Canva has not driven designers out of business. In fact, many designers who formally pledged their life-long allegiance to Photoshop have found themselves using Canva more and more frequently. It’s a testament to just how far the design platform has come. Today, Canva is far more sophisticated than its earlier versions - with a wide array of features, tools and a large gallery of illustrations, graphics and photographs. These days, small businesses are even using Canva to create a range of marketing materials and social media posts and even to design their business logo. It’s growing, it's affordable, it’s fast, and it’s easy to use. So, what’s the catch?
The catch comes, or may come (we’ll see) when we ask, who actually owns the rights in your Canva designs? And, if it’s you, do you own all of your design, including photographs or graphics supplied by Canva contributors? And can you trade mark logos designed using Canva?
I’ll be honest, it’s not a straightforward issue, but it is an important one if you're using Canva commercially. So, allow me to take you through where you stand legally in terms of Canva and copyright.
How Does Canva Licensing Work?
The Canva subscription is quite simple. You can choose between a very basic subscription, which is free, or you can go pro. Pro users get access to all tools and features and all elements under a licensing agreement.
To understand how Canva and copyright work, it’s important to understand the ‘elements’. Elements are graphic designs and photos that you can purchase for a fee if you are a basic user, or that you have unlimited access to if you are a paid subscriber. Elements may include:
Illustrations and graphics
Shapes - lines, frames, circles, boxes, etc
Charts and tables
Elements available on Canva are provided by third-party designers, photographers, artists and other creators. Therefore, although these are licensed to you to use, the copyright belongs to the original creator and therefore ownership is not transferred to you even if you're a pro account holder.
Can I Trade Mark My Canva Designs?
Possibly. But probably not.
Let me explain.
A trade mark, by definition, should be a unique design that makes your brand recognisable and distinguishable from others. They tend to be words or logos. The logos can be a combination of shapes or just one simple graphic and may include words too (usually your business name or a slogan). Trade marking is a legal process that, if successful, will grant you with a certificate which proves you own the rights in the logo - acting as a ‘badge of origin’. As such, it cannot legally be similar to any other trade mark.
Creating a trade markable symbol using Canva is near impossible since templates and elements are accessible to all users. This makes it incredibly difficult to create anything truly unique since Canva templates and elements are licensed non-exclusively.
However, the platform may be used by a designer to create a trade markable logo, if you’re using your own graphics or graphics you own the copyright for, rather than using existing Canva elements or using their templates.
It’s important also to note that trade marking is not a legal necessity and many small businesses decide to operate without registering their logos as a registered trade mark. This of course depends on the nature of the business and how important a registered trade mark is in your sector. Don’t forget that even if you don’t get a logo registered as a trade mark you may be able to rely on the law of ‘passing off’ if someone else uses a logo that is similar to yours and your customers are getting confused as to who is behind the logo.
Can I Sell My Canva Designs?
You can sell your Canva designs, although the keyword here is ‘your’. The designs must be your own and not include any pro elements belonging to another creator. All images available in Canva’s media library belong to the creators and they own the copyright.
However, Canva does distinguish between free-to-use images and pro images. Every time you use a pro image, the creator receives a commission. So, imagine you were to use this image for a digital download that you sell multiple times through your website. The creator would not receive their rightful royalties, which is why you are not able to use pro elements for this kind of commercial use. You are also not permitted to use existing Canva templates to create designs you plan to sell. You can, however, use Canva’s ‘free to use’ media.
This isn’t to say, you can’t use Canva for commercial purposes if you’re using it to create marketing materials for your business. Only that you cannot create designs you intend to sell using Canva templates or Canva Pro elements.
A Few Other Canva T&Cs You Should Know
You don’t have to credit element creators except if using an image for editorial purposes. When doing so, you’ll need to @ the contributors name and link to the Canva website
Whilst you can of course take credit for your Canva designs, you cannot take credit for elements used which have been provided by a third party
Using images featuring a person comes with some caveats to protect the model. For instance, you cannot imply that they use or endorse your service/product. You may also not show them in a negative light. For instance, implying they are involved in illegal activity, gambling, abusive acts, etc.
Never remove copyright or trade mark notices
Photographs marked as ‘For Editorial Purposes Only’ should only be used as such. This does not include images used in blogs created for clients as this would fall under commercial use
Licenses cannot be transferred to another person however you can share designs containing Pro elements with clients. The Canva licensing agreement does permit you to give Pro element designs to clients as long as this is covered in your contract and they comply with Canva’s T&C regarding the image use. Find out more about Stock Images And Client Work
All advice and information given is to the best of my knowledge. However, license agreements change frequently and so you must read the latest Canva licensing legal documentation for the most accurate guidance.