Should I be paid for the work I produced in this interview?
April 15, 2012 2:03 AM   Subscribe

I recently attended a job interview which included a copywriting test - I was given some facts about an upcoming event and asked to write a press release. I did not get the job, however, the press release was released exactly as I wrote it (without my byline) and was picked up by a small local news blog and a local religious newspaper, as well as being used in the organisation's internal newsletter. The headline I wrote was also tweeted with a link to the event info on the organisation's website.

So, on one hand, no big deal, but on the other hand, wtf? It's my work, released without my byline and without my permission. At no point during the interview process was it made clear in writing or verbally that the copywriting test would be used in this way. Should I just send them a bill or what?
posted by cilantro to Work & Money (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This is definitely not okay... send them a bill and talk to them about it. If your work was valuable enough to be released, it is valuable enough to pay for.
posted by ichomp at 2:36 AM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

This is shitty behaviour. I would try to resolve it with a friendly phone call first. If they refuse to pay, I would take it to Twitter.

"Hey @copystealers, so glad you liked the copy I wrote for you during my job interview. I don't work for free. Would you like me to send you an invoice?"

Keep all your comments friendly and upbeat and watch the Twitterverse rip 'em to shreds. Maybe ping a few freelance types about it. No-one likes a sneaky non-paying client.
posted by embrangled at 2:49 AM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Press releases don't have bylines. That aside, just send them a bill for $250.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:49 AM on April 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

Send them a bill and then forget about it. There's nothing you can do to "hurt" them that couldn't snowball. You don't want to be known as that person that outed a company as you continue your job search.
posted by HuronBob at 3:18 AM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Honestly, I would just add it to my portfolio/CV and keep it moving. You're not going to get what you want (an apology) and I sincerely doubt they'd pay you if you billed them.
posted by spunweb at 3:25 AM on April 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

It probably would be a better idea not to go public with this since it could hurt you in your job search. You could at least let them know that you know what they did. I don't think there would be much harm in that...I mean, it might hurt you if you wanted a job there in the future but would you want to work for a place that pulls that kind of stuff anyway?
posted by fromageball at 4:34 AM on April 15, 2012

I have heard similar things from older illustrators. Especially from back when product illustration was more common. A drawing test would be needed before we hire you... It is an old, sleazy scam. Yes they ripped you off, and they may have done it to others.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:13 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wish you would go nuclear. That's so scummy. Isn't there some employees' rights agency they could be reported to?
posted by gerryblog at 5:26 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where did you find out about the job interview? Monster? Craigslist? Maybe you can report the job as a scam to that site. May not do you much good, but it could prevent others from getting scammed.
posted by ifandonlyif at 5:57 AM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

I would definitely contact whoever interviewed you about this, and I would also contact the CEO of the company to let them know what happened. Also, contact the blog.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:22 AM on April 15, 2012

This was thuggish behavior on their part.
I would indeed bill them, and enclose a brief note expressing why you feel it was unethical.
Then I'd get on with life when they don't--as they probably won't--pay up.
You've got more important things on your plate and people like that can't be improved by admonishment.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:53 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a great story to tell in your next interview. I would let the person who asked me to write it know that you know, they may not know and for all we know, the person they hired used it unknowingly because he or she thought it was really good.
posted by i_wear_boots at 8:08 AM on April 15, 2012

Thanks for all the answers, everyone. They're definitely a legitimate company (large, public sector) and not some sort of scam. My guess is that an individual person involved in the interview process thought s/he could get away with using the press release to save him/herself half an hour's work and no one would ever find out. I probably would have never noticed if I didn't just happen to have the local news blog in my RSS feed - after that it took about 5 minutes with Google to find the other places it had been published.

I'm not going to kick up a fuss on twitter (as much as I'd LOVE to), but I will definitely send a polite note, copying in the head of HR and the head of the department I interviewed for, along with an invoice. It will be interesting to see what happens.
posted by cilantro at 8:15 AM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's so irritating to me that actual criminal copyright infringement like what you describe is never punished in the way it should be. I'm not a lawyer, not legal advice, etc., but you, personally, hold the copyright to that press release. It is clearly not a work for hire where the copyright rests with the employer, and it doesn't fall under things like letters to the editor or forum postings where the right to republish is inherent in the act of submission. It was then used, commercially, deliberately.

Honestly, the only unfortunate thing is that it would be really hard to prove that it was your work, since presumably you did this in the context of a verbal request, presumably.

If you really wanted to go nuclear, you could send a takedown notice under the DMCA to any place that has your press release posted.

posted by wnissen at 8:25 AM on April 15, 2012

After an interview, you're supposed to send a thank-you letter. I'd send them a you're welcome letter. Plus, it looks like you got the job (kinda... at least the job of that one writing piece).

Dear Person Cilantro Interviewed With,

I am so glad we both took the time to discuss the copywriting position at XYZ Corporation. I was enthused to write the press release for Big Deal Event, and clearly my enthusiasm showed!

Before the interview, I naturally investigated XYZ Corporation in detail. I liked what I saw, so I continued to follow the latest news. Imagine my pride when I saw the press release in your newsletter, used in local reporting, and re-blogged and tweeted! That's exactly the type of response my work gets, which is why I am an excellent candidate for the job.

I remember during the interview that you emphasized the important work XYZ Corporation does for the community, the high ethical standards your organization holds, and the serious checks you conduct to make sure you bring on a candidate that is the exact right fit.

Although it seems that I have inadvertently started already, I cannot begin in earnest for another two weeks. Should I start on May 1, or is your office closed for International Workers' Day and I should start on May 2?

Best regards,


cc: That Person's Boss
posted by Houstonian at 8:29 AM on April 15, 2012 [28 favorites]

I like Houstonian's approach - ballsy! It offers them a facesaver (they could hire you) and if they dont take it, (and don't offer to pay you either) then I would be seeking legal advice.
Do you think they would really deny it was your work?
posted by EatMyHat at 8:44 AM on April 15, 2012

Try to find out if they actually hired somebody.

If they didn't, this smells like fraud, and might be worth pursuing on that basis.
posted by jamjam at 9:06 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you think they would really deny it was your work?
I saved a copy on my own memory stick in case the one they provided failed, not sure if that would be enough.

Try to find out if they actually hired somebody.
They definitely hired someone, it was announced in the same staff newsletter that contained the piece I wrote. I'm assuming she didn't start right away, which is why someone used my press release in desperation. At least I can take heart in the fact that I was the best writer out of the bunch, as I was told in the interview that all candidates were provided the same info for the copywriting test.
posted by cilantro at 9:10 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hope we can get an update of this!
posted by waitangi at 9:24 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

What are the chances that the screw up is actually that they think the successful candidate wrote your press release?
posted by miles1972 at 9:28 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

You should lawyer up and get yourself a nice settlement.

You must register your copyright immediately. Do it today. If you do not register your copyright inside of 90 days of publication, you can only claim statutory damages from the date you filed your claim--that is, AFTER the infringement! This 90-day rule gives you a grace period. You are NOT allowed to file suit without registering you copyright first! Sure, your work was "unpublished" at the time you gave it to them, but do it NOW, because you don't want to get into a definition fight over when "publication" occurred and lose.

Statutory damages are automatic, and no corporation worth their salt wants to bother taking it all the way to trial if you have all your papers in order.

I am not a lawyer, but I was once bit on the ass by not registering my photography copyrights. I was a dumb teenager that didn't know anything about registering, but I was SOL when a similarly evil corporation snatched up my work. At that point, I could only claim actual damages, which as an amateur were $0.

Get thee to a lawyer, NOW, do not delay, and then rush yourself to your local federal court. Good luck, and crush them.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:26 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, immediately issue a DMCA takedown as stated above. You'll want to move quickly to legal action with an actual lawyer so they know you are about to file suit. Their lawyers will likely advise them to throw money at you to prevent the suit from occurring, but be prepared for them to fight it.

You have, essentially, no other recourse than a federal lawsuit. The copyright system does not defend the rights of small operations or individuals well.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:28 AM on April 15, 2012

Lastly, do NOT contact the former hiring manager. They will not hire you. ONLY speak to their attorneys.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:29 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have, essentially, no other recourse than a federal lawsuit. The copyright system does not defend the rights of small operations or individuals well.

Checking the OP's profile, they are in the UK... so US specific answers not applicable here, I'd imagine.
posted by plep at 10:41 AM on April 15, 2012

Hollywood Upstairs Medical College is giving you really bad advice.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:57 PM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Instead of being offensive/passive aggressive, you should just talk to them and say that they clearly liked your work and you were wondering why they didn't hire you for more.

This is your chance to continue the conversation. It's up to you to decide if you want to turn it into something positive. Going negative will probably earn you nothing but frustration and high blood pressure.
posted by Witold at 2:00 PM on April 15, 2012

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