30-foot stainless steel and concrete gavel located at the Supreme Court of Ohio by artist Andrew Scott

One of the listings for the dictionary definition of ethics is “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group.” In graphic design this includes copyright law, piracy, plagiarism, fair use, photo manipulation.

At first glance, the ethical issues that surround the legalities in graphic design appear to be fairly black and white. With respect to legalities, “right conduct” is governed by law in most cases. However, further investigation reveals issues of debate. For example, traditional copyright laws grant exclusive rights of ownership for 50 years and offers protection to copyright owners. One organization that challenges these laws is Creative Commons. Advocates for Creative Commons feel that current copyright law may actually create a culture of lawbreakers and that alternative options for licensing images and other creative content will create a culture that is more likely to comply with the law and protect artists, instead of creating a complete disregard for copyright law and the consequences that ensue.

In addition to copyright law and fair use issues, font licensing, piracy, plagiarism, and image usage rights are some of the other legal issues that graphic designers need to be knowledgeable about.