If you did not complete the artwork under a contract stating it was a "work made for hire" then you may have a claim. Also, if there was such a contract, their non-payment may mean they are in breach of that contract and that you retain ownership of your intellectual property. It is unclear what your role with the Company was and what kind of contract you were under. You need to provide additional details. Seems like you may have an interesting case. You may want to register copyrights with the USCO as well. If you have a registered copyright, a Copyright Infringement lawsuit which allows for potential statutory damages for each instance of infringement may be much stronger.Ask a similar question
There are various issues here. Certainly you would need to start with the contract signed (if there is one) or the agreement you entered with them. Feel free to contact my office. Best
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Agree that you need to consult with an attorney and have the facts and your contract (if any) reviewed to determine if it is a "work for hire" or not and if you have a copyright or other possible claim. What suggests to me that you may be ready for litigation is that the owner refuses to communicate with you (jerk?!). Simply hiring a lawyer to do this communicating may help as it sends the message "I will not be pushed around and am willing to pay to protect my rights."
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If all you say is true you might have a decent case. I suspect there is another side to this story and there is surely an agreement relating to this that needs to be reviewed. "Salary" implies you were an employee, in which case this may be their artwork not yours. "independent contractor" implies you were not an employee, in which case you might still own the artwork. The company may have an implied license, or may not. You may have entered into a bad deal financially, but that is not a basis to jump the compensation. You should see a business attorney with copyright expertise or a copyright attorney with business expertise, and it would be best for it to be one licensed in NYC. I think you should call Maurice Ross (find him under the Find A Laweyer tab) as this is right down his area of expertise.
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The devil is in the detail in situations such as this. The first step is to understand with more precision your relationship with this company (employee, independent contractor, something else?). Second, it is necessary to determine who owns the copyrights in the artwork. If you created it, and if there was no written agreement to the contrary, the presumption is that you own the copyright. But if you created it as part of your work for the company as an employee or independent contractor, the company may properly claim to own the copyright and/or at the very least to enjoy the benefit of an implied license. If the real problem here is that you are unhappy with the amount you were paid for the artwork, you may not have a very good case because this may have resulted from failure to negotiate carefully the terms and conditions of your relationship with this company. You cannot extract more money in hindsight just because the work that you did turns out to be worth a lot more than you were paid. Also, I am having difficulty understanding how this could harm your professional reputation---if you created great designs and licensed them to this company, that would seem to enhance your reputation.
Unfortunately, in a situation like this there is no substitute for retaining and working with counsel to protect your interests. A consultation with legal counsel will be worth its weight in gold.Ask a similar question