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I art direct/design a magazine. I want out. What are the legal/ethical concerns with putting that work in my online portfolio? (BONUS: am i being treated unfairly?)
March 8, 2011 11:28 AM   Subscribe

I art direct/design a magazine. I want out. What are the legal/ethical concerns with putting that work in my online portfolio? (BONUS: am i being treated unfairly?)

Some context:
I am basically a one-man design team for a bimonthly magazine.
As a startup, I was never really making much money here. About $48k.
In fact, marketwise, I was barely getting paid what a single designer should make even tho I am doing the job of at least two people.
I havent received a raise since fall 2007, even for cost of living.
In the time since then, my work (and remember that there is only one designer here) has won us about 6 industry awards.
In fact, in 2010 we won 3 awards and they were all design awards.
The reason I bring all this up is because one would hope that a performance record like that would merit a certain amount of base respect. However since this is the first business my boss has owned, I feel like they are simply spoiled into thinking that this work is just a given. Maybe they just dont know any better.

So now, with the industry souring and ad sales dropping a bit, I have taken a significant pay cut and am now doing all of the advert design that they once jobbed out to freelancers. Ad to that our rush to launch an iPad version and I am now doing far more work for even less money.
I wasnt offered flex time. I wasnt offered furlough days. In fact, for a salaried employee that ends up working heavy deadlines once every two months, my bosses still treat me like an employee that needs to saty til the very end of his "shift" regardless of whether I have work to do at the time.

Another issue (more context) is that they seem to think they have some kind of exclusivity with me. At first they asked that I let them know if I was doing any freelance work, as a "courtesy". But the very first time I mentioned that I was doing a poster on my own time on a dead weekend for a friends band for FREE, my boss acted very butthurt. AS if he should wield a veto power over my work on my own time. This has had the effect of me simply hiding the freelance I do from them. I really dont feel its their business.

So annnnnnnyway. Ive had enough and I am building my portfolio site to hopefully begin shopping myself around. I know the economy sucks, but Im not planning to leave until I get a better offer.

Knowing all that you know about the attitude of my boss presented above, should I worry about them trying to prevent me from using the work Ive created here the last 5 years in my portfolio? CAN they prevent me? Should I be worried?

BONUS: am I being treated unfairly? Ive been in this industry for 15 years and Im giving up hope that Ill ever not work for knobs. Does it suck everywhere?
posted by Senor Cardgage to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you have a contract that covers the rights to your design? It does sound like it was work-for-hire, which mean that they own the copyright, but things like their general rights agreement with other workers could influence what sort of expectations you may legally be bound to (some states do have different laws governing these sorts of interactions too).

And yeah, it sounds like you're being treated like ass. Have you talked to your boss about what the general expectations are for designers and design work? At the magazine I worked at for quite a while, the publisher had a designer that worked incredibly hard and did fantastic work, and didn't understand what he had because basically, that guy came to work for him instead of finishing his degree, and once he went back to school and finished up, the publisher had to replace him and realized that he had an amazing deal.

(Unfortunately, it does seem to suck pretty much everywhere now, though.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:43 AM on March 8, 2011


No contract Im afraid.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:49 AM on March 8, 2011


In the time since then, my work (and remember that there is only one designer here) has won us about 6 industry awards.
In fact, in 2010 we won 3 awards and they were all design awards.


if you've a) had that much success b) can't use screenshots of much if any of your work there in your online portfolio (which i'd be very surprised by, btw), clearly the answer is to design your portfolio so that when it comes to your work there, it mentions all the design awards and that you've basically been single-handedly responsible for them as a one-man team, and then just LINK to relevant pages on their site.
posted by lia at 11:55 AM on March 8, 2011


You can totally have your own portfolio site—most of my industry friends have one, regardless of whether they're looking for work. Hell, even some founder/partner/CDs friends have their own sites as a showcase for their work, on the clocks or off.

If you need to ask (I sometimes have to, if my work was done via a team rather than solo) then frame it to your boss as, "This stuff's really cool and I'm really proud of it. Would it be weird for me to claim it and put it on a site?"

And then when you do put it up on your site, explain that it was done with a really cool team of strategists/writers/photographers/etc. and give credit where credit is due. And throw up a little link to the original work, if you can.

As far as your spare time freelance work, no, it's really none of their business. If you have a very specific style of design/visual identity that you created just for them and applied it to another project, that would be iffy. But if it's your time, your brain, and your creative work, then it's none of their business.

And... as far as it "sucking everywhere," what do you mean by "everywhere?" Do you mean "everywhere" as in, The Creative Industry Across The Board From Ads to Editorial? Or do you mean location-based "everywhere?"

(Apologies if this is disjointed/badly grammared—typing over a box of lunch.)
posted by functionequalsform at 11:56 AM on March 8, 2011


Thats the other problem. Our magazine site sucks and features virtually no content.
Every time Ive suggested a redesign (I won another award for my design of this site in 06 lol) they have backburnered it and dragged their feet. :(
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:57 AM on March 8, 2011


And... as far as it "sucking everywhere," what do you mean by "everywhere?" Do you mean "everywhere" as in, The Creative Industry Across The Board From Ads to Editorial? Or do you mean location-based "everywhere?"



Both perhaps.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:58 AM on March 8, 2011


Where do you live? Your use of the term "advert" leads me to believe you're not in the US.... My advice is based on my experience in the US, so take it with a grain of salt.

You're allowed to build a portfolio site with content that's already been published or released to the public. If you think your employer will take offense at your posting it without their permission, include a copyright attribution with each image, so nobody is confused about who it belongs to. Also, it might help to detail your role in creating the work, so the relationship you're claiming is especially clear. For good examples, look at how attributions are done on award websites, where they're publishing work they don't own.

But yeah, as designers we need to show proof of our work in order to obtain future work, and it's thoroughly common to do so. For examples and to see how common it is, look at portfolio aggregation sites like www.cargocollective.com - you'll see tons of copywrited work there.

Do not post anything that could potentially be considered sensitive (like an in-progress redesign project) or confidential (like a presentation to internal employees). And, of course, don't take credit for anything you didn't actually work on.

As for how to approach it with regards to your boss, this is a case where you should ask for forgiveness (if necessary) rather than permission.

If you ask for permission, you're opening yourself up for a world of hurt. You probably don't want to tell someone who's possessive of you that you're even making a portfolio site because they'll know you're looking for work. That can't help you. Also, they might limit what they allow you to post, without necessarily using legality as the sole guideline.

By asking for forgiveness instead, you're basically making them think about what your rights are rather than what their preferences are. Their recourse is to ask you to take something down, which they may do casually or via a legal "cease and decist" letter. That's right, a letter is your worst punishment (unless you fail to comply, in which case you're on your own).

I can see why you want to leave that job. It sounds like they take you for granted, and there's a lot you aren't satisfied with. My philosophy on whether or not it sucks everywhere: Every company has its own unique bullshit. I know it's time to change jobs when I can no longer deal with this particular bullshit in good humor.

Good luck!
posted by nadise at 12:20 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, location? It certainly does not suck in NYC. A lot of the Big Ad Joints are giving solid job offers away like stray kittens right now. I landed one today, woo! But, as you know, Big Ad isn't the most exciting creative work in the world. So, I guess it's a love-or-money type deal. If you don't have either? Peace out as soon as you can.

Industry-wide? I haven't found it to suck either. I've been fortunate to work with some super inspiring people, both on the client side and the internal side. That's probably due to the fact that I jump jobs a lot to keep myself from getting burnt out.

Uh, just anecdotes, but hope they help.
posted by functionequalsform at 12:34 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh and don't get me started on the micromanagement and my boss liking to "play designer"
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:51 PM on March 8, 2011


You absolutely have every right to post any and all work you have done for this magazine on your portfolio site. And, as far as your freelance work goes...again, it's your right to do so. Just avoid any conflict of interest...like designing a competing publication in your free time.

And, yeah, don't ask permission. Just do it.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:08 PM on March 8, 2011


Thats the other problem. Our magazine site sucks and features virtually no content.
Every time Ive suggested a redesign (I won another award for my design of this site in 06 lol) they have backburnered it and dragged their feet. :(


do mockups of a theoretical magazine or site and post those to your portfolio. lorem ipsum dolor is your friend.
posted by lia at 2:24 PM on March 8, 2011


Senor Cardgage, I'm sorry you're going through this man. I don't really know anything about your industry, but I do know a couple of pro photographers. I imagine the rights to bodies of work is probably the same or similar.

Just because a photographer has had a photo published or purchased doesn't mean that they can't showcase their entire body of work in any way they see fit.

You're not attempting to resell previous work, you're just showcasing what you've accomplished and are capable of doing.

As far as presentation goes, as a designer, I'm sure you will find creative ways to illustrate your accomplishments.

Good luck!
posted by snsranch at 7:11 PM on March 8, 2011


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