And the moral of the story: contracts!

Well. I just screwed the pooch.

I do graphic design as a side job mostly, it pays well enough. I’ve had the pleasure of not having to issue contracts --up until now. A couple of weeks ago my client (for whom I’ve done most of his print work, logos, signs flyers etc.) forwarded me an email from his web designer. It was a mockup and contract on the mockup.

It looked like crap. It didn’t match typographical, visually or spatially. The cut and pasted a crappy jpeg mockup of the sign that I’d sent him a few months earlier into their “mockup” (which looked more like a template). They charged him 75 bucks for about 10 minutes worth of changing one color and pasting a sign image into the middle of the page.

I replied letting him know of the problems on his current site (poor standards compliance, not working in Firefox or Safari, which is about 20%-25% of the US market) couldn’t use the drop down menus. I was kind but also wanted to subtly let him know he was getting the shaft.

Stupidly, I sent him a mockup I’d done in about 30 minutes, far better IMO than what they’d done. It didn’t at all appear to be a template, it was personalized and had the same visual look n feel as everything else I’d done for him.

Today, he forwarded me another 75 dollar’s worth of mockup from the same people. The images were literally very, very close to mine. Much of it was literally cut and pasted from my mockup.

I know this is mostly my fault, I was asking for it by not contracting any of my work. By not retaining copyright I’ve essentially backed myself into a corner. I’d have been more than glad to sell them rights to use my mockup or worked for a higher price and letting my client retain copyright.

At any rate, I don’t plan to “go after” anyone or even to make a big deal of it, but what I will do next time is use a contract.

So the moral of the story here folks: Start with a contract. End with a contract. Lest ye be screwed. Clients are generally buying your time and not your work. Most often you retain the copyright on your work. This must be laid out and very clear in your contract(s), otherwise you have little or no recourse when events like what happened to me occur.

Any pros here have any advice on what I should do from here?

ouch, that gota suck man

you should at least make a paragraph contract on the copyright issue… u coulda made some nise cash offa that

I guess on the bright side, you’ve been very helpful to the client, and he should remember your good advice and it may come back to you in future contracts or references down the road. If you only got screwed out of 30 minutes of work, the goodwill you’ve generated with the client could be worth it.

i think he meant the old content as well

Graphic design work is usually done for hire, so I’d be very surprised if any graphic or web designer retained the copyright for their design work once they’d done it. It’s not unusual to change designers or have a new designer update work done by a previous one. What seems strange here is to have one designer giving feedback and crits (unpaid) on the work of another designer, to the point of contributing mockups for free. I don’t really see any copyright issues here, if this is ordinary graphic design, but this is one way to get screwed by doing work on spec. (In this case, the client probably didn’t view this as spec work, though, since he had already decided on the web designer to do the implementation, so he probably didn’t think he was screwing you, just thought you were being a really swell guy).

Here’s an interesting website… There’s another bright side for you, Dittohead, you’ve got a new portfolio piece!


Looking back at the original post, it seems there was not a work for hire contract so I guess maybe copyright could come into play after all… Oops.

It all very much depends on your relationship with your client. On one hand, as bugman pointed out, you’re out 30 minutes and you’ve done a memorable favor. If you’re building rapport or you’ve done similar favors for this client before, then this is as good as it gets. If you’ve already got a rapport, it become easier. Talk to the client and explain that you can’t always be fixing someone else’s mistakes for free. You’re hired for your brain as much as for your product. Consultation is a valid business.

Alternatively, if you wanna play it hard, you could always send the client an invoice and have them call you if they want an explanation. I don’t recommend this, though, unless you’re fond of fights.

He’s already pretty much decided on the person and only wanted cursory input. Being the naive, idealistic perfectionist I am I wanted him not to get shafted by this designer so I gave more input than that which was for my own good.

It turns we both did, I don’t think my client was out to get me at all. I think what happened is that without a contract he sent the mockup on saying “something like this”, and without the contract the other designer just wanted a free ride. Like I said the first “mockup” that this designer did was a template, which I’d seen elsewhere, with a color change and the logo slapped on it.

They charge a whopping 75 USD for these too.

Edit: I’m sending an email to the client explaining a little bit about why he shouldn’t have forwarded the work I’d sent. Though this was partly a goodwill gesture my point in making the mockup was to kind of move him away from this designer and to give him and idea of what he could look forward to with more competent (or non-lazy) designers. Maybe I’m assuming too much about this other designer…

I think it’s an honest mistake by my client, he may not fully understand the reasoning I had or why you shouldn’t send around mockups. I think it’s more likely the latter.

As I said though this is a mainly a cut and paste thing, and has little original work done by the other designer. I would’ve gladly sold or licensed the mockup to them. Instead they took it and barely changed it, only to accommodate their own links for their CMS/backend and change some margins and sizes.

I’ve been sitting here for 4 hours trying to write this damn email to him explaining my feelings, it’s basically letting him know not to send designer A designer B’s mockups, or vice versa and trying to explain why their actions are quite possibly unethical…

I guess my naive feeling that I didn’t want to do him a disservice by saying their original work was fine (when it obivously wasn’t) got me in trouble. No good deed goes unpunished…

I’m a little confused by this:

By not retaining copyright I’ve essentially backed myself into a corner.

Did you specifically assign him the copyright? It doesn’t sound as if you were paid for the work, so I can’t make a compelling argument for it being “work made for hire.” In which case, you are the sole copyright holder on those works, and you have definite legal recourse, should you decide to pursue it.

As an originator of a work, you are the sole copyright holder from the moment of creation, and there’s very little you can do to lose your rights short of legally signing them over. You don’t need to “retain copyright.” It’s yours until such time as you decide to sell or otherwise relinquish it.

Anyway, if I’m missing something, I apologize. That whole situation really sucks and I’m sorry to hear about it. Take care.

lest my hand be slapped for linking to CGTalk, theres a very VREY good thread over there… somewhere… about this stuff. It appears to be hiding. I’ll keep digging to see if i can find it…

I’m not going to pursue any legal road…I have no intention of giving anyone a legal bloody nose. But thanks for the link and the information, it gives me a starting place on the prior work I’ve done. And makes me feel a little better about the situation.

I sent my mail off…hopefully he’s receptive. He’s not the hard-nosed type and is an ethical person, or at least from the way I’ve seen him run things in his business. We’ll see.

Thanks guys for the support+information.

Figures. Seems like businesses are out to steal peoples ideas, not make money.

Tell the client that what they are doing is not ok (they most likely are not even aware of it) and that it’s the reason you are going to stop working with them (WITH and not FOR them). Most of the time the client is “clueless” and needs your professional help in all regards. If the client is OK, they will realize that what they are trying to do is wrong and try to fix it.

If they think web designs for $75 that are ripped off your work are OK, you don’t want anything to do with them. And as lonf as it’s just some 30 minutes of work chalk it up to experience and move on.

Also, the “copyright” for the work you did for them is not theirs unless you explicitely sold it to them for a lot of money. The only thing a graphic designer sells are the rights to use his design (localy, regionally, globaly). If you feel badly treaten you can simply pohibit them to use the design any longer – given that you even want to spend more time/money on them than you already have.

In short: drop stupid clients, show love to clients who appreciate your work. Unless it’s not huge sums involved, you’re better of if you simply drop it.

Actually that’s wrong, at least in Austria. Copyright stays with the artist and the client only pays for a licence to use the works. This is also reflected in the different pricing schemes for local, national, international usage of the work (local being cheaper than international, obviously). That law was done simply to protect the artists - or else everyone would hire a good artist to make a great concept and let cheap monkey implement it (and implement it badly).

edit: I just realized most of that has been said already. :slight_smile:

Some places don’t have work for hire, true. I’m not a lawyer, and I’m definitely not an international lawyer.

everyone would hire a good artist to make a great concept and let cheap monkey implement it (and implement it badly).

Not sure I am following the logic of doing that, financially or otherwise. Why would you want to pay for a great concept if you were going to go cheap on the implementation? Why not go cheap on both?

In short: drop stupid clients

I don’t think dropping a client for making a mistake and pissing you off once is very good policy for a freelancer. If the client is a repeat offender (read: not financially worth the hassle), then sure. But unless you’ve got clients banging your door down (and if we’re talking $75 dollar contracts, I doubt that’s the case) you want to treat your clients a little bit more graciously than that.

the client must think Ditto’s work and advice is good but too expensive, otherwise he would not ask his advice, so the client respects Ditto’s skills but initially thought Ditto was to busy or too expensive, now the fixed product has endedup twice the original price and is still substandard, I don’t know what Ditto’s pricing is in comparision but a friendly letter advising the client to speak to Ditto before hiring anyone might result in a better and more cost efficent product, retain the client and keep things friendly… the only person that will look bad is the cheap web designer(even if the client was naughty, you don’t want to critise him, but allow him to make better decisions in the future and save face)

I must say, this is always the unpleasant side of doing any creative freelance work. the best way around, in my personal situation, is to work for clients that I can trust. Fortunately for me, I do architectural viz only. That means that most my clients are architects or property developers, usually big enough not not worry about doing me in for just a few bucks.
I’ve been working like this for the past ten years now, and have never actually had a single contract and have been swrewed only once, about 3 days worth of work - pissed me off big time then!
In the end it is good practice to build up a nice working relationship with the clients, that way they keep coming back (job security!) and they would not want to screw you.
Drawing up legal contracts sound fine, but in practice there is not always time for that kind of thing. Right now, I must type up an invoice for a project completed this morning. There was not time even to give the client a quote before I started, but we know each other well, and he simply had to trust me on this. Obviously, I won’t screw him with the bill, since I rely on him for a big part of my workload. Furthermore, it is end of the month, and I must ask him to pay me today, and also include another outstanding invoice… Once again, having a good working relationship is vital here.
Anyway, I’m not trying to tell anyone how to go about conducting their business, but this is just my ‘modus operandi’, which seems to work all right for me.

Let me be the first one to offically kick you in the balls for working without a contract. I’ve actually left a couple of fourms because dispite how many times people say to use a contract and dispite it being plastered around the site: they still do it and post about getting screwed over… So everyone here please please please please use a contract - you can get a basic one for free off the interetnet so there is no excuses for not having one. That said, your case is rather mild considering the fact most of them start off saying “my client has ran off with the design ive gave them and havnt paid me a penny worth of my $2,000”

There are several things to do with this case… :

You could explain to your client that the design you sent was a comparision of quality against his poorly paid design, and that by incorporating it into his new design he has violated copyright laws. Of course, you could say it was based off a design of a previous client (i.e. you portfolio) and he could face leggality with you older client…

You could take the case up with the designer. Since being a designer is classed as a professsional job - we have to take laws into practice, that means if we break the law somehow with our webdesign we are more responsible than our client. If you were to work on e-commerce sites you can be sued for making it inaccesssable under the disability act, so learning to make a website vs dreamweave is a big issue here… Taking copyrighted pieces therefore is also as much responsibility to the designer and they, themselfs will need a contract signed from the client declaring the piece was copyrighted to the client and thus could be used /referenced.

A simple e-mail promting the designers that they are legally responisble for the designs /websites they make and by copying a copyrighted piece as they have doen so holds them legally responisble. This is pretty much a cease and desist letter and they will probabily bottle and pull that design back without you having to contact your client and ruin your relationship.

Also, e-mails and conversations are great records. If in an e-mail you declare something to a client; like how much you are going to get paid for a piece - then that is as good as a contract saying it (its an agreement betweeen you two). So read your e-mail /conversation to make sure nothing impplyed he could have it? Additionally, on non-contract work “rights” are usally transfered after payment, hence work for hire - no pay - you still have the rights to the design… As long as you didnt say “hey heres a design you can use for free”

That sucks Dittohead, but sometimes you just have to take your slapping and resign it to experience again.
If nothing else it’s a good example of how someone like yourself can let their best intentions bite them in the ass. I can see exactly why you supplied the designs, (god knows I’ve done that one more than once in the past myself), it’s a shame though that some prospective clients don’t see that it’s bad form to pass those same designs onto the “template monkey” that made such a bad job in the first place.

I think another point worth noting is ensuring that the contract is very solid on the scope of the project, from what I’ve witnessed, a lot of clients are very happy to sign a contract and then start adding “features” as the build progresses. The joys of change requests :wink:

With any luck, (and a carefully placed email) the client might see that you are the better, (and more honest) choice and bring the project back to you for completetion.

I hope it works out favourably.

hey guess what i am studying now Dittohead :wink:

LAW, intellectual property… but then again that is in my country where the government stops anyone sueing anyone for money more than damages (imediate) or compesation for time.

you own copyright, he infringed, you can infact ask for compensation, you need not go to law, as its cheaper to settle. but then again is it a big enough issue to even pursue. so i think your approach is correct, you just let it slide, but try and educate the guy in the future.

he was breaking the law, and you have every right to tell him that.


can happen with gui design if you work for a client who has -their own coder-. you better judge how much time you put in if there’s possibility of any stinky circumstances.