Having trouble getting paid for my digital artwork from a company, do I own some rights?
January 27, 2010 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Having trouble getting paid for my digital artwork from a company, do I own some rights?

I'm having trouble with getting paid for my artwork from an agency that gives me frequent work. They are ignoring emails, calls and IM's and trying to drop my invoices saying it wasnt what they were expecting. The invoice spans over 9 months.

The work I do is mobile development and design for Apple iPhone. Some of the apps that I have completed for the agency are actually live on the app store. Some of the other projects were concept only to show to their customer.

Now that I'm not getting paid and being ignored. What do legal rights do I have on the work that I have done unpaid? I'm based in the UK with a full limited company. The agency is also a limited company.
posted by spinko to Work & Money (7 answers total)
What does your contract say?
posted by Jairus at 7:11 AM on January 27, 2010

Response by poster: No contract
posted by spinko at 7:52 AM on January 27, 2010

It might be considered work-for-hire in that case, which means that you wouldn't retain any ownership. If you wanted them to stop using it until you're paid, you would likely need a judge to tell them that. (Although a lawyer's letter would probably have the same effect.)

I don't know UK copyright law terribly well, though.
posted by Jairus at 8:10 AM on January 27, 2010

I'm in the US, and not a lawyer, but do freelance contract, and work-for-hire work.

The work that has been purchased from you is theirs, and you have no rights to it as it was work-for-hire. If they have not paid you for your work, but are also not using it, feel free to shop it to their competitors.

If they are using work that you have not been paid for, it is theft.

Decide if this is an anomaly with an otherwise reliable client, and your continued relationship is more important than this single unpaid invoice. You can take them to small claims court. A claim like this does not usually require a lawyer to help you, but will cost some fee to file. Even if you decide not to take them to court right now make copies of all correspondences, invoices, etc with dates. Document un-paid/stolen work being used. The threat of a court case, with your documented evidence, should get their attention. Decide if you would settle for a partial payment.

Advice I should follow myself more stringently:

Half up front, paid in full on completion. This is especially important for all new clients.

Contract, even informally written in an email, on all jobs. Include: timelines, revisions, deliverables, and price/rate.

If you develop/design something to their specifications, as agreed to by both parties, and after completion they drastically change their mind, this is not your problem. If you hired a painter to paint your house pink, then a week later decided you wanted it blue, this painter would not be expected to eat the cost of the pink paint and give you free labor to paint it again. A lot of people think that creative work is fun or easy, and it's a courtesy that they pay us for something we'd do for recreation anyways. Change that attitude with respect for them as a client (meet deadlines), and Don't give them any reason to treat you as anything less than a professional.

If you did not specify a number of concepts to be developed or a number of rounds of revision, that is bad on you. A good contract will also include a price to be paid for "change orders" like extended concept development, extra rounds of revision, extra deliverables. This will hopefully motivate an indecisive client to realize that waffling around will cost them, and they should make good decisions up front. You are not a free design vending machine.
posted by fontophilic at 9:00 AM on January 27, 2010

Oh, forgot to mention that a vital line to include in all contracts is this:

"Only upon full payment of this contract, will you gain all ownership of the deliverables."
posted by fontophilic at 9:04 AM on January 27, 2010

I don't know UK copyright law terribly well, though.

Then maybe stick to answering questions that you do know something about. Sorry for the snark but I don't see why people feel the need to wade in on questions where they don't know the answer, and even worse, give incorrect information.

OP, please ignore all advice from US mefites, most of it will be wrong. For example, I assume you're self employed rather than employed by the agency, which mostly likely means you own the copyright to your work. This is different to the US system of 'work for hire'.

How much do they owe? You might be able to take them to small claims court, even without a formal contract - I assume you have some written communication regarding fees etc. I know you say they give you lots of work and you probably don't want to burn your bridges but if they haven't paid you for 9 months, do you really want more work from them?
posted by missmagenta at 9:21 AM on January 27, 2010

For future reference, this good little interview with Steve Jobs about working with Paul Rand is good food for thought for freelancers. I like the whole thing, but fast-forward to 2:40 for some on-point commentary here.
posted by rhizome at 9:46 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

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