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Anyone know about copyright laws?

Old 06-06-2009, 09:25 PM
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Anyone know about copyright laws?

This is kind of a long story...so bear with me or scroll down for the cliff's notes.

Back in late February, I was contacted by an electric car company to do some artwork. They needed renderings of 2 concepts they wanted to unveil at the New York International Auto Show. I spoke with their VP at length and they sounded like a decent company. Publically-traded, well-publicized, and pretty legit.

Despite a tremendous time crunch (3 days to model and render 3 cars, one of which is a convertible, thus more work) I agreed to help them out. They agreed on the price I quoted them and appreciated my taking on the job. They also said that there would be more work for me in the future. I hear that from a lot of clients...whatever, I'll believe it when I see it.

Now, normally I take payment up front. In the past I used to take half down, half upon completion. It worked well for a long time, but I got screwed enough times that I decided to just take full payment before starting on a project. This being a rushed project which I started on a weekend, I understood that they couldn't pay me right away and told them that I would take payment the following week upon completion of the renderings.

The process of doing the renderings was painful as not only did it require 4 straight days of work (slept maybe 8 hours over the 3 nights,) but I also had to deal with their HUGE ***** of a CAD guy. Apparently he felt threatened and was pissed that they hired an artist to re-render his designs. I was nothing but polite to the guy, but every time I had to speak with him, he was rude and unhelpful in getting me the data and info I needed to do my part of the project. In addition to all of that, I had to set aside other clients' work for a couple of days. It wasn't a huge deal as most of the projects I was working on at the time were longer-term and everyone was very cool about it.

Despite being a pretty hellish couple of days, I completed the renderings on time and very much to their satisfaction. I even worked with their printer/art director to get the images as high-resolution as possible and ideal for printing. They had planned to print brochures and posters for display at the Auto Show.

So here is where things get really bad...

I emailed my contact there. He had told me that I did a great job and that we were done. About a day later I sent him an invoice for the agreed-upon amount and thanked him for his business. Well, a couple of days went by and I heard nothing from him. I started to get frustrated and called his cell phone. When he picked up I asked him if he had been getting my emails. What's his response?

"Oh yeah, I'm no longer with the company...screw those guys."


So I asked him who to contact at the company so I could get my invoice paid. He gave me a guy's info and said that he's one of the good guys and would take care of me. I took his word for it and emailed this other guy, Mike. I explained my situation and emailed my invoice.

The first response I got from Mike was "we have you noted as $x and your invoice is above that. We're not paying you more than what we planned."


After a bit of back and forth and them not budging on their end, I said "fine, I'll write the rest of the money off as a lesson learned. Just pay me please." Mike says he will send the modified (read: reduced) invoice on to "corporate" and they will get me paid.

Days go by...nothing. I email again asking what the status of my invoice was. "No word yet, check back in a few days."

I understand as I've dealt with big companies. Sometimes they pay out once a month, sometimes they take even longer. I backed off a bit and checked in about 1-2 times a week. Every time the same response or some variation on it. So here we are, almost 4 months after I completed their renderings and I have yet to see a penny.

But that's not the worst of it.

They not only used my images at the NY Auto Show, but they have also plastered the images all over their website and have even shown them on TV. There is a NYC News segment posted on their site where a representative from their company is speaking with a reporter and they show both renderings I did for them. So this has me really, really pissed right now. They are using my renderings everywhere and apparently have plans to launch an "aggressive media campaign" in the coming weeks.

So this company can pay for booths at huge trade shows and TV spots, but they can't pay me. I'm at wit's end with them. I am ready to take legal action, but now instead of pursuing just the money they owe me (which really is not very much in the grand scheme of things) I am considering going after them for copyright infringement. I want them to not only pay for the work I did, but for jerking me around for months and using my work everywhere without a dime to show for it.

Does anyone here know anything about copyright law?

Cliff's Notes

- Electric Car Company hires me to do artwork on short notice for NY International Auto Show.
- I do work, despite an insane schedule and a douchebag employee there that tries to make life difficult for me.
- I submit my invoice and find that my contact there has left the company.
- The new contact at the company is unhelpful and gives me the run-around.
- They refuse to pay me the full amount and demand a lower price.
- After much back and forth, I decide to lower the price just so they will finally pay me.
- Almost 4 months later, they still haven't paid me a penny.
- My work is plastered all over their website and has been used in TV promotions as well.
- Considering legal action, including a possible copyright infringement suit.

Thanks for reading folks,

Kris H
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Old 06-06-2009, 09:39 PM
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As long as you didn't sign anything saying they had rights to your work before payment, I'd get a lawyer. Assuming you were a contractor/under contract, I'd take a close look at the agreement.
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Old 06-06-2009, 09:40 PM
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wow man, you need to get on the horn with a lawyer yesterday.
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Old 06-06-2009, 10:01 PM
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get 'em brotha.

i hate scum.
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Old 06-06-2009, 10:09 PM
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You need to put the hammer down. Don't threaten, just do it. These guys are boning you so hard you should feel it in your throat.

Stick them for as much as possible.
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Old 06-06-2009, 10:17 PM
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Lawyer up and sue the pants off em. Settle for at least 3x what you originally were owed. I hate ****ing scum companies.
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Old 06-06-2009, 11:16 PM
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This is one of those times where you need to not be "a nice guy". It seems like they are banking on this and will try to avoid paying you for your efforts.

I'd be talking to a lawyer.
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Old 06-07-2009, 07:42 AM
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First off we need to know about the rights of use you granted for your works. If you contracted to provide them renderings with no stipulations, they can use your works when and wherever they like. If you put stipulations in your contract about when and how to use the works then you may have legal grounds for action.

Secondly you need to do one of two things about payment, either A) tell them you had a verbal contract with X person at the company for the set upon the amount and you will NOT take anything less, if need be small claims court is the place for something like this or B) bend over and let them treat you like a bitch.

Personally if I were trying to start up a car company I would want NO bad press, I would want my name only mentioned in a good way and a lawsuit at this point should be avoided at all costs. They should pay you NOW since you had a verbal contract on a set amount for a specific amount of work. You have completed said work and expect to be paid for services rendered. Quite frankly you should have gotten a written contract before starting ANY work, time crunch or not, but you did have a verbal contract with a legitimate member of the company who had such power as to enter into contracts on the behalf of the company. Don't reduce your amount, don't get handled as you are now. Send a certified letter by USPS stating that unless you receive payment within 1 week (and specify the date) you will be filing suit using Y lawyer (name them by name) on Z date (again specify the date). This show that you mean business and aren't just some kid doing work.

From now on you should have an IP lawyer on speed dial and on retainer to protect your works from future problems such as this.

Also what company are we talking about? A few thousand angry emails from disappointed 'potential' customers over this issue may change their mind rather quickly. Also you have a strong voice in the community and the community has a strong voice on the web in general. We could get this onto Autoblog, Digg, Fark, Autospies, the Consumerist and other web news portals that can have a pretty major impact on a fledgling company.
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Old 06-07-2009, 07:56 AM
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What copyright?????? Did you apply for a copyright? Do you have any substantial proof you did the work?

Did you bother to get anything in writing from this company before you started the work?
Do you have any copies of letters or emails asking you do the work?

Seems to me if you actually do the work you claim, you should know the answer to your question.
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Old 06-07-2009, 09:33 AM
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Consult an attorney ASAP.

At this point you're entitled to MUCH more than being reimbursed for labor.
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Old 06-07-2009, 09:40 AM
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Although I am no lawyer, what I do know is that as an outside contractor you retain all copyrights to your work unless specifically signed over to you client.

Since your original contract was for "X" they have a right to utilize yur work in that regard and that regard only. Any other or additional use of your work may be considered a copyright violation.

I suspect you actually have two claims... One for non payment/non-performance/breach of contract in regards to payment. As such, until such payment in full is made, ANY use of your work is in breach, and the second and potentially more damaging claim of copyright infringement would then follow all subsequent use of your work without expressed written permission.

I would certainly be looking for a good, reputable, and successful copyright attorney to represent you in this matter. Large companies often figure they will simply "squeeze the little guy" until the little guy gives up, however if you allow the attorney a percentage of the claim (which will look like a ripoff at first), your attorney will have incentive to stay after the company until they crack.

You also want to stipulate in any negotiation the company will be accountable for all of your collection and legal costs and damages incurred as part of your action, including lost revenue... So track all of your time (as time is a non-renewable resource and essentially you only have so many hours in a year that can be billable so an hour screwing around with collection is an hour you are incapable of billing a client).
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Old 06-07-2009, 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by speedygonzales View Post
What copyright?????? Did you apply for a copyright? Do you have any substantial proof you did the work?

Did you bother to get anything in writing from this company before you started the work?
Do you have any copies of letters or emails asking you do the work?

Seems to me if you actually do the work you claim, you should know the answer to your question.
I don't know much about copyright, but your situation interested me and I read up for a little while. I found a couple of relevant tidbits. As mentioned above, this in large part hinges upon what the initial agreement was.

Copyright Myths
1) "If it doesn't have a copyright notice, it's not copyrighted." This was true in the past, but today almost all major nations follow the Berne copyright convention. For example, in the USA, almost everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not.




you can't carry on a copyright lawsuit if you haven't registered.



Registration is required only if legal action is warranted.


Free-Lance Artists and Entrepreneurs. In contrast with employees, free-lance artists and entrepreneurs are ordinarily presumed to own copyright in their work even though there is only one copy, and it is sold. However, a party commissioning a work might insist that it be "for hire" -- particularly if it contributes to a still larger work. If (1) this is in writing and (2) the work may be so classified under the definition of "work made for hire" in 101 of the copyright statute, then both the work and any copyright in it are owned by the party who commissioned it.

Lots of Gov't publications about copyright available here:


Good luck, I hope you get what's fair from these guys.

Last edited by JP95ZM6; 06-07-2009 at 10:54 AM.
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Old 06-07-2009, 12:55 PM
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Thanks guys for the great info. The next few days should be pretty interesting. I plan on telling them that I will seek legal action if the invoice is not paid by a week from Monday. In the meantime I will track down an attorney that's willing to work for a percentage and get everything in order. I also plan to file the works I did for them with the Copyright office just so it is 110% official. I have already saved all evidence of them using my work before paying me (dated images showing the renderings on their website, etc.) just as further proof.

Part of me would prefer to not go to court over this, but at this point, if I don't I'm just taking whatever they're willing to give me and acting as though I'm perfectly fine with being paid 4 months late and long after they benefited from the work I did for them.
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Old 06-07-2009, 12:58 PM
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Did you sign anything giving them the right to your creations while under contract with them?

As an example, when I did ASP/SQL programming for Dell, they made me sign away all the rights to that code while I was employed with them.
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Old 06-07-2009, 01:22 PM
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In this case, there were no signed contracts. All agreements were either verbal or via e-mail. That might be the only snag, though according to some of what I've been reading, I should still be protected.
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