My company used my design without my consent. What do I do?
December 8, 2014 3:48 PM   Subscribe

My parent company is implementing a rebrand based on a design I made for a project I worked on years ago, all without my knowledge. They have acknowledged this, and it seems like they are oblivious that this is a problem for me. I have made my feelings known to my boss, and am waiting for further developments. I don't know what to do next. Do I have any rights? What are my options? Backstory follows.

I work for a subsidiary company. A few years ago, I created a design for a rebranding project that was ultimately abandoned. A few months ago, I was introduced to the head of marketing for the parent company, and to give him an idea of what I do, I showed him the design, among other work.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting where the parent company introduced the implementation of a new branding strategy. The head of marketing used my design to go to another designer and made that the base of the rebrand, all without my knowledge (I don’t know if the other designer was aware that I created the original design). In the meeting, he literally told me he used the concept of my design for this rebrand, and thanked me. I was very uncomfortable about this, but didn’t speak up. I really felt like I couldn’t right there and then, with several other members present.

To compound matters, I showed my original design to people who hadn’t seen it (marketing people in my subsidiary, and one marketing person from the parent company), and they said they preferred my design. They talked of implementing the superior elements of my design in the rebrand. They asked me for the Powerpoint presentation I showed them (not the original Illustrator files) and I sent it.

After the meeting, I confronted the marketing manager for my company, and told him that I felt very uncomfortable. I said that this rebranding was my design. He said he understood, and we left it at that for the now.

I feel the head of marketing was truly thoughtless as to how I’d feel about this, rather than being malicious. I don’t want to be very negative and place myself in opposition to the company and the people here. I plan to talk to the head of marketing with my marketing manager in the room to get a more detailed explanation.

I am unsure of what to do now. At the least, I want the credit for the rebrand design.
Am I entitled to monetary compensation? Does the company have to stop using that design if I assert my rights? Do I even have any rights? What are my options?

FWIW, I work in Japan for a Japanese company. I am technically a contract worker, not seishain, which can literally be translated as “real employee.”
posted by brappi to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know anything about japanese law - but I would I bet the answer is no and that you have no "rights". You produced work for a company, that company owns the work you produced and can do what they like with it. In any event, even if you did, attempting to ask for more credit than the thank you you already received is basically placing you in a terrible position - I think it is hopeless for you.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 3:54 PM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

You did work on company time. You don't own it - the company does.
posted by shihchiun at 3:56 PM on December 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

"Credit" where? I'm not sure how Japanese businesses work, but is it normal for credit to be rigidly delineated (e.g., is it specifically stated who programmed which parts of your site or whatnot?) If not, then what sort of credit are you expecting?

Unless you have some sort of licensing arrangement with your work, it sounds like you did work for them and they are now using your work in the way they see fit which, yeah, is shitty, but there's nothing to be done about that. This is how working for clients/companies works.
posted by brainmouse at 3:57 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't have any rights at all here, sorry. Hopefully you can find a way to use the situation to benefit you.
posted by michaelh at 4:01 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you created the materials while employed for subsidiary, I don't think that you can get additional compensation or restrict their use of your concept. They've already paid for your professional services.

That said, if the current rebrand design is close enough to your original, you can tuck it into your portfolio for the future. After all, they did admit to using your concept/design work in order to arrive at the new branding. Beyond being able to use the piece to beef up your portfolio, I am not aware of formal "credit" arrangements in cases like this.
posted by quince at 4:01 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Unless you created the design with a mutual understanding that you would be compensated for it separately, I don't think there's anything to do.

I helped a former colleague with her startup a few years ago, and I sketched out some ideas and coined some phrases in some documentation I wrote for her as a favor. Some of my exact phrases are now woven into the intro paragraph on her website. She uses the terms in her sales and marketing tools.

I was not her employee and I didn't create any conditions for using those terms, so as far as I care, they're free for her to use. I do have the satisfaction of knowing they were good ideas after all, and it helps me remember I can always think up more.

What's important now is how to leverage it. Instead of casting yourself as someone whose single idea was stolen, how can you shift the script and turn this into people seeing you as someone who comes up with LOTS of great ideas, just one of them being the inspiration for this whole new brand?

And even more important: How can you become one of those people who brings those ideas into fruition? Because, honestly, ideas are easy to come by. Making the idea successful takes a ton of skill.
posted by mochapickle at 4:17 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

OP has buried the lede. OP is in Japan and is NOT an employee. This is not a clear cut work for hire at all.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:18 PM on December 8, 2014

What would have happened if they had gone with your design in the first place? Would you have been paid something, or given credit in some way?
posted by Lyn Never at 4:19 PM on December 8, 2014

You produced work for the company, regardless of whether it was for a subsidiary. Then, you showed the work to the head of marketing of the parent company. The parent company used the designs. You were paid for the time you put in on the original work, right?

I'm not really sure how you figure you're owed anything more than a "thank you".

This is not a clear cut work for hire at all.

I disagree. OP clearly says they did work for the subsidiary as part of a rebranding project, and later showed the work to the head of marketing for the parent company. It's pretty clear to me that the company owns the work in-question.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:22 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

OP is an employee of "a subsidiary" -- I suspect this is very clearly a case of work for hire assuming that the parent company wholly owns (or, I bet, merely controls) the subsidiary. I have no idea how Japanese law works if there is some other kind of ownership situation.

Regardless, I don't think that brappi has any rights here, since the work was/is owned by the subsidiary (and perhaps therefore by the parent). If anyone has rights to assert, it's the company for which the work was done. This is all assuming that the work when originally done was while employed at the subsidiary; the post's phrasing doesn't make this totally clear, but it seems to be what is suggested.
posted by axiom at 4:23 PM on December 8, 2014

Response by poster: I was expecting answers like these, thanks everyone for the reality check.

My general approach has always been like mochapickle's - be the idea man. I have a feeling I will at least be the steward of the brand - it's just that it sucks the way this was handled.

Looks like I need to update my portfolio!
posted by brappi at 4:32 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think anything you produce while working at a company is their property. They don't need your permission. And in fact, you can't take that stuff somewhere else with you. Unless they don't have the standard language in their employment contracts, then they (not you) own everything you produce and can do whatever they want with it.

That said, it is unfortunate they haven't recognized you in anyway or included you in the implementation, but that sounds like usual office politics and bullshit that everyone puts up with.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:47 PM on December 8, 2014

They certainly seem inclined to give you credit, even in front of other people in a meeting, so this seems like a "don't look a gift horse in the mouth" situation. You did good work, and while I'm sure it would have been nice to be in on the implementation of the design, they don't seem to have been too put out in doing it themselves. There could have been employment, IP, and/or disclosure impediments to your actual involvement due to your contractor status.
posted by rhizome at 5:16 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, just to move forward, you might want to tell the marketing manager that you're glad that they used your design, just that you would have liked more heads up, and that if you had known that they were interested you would have tweaked the design to make it specifically for them. That way, you can spin your discomfort as more related to not having the design show the full extent of your thinking/skills, and come up with a way to work with them on this.
posted by klangklangston at 5:56 PM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Things (such as who owns copyright to a design you created while employed as a contractor) might be different in Japan than in the US, and they might be different under your specific contract than under most US contracts. You should probably read your contract.
posted by amtho at 6:07 PM on December 8, 2014

This is a missed opportunity for you. You can either kick up a stink and get nowhere as you've already been credited and paid for the work you've done as you work for the company anyway, or you can use this to promote your abilities and get the higher ups on side to get more opportunities.
posted by Jubey at 1:46 AM on December 9, 2014

Your expectation that you will get personal "credit" (whatever that may mean to you, not clear from your question), for your contribution to a team accomplishment, is pretty un-Japanese.

I'd suggest you begin mending your relationship with the marketing manager and any others you may have offended.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2014

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