By: James Williams,

Designers have used a variety of tools throughout the years, and various platforms have been marketed for them. Designers already are involved in a variety of intellectual property such as design patents, copyright, and trademark. There has been a mix of designers who work collectively or work individually.[1]  If the designer is working on commission, then usually they are not entitled to the rights of the work unless the work doesn’t fit under the statute or if the contract assigns the copyright to someone else.[2]  Seeing how there are already many ways for designers or artists in general to get involved with intellectual property, it will be interesting to see how technology makes access to intellectual property claims more or less accessible.

Adobe is well known for its program Photoshop, and it is still highly popular to this date for designers.[3]  Some recent additions into the market have been Sketch and Figma. Sketch is a program that is supposed to be marketed as a simpler and more accessible version of Photoshop with its own additions.[4]  Sketch “helps designers make digital products as a group, letting multiple people collaborate in real time as they draw, drag, and edit elements on the screen.”[5]  However, with the new “cutting-edge” technology attempting to unseat Adobe, which is more established, the presence of bugs makes the effort even more challenging.[6]

Figma has made a large move into collaborative efforts for designers.[7]  It has two new notable features: code mode and prototype mode.[8]  Code mode allows designers to directly alter the code.[9]  Prototype mode allows designers to create, edit, and share prototype designs.[10] With the program’s trackable contribution features, the individual authorship contributions could be more easily traceable. Authorship traceability is incredibly important when it comes to copyright ownership as will be discussed below. The collaborative contribution features in Figma are similar to how Google Docs allows people to contribute to documents in real time.[11]

As designers in general work for hire or for commission-based projects, this could even be a move in the direction of collaborating with clients in a more direct sense. With the Internet’s accessibility, collaboration is even easier. There is a growing trend suggesting that joint authorship and collaboration will be more common in science fields which utilize intellectual property claims heavily.[12]  It’s possible that this trend will also become more noticeable in the art field[13], given the right circumstances.

For artists that work in collective groups and intend on joint authorship as a goal, this could be the way for tracking who has been making what types of changes. If there is a contest over whether one person was the true author, assuming one person contests joint authorship, then this could be an excellent program for evidentiary purposes, in theory.

The requirements for joint authors in copyright include: each author must have made a substantial and valuable contribution to the work; each author must have intended that his/her contribution be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole; and each author must have contributed material to the joint work which could have been independently copyrighted.[14]

Thinking back to Figma, if admitted properly as evidence, the logs that track each members work could serve as basis for claims of independent or joint authorship. Yes, there may be questions of whether the work being done by the various designers and coders involves the work sufficient to satisfy the claim, but with technology that maintains tracking of each contributor’s parts, it may be easier to prove whether sufficient joint authorship existed. There may not be an exact trend of people who seek joint authorship just because the technology makes it easier. Only time will tell whether it will become preferred or more common, but accessibility will be less of a burden for designers with Figma and other programs.


[1] See David Galenson & Clayne Pope, Collaboration in Science and Art, The Huffington Post (Jul. 23, 2012, 4:26 PM) (updated Sep. 22, 2012),

[2] 17 U.S.C. § 101 (considering that most work designers do would not fall within the statutory provisions under the second part of work-made-for-hire, the only way for designers to lose copyright, aside from transfer of copyright, would be if the work was considered as part of their employment and there were agency elements involved).

[3] See Robbie Gonzalez, Figma Wants Designers to Collaborate Google-Docs Style, Wired (Sep. 25, 2017, 12:07 PM),

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] WebdesignerDepot Staff, Infographic: Sketch Vs Photoshop, Webdesigner Depot (Mar. 20, 2015),

[7] See Gonzalez, supra note 3.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] George Easton, Google Docs Has Full ‘Track Changes’ Word Integration, (Dec. 4, 2014, 10:30 AM),

[12] See Galenson, supra note 1.

[13] See id.

[14] See 17 U.S.C. § 101, supra note 2.

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