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Joel Falconer

Copyright Myths and ‘Original’ Design

It’s important for those who deal in intellectual property to understand their rights — and as a designer, intellectual property forms the crux of every product and service you deliver.

This article won’t explain those rights to you, but it will smash some of the misconceptions and myths that are held by a surprisingly vast number of people. This is not legal advice — please consult your lawyer before taking any action regarding your intellectual property.

You Can’t Copyright an Idea

You can’t copyright an idea you’ve had or a concept. Copyright law in all Western countries applies to fixed tangible expressions.

A fixed tangible expression means you’ve taken an idea and created something that can be identified and recorded out of it: an article written down or typed, a song you’ve recorded or notated, a painting on a canvas.

You can write about your idea and that description of the idea, as a fixed tangible expression, will be yours, but the idea it describes is still not protectable.

Copyright Doesn’t Need to be Registered

The moment you create something, it is yours. You own the rights to that work. Your work does not need to be registered with the copyright office in order for you to own the rights — registration is just a means of proving your side of the story should you end up in court.

Obviously, even if the law automatically assigns copyright on creation, you will need ways to back up your story and timeline in court should someone challenge you. The free Myows is a great way to verify the timeline of your work through a third-party.

Poor Man’s Copyright? More Like Poor Man’s Myth.

For decades, people have thought that as an alternative to registering with the copyright office, one could simply mail your work to yourself by registered mail and leave the package unopened to prove the date on which the work was created should you wish to bring legal action to bear against someone who has infringed upon your work.

The truth is that you need to register your work with the copyright office in order to sue someone else for copyright infringement. A variety of evidence can be taken into account when you’re the one being sued and having to defend your work, but the same does not apply should you wish to bring the action against others.

Freelance Work Doesn’t Remain Your Property

Many people assume that, outside of an employment agreement, working for someone in a freelance capacity doesn’t automatically transfer the intellectual property rights to the person or entity that has commissioned the work.

A work that is created as a ‘work-for-hire’ for a client is completely in the ownership of said client as soon as they pay you for the work. Should you wish to retain the rights and license them to the client instead, your contract will need to clearly specify this.

Work-for-hire doesn’t transfer your moral rights, though. You still have the right to be attributed for the work by the client, and the right to point out that it is something you created in a portfolio. Specific clauses are required in contracts for ghostwriting services or other confidentially authored works to give away moral rights.

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9 Things You Can Do Today to Improve Your Web Typography

The best design­ers know that 95% of good design — web or print — comes down to the typog­ra­phy. There’s a plethora of lit­er­a­ture and years of train­ing involved in mas­ter­ing type, but there are also a bunch of tweaks you can make today to improve your web type. Let’s find out what they are.

1. Use a Web Font Service

This may not make your typog­ra­phy any bet­ter per se, par­tic­u­larly if the extra options lead you to choose poor fonts, but design­ers have been using the same few fonts over and over again for well over a decade. Using a web font ser­vice, such as Google’s free Web Fonts API or the com­mer­cial Type­kit, allows you to set your site apart from the mil­lions using Geor­gia and Ver­dana combinations.

2. Size Your Text with Ems

Siz­ing your text with ems over pix­els is more scalable and acces­si­ble in cer­tain browsers — and you can eas­ily re-scale all of your text by chang­ing the base­line body text size.

The first thing you’ll want to do is set the body text size to 62.5%. This brings the default text down from 16px to 10px. You’re not going to want to use 10px in your body text, but this means that you can eas­ily think in pix­els while siz­ing in ems: just add a dec­i­mal. For exam­ple, at 62.5% body text size, 16 pix­els is eas­ily con­verted to 1.6 ems.

3. Read­able Body Text

There’s a rea­son most browsers set the default type at 16px, even though web design­ers have taken to using 14px body text. It’s the most read­able font size for the aver­age per­son for lengthy con­tent, such as an arti­cle. Don’t do your read­ers a dis­ser­vice just to fit in with the trend. Put read­abil­ity first.

4. Cre­ate Even Lines

Because there’s no way to con­trol it with CSS alone, web type is prone to an ugly, uneven rag (the uneven side of the text). But it’s eas­ier than one might think to cre­ate even, hyphen­ated lines — the kind you might expect to see in a book. Sim­ply use a tool like Hyphen­ator, a JavaScript that auto­mat­i­cally adds hyphen­ation to the end of your lines where nec­es­sary, and set your main con­tent area to a jus­ti­fied text align­ment using CSS.

5. Work to a Scale

Set a typo­graphic scale that deter­mines the sizes you have to work with. A scale keeps the hier­ar­chy and com­po­si­tion of the type intact. The most com­mon scale used in web design uses points at 14px, 16px, 18px, 21px, 24px, 36px, and 48px. Note that the gaps get larger as the sizes increase.

6. Use Spe­cial Char­ac­ters Correctly

Don’t be lazy! Use smart quotes. Use the copy­right sym­bol instead of ©. Use em-dashes and en-dashes appro­pri­ately. This is an area of type­set­ting where lazi­ness infu­ri­ates typo­graphic design­ers and edi­to­r­ial pro­fes­sion­als alike.

7. Two Type­faces Per Design

While the best design­ers break this rule all the time, stick to two type­faces per design. You lose con­sis­tency if you start going wild and adding even more. When your career as a designer starts tak­ing off, don’t get too cocky and assume you can start work­ing with many type­faces. It takes those afore­men­tioned design­ers decades of expe­ri­ence to know when to use mul­ti­ple fonts and how to pull it off — and most of the time, they stick to this guide­line anyway.

8. Opti­mal Leading

Line height, or as typog­ra­phers call it, lead­ing, is essen­tial to read­able type. Too close together, and it’s too hard to dis­tin­guish between lines as you reach the end of one. Too far apart, and you get what’s referred to as “strip­ing” — gaps that are too big and have the same result of mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to pick up on the next line. A good rule of thumb is that your line height should be 1.2 times the size of your type — 16px type should have a line height of around 19.2. Lead­ing should be adjusted for mea­sure — see below.

9. Mea­sure

The length of your line plays into the read­abil­ity of your text just as much as lead­ing does. Fur­ther, you need to adjust lead­ing based on your line length — or as typog­ra­phers call it, mea­sure. Experts say that your opti­mal mea­sure sits between 50 and 60 char­ac­ters per line. Some design­ers mul­ti­ply their type size by 30 to get the appro­pri­ate width of the con­tent box in pix­els — which puts our 16px type in a 480px box.

When using this equa­tion, the rule for lead­ing (1.2 times the size of your type) holds true. If you decide to go against this advice and use a wider con­tent box, you’ll need a higher line height. Con­versely, shorter boxes require shorter line heights.

Your Tips

There’s much to be said about typog­ra­phy. It’s one of the most expan­sive fields in design with the most research back­ing it. If you’ve got a quick tip of your own, share it in the comments!

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