What legal stuff do I need to know about using Canva to DIY my graphic design?

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Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to host an Ask-A-Lawyer desk at Alt Design Summit. I fielded legal questions from creative entrepreneurs and bloggers, and had a blast. I wanted to write a follow-up blog post on one question that came up because it required a more detailed response than I could give in a few minutes.

Do I own the graphics I create on Canva?

In short, the answer to this question is “It’s complicated. very.” Canva has five license agreements and I wanted to provide an overview of each one. It’s incredibly important to know the in’s and out’s of using Canva since it’s so popular these days.

Canva’s Terms of Use state that:

Except for your User Content, the Service and all materials therein or transferred thereby, including, without limitation,software, images, text, graphics, illustrations, logos, patents, trademarks, service marks, copyrights, photographs, audio, videos, music, User Content belonging to other Users, and Stock Media belonging to other Users (the “Canva Content”), and all Intellectual Property Rights related thereto, are the exclusive property of Canva and its licensors.

In plain English, anything that you upload to Canva is considered your “User Content” and you retain all ownership in it. But the second that you begin to incorporate the various design elements available on Canva, it becomes a messy, gray area. The original creators of those individual elements (either Canva or it’s contributors) retain ownership of those elements – you’re simply granted a license (in other words permission) to incorporate it in your design. Therefore, you will be the owner of your final design because it’s your original composition/layout but the individual elements will be owned by the original copyright owner/creator.

In real life, you won’t have to worry much about this because those other elements: the stock images, fonts, etc. will have been licensed to you as royalty-free meaning that the other owners can’t try to recoup royalties from your designs.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “If I don’t have to worry about the money, then what else is there to concern myself with?” Great question. Canva’s licensing agreements are important to you because they let you know any restrictions around using the designs you’ve created on their platform. The trade off for using Canva (just like any other website) is that you’ve got to play by their rules.

Let’s dig in…

First and foremost, you absolutely must know that anytime you use a stock image and other design elements from Canva, that they fall under the terms of use summarized above. Extended restrictions for the stock images are addressed in their license agreements, and apply to the free images as well as paid.

With all of Canva’s license agreements you are prohibited from the following activities:

  • Producing final designs no larger than 600px by 800px;
  • You cannot use the stock image as a part of a part of a trademark or logo design.
  • You cannot remove any embedded copyright notices from the stock image.
  • You cannot use the stock images in a way that competes with Canva (i.e. If you have a stock photo site, you cannot use Canva’s images to promote your services).
  • You cannot use the stock images identified as “Editorial Use Only” for any commercial, promotional, endorsement or merchandising purposes. They explain this further, “For clarification, in this Agreement “Editorial Use Only” of Stock Media means use relating to events that are newsworthy or of general interest and expressly excludes any advertorial sections (i.e. sections or supplements featuring brand and/or product names or sections or supplements in relation to which you receive a fee from a third-party advertiser or sponsor).

That last point is incredibly important for bloggers who are publishing sponsored posts or advertorials.  Do not use “Editorial Use Only” for any posts that you’re doing as a part of a paid campaign.

These are the big ticket items. I encourage you to check out further restrictions on Canva’s website for the license agreement that applies to you. When you get ready to download an image from Canva you’ll see a screen like this:

Screenshot-2015-09-20-16.52.42 Trademark Attorney Chicago

The one time use license is what’s currently in use on Canva. They say that they’ll roll out their other license agreements over time. I cannot tell if they’re actually in place now (in one place it looks like they are but in another place it doesn’t). I am giving you the deets so you’re prepared. Just look to that pre-download screen to see which license applies, or that you are purchasing the one that is a fit for your project.

Here’s a quick Canva Cheat Sheet before we move on:

one time use license: good for social media sharing

royalty free license: good if you need to use the image more than once (to produce different designs), good for social media sharing

unlimited reproductions extended license: good if you need to use the image more than once (to produce different designs), good for opt-in, freebies that may be accessible from your website

items for resale license: good if you need to use the image more than once (to produce different designs), good for any online boutiques, digital products or any other items you intend to sale

multi-seat extended license: good if you need to download the image to more than one computer or on a network shared by your team

Now, for the meat of it…

One time use license

What can’t you do?

  • You cannot use the stock image in more than one design. Note that you can use that design in multiple platforms but you can’t use the same image in more than one design.
  • You cannot use the stock image to create designs outside of the Canva platform.
  • You cannot reproduce it more than 2,000 times.

Check out the rest of the restrictions on Canva’s website.

Royalty Free License

  • You cannot reproduce the stock images more than 250,000 times.
  • You cannot install and use the stock image in more than one location or on a network with multiple users. (I interpret this as restricting downloads on more than one computer).
  • You cannot use the stock images in any posters or other items/merch that’ll be sold for profit or on websites that are intended to sell items for profit.
  • You cannot use the stock images in any templates, including but not limited too, websites templates, social media website templates, or document templates, for distribution or sale to third parties.
  • You cannot use the stock images in any design template websites intended for sale or to product profit (like Canva).

The big difference between the one-time license and the royalty free license is the number of times it can be circulated (2,000 versus 250,000). Also, you can use the royalty free license to create designs outside of Canva while you cannot do that with the one time use license. Check out the rest of the royalty free license details here.

Unlimited Reproductions Extended License

The difference between this license and the royalty free license is that this one allows unlimited reproductions. You can check out the full details in all their glory here. 

Multi-Seat Extended License

The difference between this license and the royalty free is that you still have the limit of 250,000 reproductions but you can install (or download) the stock image in more than one location (hence “multi-seat). You can read the rest of the multi-seat extended license details here.

Items for Resale Extended License

Here, you still have the limit of 250,000 reproductions and you cannot install the stock image in more than one  location or download it on a network with multiple users. You don’t have restrictions around using it associated with items that will be sold. Read the resale extended license details here.

That’s it peeps. Hopefully this helps you understand what the restrictions are when using Canva. If you break the rules you risk having your account terminated and/or legal action taken against you. This is not intended to scare you, but I really want you to know what it costs to “play” so you don’t end up in situations that take your energy away from creating and building your business.

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