What does it mean to upload your icons to Iconfinder, legally?
When you upload your icons to Iconfinder, you keep the copyright and ownership over them. On Iconfinder, you make the icons available for customers to license them, which means, you give customers the right to use the icons under certain conditions established by a license agreement.
Nor Iconfinder nor the customers obtain the copyright nor the ownership of the icons. These rights over the icons remain yours, as their creator.
Copyright is an intellectual property right which you gain for an original creative work. The moment your creative work becomes original, you automatically get the copyright over it and it becomes protected by copyright law. Copyright is gained automatically and you do not need to register it at any public office or registry. It is important, thus, that you are able to prove that your icons are original and, therefore, protected by copyright.
For icons to be original, it means that they have to be different enough from other existing icons. At the specific point during the creative process when the icon becomes different enough from other existing icons, and therefore original, it becomes protected by copyright.
Practically speaking, copyright means that you own full rights over your icons and you can prevent other people from using them.
Conflicts on copyright matters
Copyright law can be, to a certain extent, subjective. It is difficult to judge whether an icon is 'original' and if it is 'different enough' from other already-existing icons. And even if copyright is gained automatically and does not need to be registered, there can be copyright conflicts and infringement cases.
To protect yourself and your work, it is recommended that you keep proof that you have made the icon yourself and that you have not copied it from other icon designers. Proofs can be different artefacts of your creative process: documenting parts of the process of creating the icon, keeping the original files together with the dates of their creation, keeping works-in-progress together with their creation dates, posts to social media featuring the icons and the posts' date etc. You can also email the icons to yourself, for having a proof of the time of their creation.
All icons on Iconfinder are licensed. You, as the icon designer, are the licensor and your customers are the licensees. Icons are shared with customers under the conditions established in the license agreement. This means that you give the licensees the right to use the icons under the conditions established in the license agreement. Practically speaking, you decide how your icons are going to be used. You have the right to prevent the licensees from using your icons in case they are not abiding by the terms established in the license agreement.
All Premium icons on Iconfinder are licensed under the Basic License.
Free icons can be protected by different licenses - that is up to you to chose. Some examples of other license agreements can be Creative Commons licenses, Free for commercial use, Free for personal use, among others.
Check out this table that summarises most license agreements available on Iconfinder: License overview table and what rights the licensees get in each case.
More about the Basic License
When a customer licenses a Premium icon under the Basic License, he or she gets the right to use the icon under certain conditions. The customers get the right to use the icon for commercial use and the right to modify the icon (Note: commercial use refers to income-generating activities of any kind). The customer cannot distribute the icon (which means sharing it with other people in any way) and the customer cannot use it as a logo. Additionally, no attribution is required in the case of the Basic license.
Who owns the icons?
You, as the icon designer, keep the ownership of the icons at all times. This means that, when you upload icons to Iconfinder, you do not give the ownership to Iconfinder and neither to the customers on our platform.
Often times, we employ terms such as "Buy icon" or "Sell icons", which are easy to understand for everyone. However, these do not mean a transfer of ownership of the icons when these are "bought" or "sold" on Iconfinder. You are the owner of the icons unless you decide to give up the ownership. Icons are merely licensed.
If you wish to transfer the ownership of your icons to another person, you can do so with a special agreement with the other person. If you decide to do that, the icon ceases to belong to you and you lose copyright as well. Iconfinder does not play any part in these kind of agreements and they must be made between you and the buyer.
Still having doubts?
Find more information on basic copyright law for graphic designers.
If you are a customer, check out the article Who owns the icons on Iconfinder.