Are Advertising Brochures Copyrighted?

By Cindy Hill

Copyrights provide legal protection for people who create original works involving design and imagination, like writing, graphics and art images. Copyright protection starts as soon as a creative idea is put into tangible form, such as a sketch or words in a notebook or in a digital file. Federal copyright law defines the rights of copyright holders, including people who create text, image and layout design elements for advertising brochures.


Copyright protection gives the creators of original artistic works, including writers, composers and visual artists, the exclusive right to display, sell, replicate and modify those works for a prescribed period of time. For most works created since 1978, the copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator. Works are considered original for purposes of copyright law as long as they display evidence of some creative spark. These rights start as soon as an original creative idea is placed in a fixed form, whether or not that work is published or shown to other people. Copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is not required, but registration helps put the public on notice that the copyright holder is protecting her copyright.

Brochure Content

Advertising brochures often contain both original material protected by copyright, and non-original material obtained from other sources. If you have commissioned a photograph or graphic image for use in an advertising brochure, you do not automatically obtain the copyright for that material. You only receive whatever license or rights to use the material were included in the contract between you and the person who created it. An advertising brochure might also contain informational charts that are considered unoriginal and, therefore, do not qualify for copyright protection. The existence of unoriginal content in the advertising brochure does not negate the copyright protection on all other original material in the brochure.

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Advertising brochures are often the product of contributions from many different people. The creator of each piece of original content contained in an advertising brochure -- the photographer, the graphic artist, the text writer -- holds the copyright to the original content he created. The copyright holder can register the copyright on any portion of the advertising brochure that he or she holds the copyright to. If two or more people have collaborated on the development of an advertising brochure, the copyright on the collaborative work will be jointly held by the collaborators as a single copyright.

Work for Hire

Work for hire constitutes an exception to the rule that the creator of an original work holds the copyright. Under U.S. copyright law, work prepared by an employee in the scope of her employment is considered work for hire, and the employer holds the copyright. If an advertising brochure is made by an employee of an advertising company, or by an employee of the company being advertised, the copyright on the brochure is held by that employer -- unless the employer and employee have a work contract that states other terms. If an advertising brochure is created by a person under contract, rather than employment, then the copyright remains with the creator of the brochure, unless she expressly agrees in writing that the brochure is a work for hire.

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