Skip to main content

As an interior designer starting my own business am I allowed to use photos from projects completed while I worked at a firm?

Seattle, WA |

I am starting my own interior design firm in Seattle. I would like to make a portfolio section on my website with the photos from the projects I worked on throughout my 8 year career as a designer. However all of the projects I worked on were through the company I was working for. Am I allowed to put the photos on my website as long as I cite that I worked on the project while working at "XYZ Interior Design"? As long as I give the firm I was working for credit is it legal? The issue is the owner of the company I was working for is upset that I am starting my own company and will be competition for them.

+ Read More

Attorney answers 3

Posted

You cannot use these photographs because you do not own the copyrights in them. Further, your former employer may not have had permission from its clients to allow it---or you in your capacity as competitor---to use these photographs. Without permission from your former employer and its clients, you should not use these photographs.

There may be a way around this----if photographs of your work appear on web-sites of your former employer or its former clients, you may be able to provide links to those works. Although I am in the loyal opposition on this, most people believe that such linking does not constitute copyright infringement.

Also, you certainly should be permitted to identify the clients of your former employer for whom you performed work. Indeed, depending on your relationships with them, you probably could safely use them as references. What you cannot do, however, is show these photographs without permission.

John E. Whitaker

John E. Whitaker

Posted

I agree with everything said, and I would just point out that I am in the majority who believe linking to copyrighted content does not constitute infringement.

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

I would also note that I am in the majority you think the linking is legal, provided you do not miss describe the link as being to your own material.

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

voice transcription garbled that last comment, which should have been:"I SHOULD also note that I am in the majority WHO think THAT linking is legal, provided you do not MISDESCRIBE the link as being to your own material." There are gray areas, such as "framing" and "embedding videos" that are more risky, so see an IP attorney for specific actionable advice. All we can give here is general advice.

Posted

Probably not. Under copyright law, an employer is automatically the owner of any copyrights produced by its employees in the course of employment. This is the so-called "work for hire" doctrine.

Your question about essentially giving attribution to your former employer is a too-common misconception. Copyright infringement does not cease to be copyright infringement just because you tell the world whose copyright you are infringing.

Your absolute safest bet is to just walk away from all the photographs you took while employed. It may sound harsh, but it's true. That said, there is nothing improper about telling your prospective customers that they can look at your former employer's stuff for examples of your work. Nothing prevents you from rightfully claiming to have been the person who did the work. You just can't claim the work as your own.

Good luck.

Answers and information provided here does not create an attorney/client relationship.

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

Agreed. Pay particular attention to attorney Whitaker's second paragraph. Giving credit just proves you knew about the company and is an admission of willful infringement. As attorney Whitaker notes, that is a common misconception. It is sort of like saying that you robbed the local art gallery and want to give them credit as the place you robbed and thinking that will mean it is okay. All it does is just help prove the case against you.

Posted

No, you cannot legally do this without the permission of the company you were working for at the time you get these projects and took those photos. If you are an employee of that company, these were "work for hire" items and the copyright belongs to the company not you. If you were a contractor rather than an employee, the situation might be different, but that is not what you said. Since the owner of the company is upset at you for competing with them, you are taking a serious risk that you might be charged with copyright infringement for using the company's copyright protected photos.

I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.