonging to someone else is a compelling one. But there's really no guarantee. And it's absurd to take the chance, especially if you consider how easily the issue can be dealt with.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.