Legal help for a designer??

Anyone have any Legal or past experience advice for me? Here’s the story:

The last company I worked at was a furniture manufacturer. While there, I designed a technology cart during a collaboration between them and Apple. This cart is sold exclusively thru Apple to schools and other institutions to help store and secure multiple iPods. The cart has been a huge success with both parties thoroughly pleased and demand from customers high.

Fast forward a year: Because of my online Coroflot portfolio, i was able to secure a design position at another company where I currently work. Today I received an email from the CEO of my old Furniture company asking that I remove all images associated with the “ipod cart” from my coroflot portfolio. It seems that Apple had contacted them and basically stated that seeing those images on my website did not make them happy. If not remedied, legal ramifications would ensue by the Furniture company to protect their relationship with Apple. On my portfolio were the following images:

  • Professional Pictures of the cart, property of the Furniture company.
  • My personal Drawings and conceptual Renderings (some very closely resembling the final design…obviously)
  • Rough personal / amateur photographs I took with my own camera during the design process.

Do I roll over and submit and take down all the images? I definitely do not need to be in any type of legal trouble with anyone. I was under the assumption that all personal photographs would be property of myself and I would be free to post and display anywhere I please. I could take down the Professional Pictures and replace them with personal photographs pretty much displaying the same exact thing. Hell…i could go to any local school and photograph the cart being used and display that! What about the drawings and renderings? Is that my artwork to display freely? Even the professional photographs are free and available online at the companies website… so it’s not like I’m revealing anything new.

Im frustrated and pissed off. Obviously as designers, we only have our past work to promote ourselves.

Any advice? Are there any free / low cost legal aid sites available for artists and designers?


…Mark Kinsley

ps… I guess I should be flattered that I lowely designer like myself could catch the legal attention of two large corporations. :-p


The last company I worked at was a furniture manufacturer.

that means none of the work you did is ‘yours’ (of course its your work but the employer and the client reserve the right to hold that stuff back).
did the furniture mfg. have a deal with apple to not reveal their involvement?
my guess is they are less concerned about the photos and more concerned about the ‘devo’ images.
if you were a freelancer and as part of your contract you stipulated the right to use the work, then…maybe.

To be honest, I’m really not sure why those images would be such a big concern. Apple’s website clearly explains that the product was designed by my ex-Furniture company… and I have used other development images before for other Apple/Bretford collaborative projects.

Either way, IP’s response sounds like that’s what I need to do. Oh well!


Show them in your personal portfolio, etc. during interviews. But don’t make them public.

Do some BETTER work at your current employer (or in your freetime) and post that. This isn’t unusual. A majority of my best work is not safe for public consumption.

Also, if you show other sketches, etc that were part of the development, there may still be some ideas in there that they may want to use at a later date. If they’re in your portfolio online, the cat’s out of the bag and a competitor could beat them to the punch. Yes it sucks, we all go through it. Take them down, it’s not worth the hassle. Just do your own stuff on the side for the portfolio. Your resume should help say the rest unless you’re also not allowed to say who you worked for or who one of their clients were.

leave them up…

if you signed a legal clause stating that none of the work you did for the X/apple project then it’s yours to use in your portfolio… everything these days needs to be done with contracts and all that… i would ask x company if you signed a contract of confidentuality… i had to sign a few over the years while building models for architects…

they might be trying to bully you around… unless they can prove anything/etc then it’s your work…

i have 98 cents left now…


Is this really worth it?

From a consultancy standpoint, this is the kind of stuff that gets your company fired, sued, bent over a barrel. Why would I hire someone who is more of a risk for this kind of behavior putting my business at risk? IP and confidentiality is key here. Even (especially?) if its based on trust and/or a hand shake.

It simply isn’t worth it. You can show it. Just not publicly. You’re good enough to do it once. Surely you can take a week or two to do a “similar project” to show your skills as the bait. Then the hook is your “real project” in the interview.


but i would think from a legal stand point…if nothing was signed then it’s far game…

i have work on my site that i have done for other companies… i guess it boils down to if you were an employee or contract or they sent you the work…

the house i worked on for 2.5 years, i asked the builder if i could use the pics… sure… i just credited the architect and GC/builder and thats that… even though he said i didnt have to ask since i worked on the project…

i also have worked on projects that have been published in architectural record and other mags… if i really wanted to, i could toss those in my portfolio but my situation with that is a bit different …

it’s a portfolio… not like your selling the designs…

theres sooo ,much stuff on the internet these days that if you wanted to view other designs…then you can and prolly see ideas similar to yours…

unless theres a legal binding involved then i wouldnt worry… if they want to call you about it then let them… see if they have enough balls to do that… and if they do see what it’s really about…

it’s not cool when big companies push around the little people (been there and got screwed a few times since there were no contracts signed)…


I have a similar problem. I can’t show any products from my previous employer and say that I had anything to do with them according to a contract I signed. I say, take the photos down. Like IP said, you must have other projects that you can show. I also second the suggestion of doing a quick similar project now that you aren’t working for that company. Toss a couple of those new sketches up on your site with a render, save the real photos for interviews. I did that last year for a couple of projects.

take them down. I went through a similar situation a few years ago.

It just isn’t worth the trouble and is really bad karma in a very small industry and world. This will come back to bite you, I’ve seen it before.

I have 3-4 projects not shown online that I have in my hardcopy portfolio. Have some nice stuff online, and really surprise them in person with them with your non-public work.

If your client called you today asking you not to post them on your site, would you risk not getting repeat work because of it? Would you risk them spreading the word that you’re not a trustworthy vendor?

I wouldn’t.

For me this goes beyond the legalities of it. It is a trust issue. It is a very small community and this kind of stuff can follow you. It really is a small sacrifice if you’re a capable designer.

if they had a reason for me to pull them and explain why then i would … but i had seen big companies push around the little guys just since they had that power to do it… i have bent over backwards for a few of my clients and was burned in the end… not cool…

if they call you and tell you why then it’s cool… but if they just are doing it to be “tough” then so be it…

it’s his/her choice… but a portfolio is the only way to market yourself…

keep the peace i guess…



Apple is notoriously tight about this kind of stuff. Designers always need to be sensitive about what they show in public because you almost never “own” your concepts while employed.

I think that I found the product you worked on. On Apple’s site it actually states that your employer built the product, but it doesn’t say they designed it. I think cg is right on target, Apple wants everyone to think that Apple designs everything, not you.

I agree with almost everyone on here in the fact that you should remove the images, but I do have some ideas.

First, remove any reference to the companies (ie, Apple, your old employer) and put up sketches that you did showing the final design. That way it looks like a study of a project and anyone with half a brain will piece together that you worked on it by looking at your resume. Its not illegal to sketch and render an existing product and show that in a portfolio, as long you don’t say it was your idea (which it was, but we are trying to avoid lawsuits).

Second, go talk to your previous employer about the contract to see if there was anything in the agreement with Apple about not disclosing that they designed it for Apple.

Third, consult an IP attorney. The first visit is usually free.

I hope that helps.

if you did the work as an employee then they own everything you did for it. sketches and all.

posting a pic from the net or one you took of the final product might pass, depending on your contract confidentiality clauses.

there is no need to ask the company why. obviously its an issue for them or they wouldnt bother contact you and asking to revoke the images.

bottom line, as has been said, its a small industry and you dont want to burn any bridges or get a bad rep. take it all down, but you may be able to get away with showing something of the product (final pics) in an interview and just saying that you cant show process can actually be to your benefit- a potential employer will respect that you respect confidentiality.


Contact a lawyer. I would leave them up but that’s just me. I do freelance and never sign away any rights to anything. If it was stated in your contract then there’s not much you can do.

I’ve used to use stuff on my portfolio site from all my previous employers. If it’s for self promotion, I don’t see it as a problem.

Again, only a lawyer can give you real legal advice but I’d research it more.


All this talk of lawyers and legality is irrelevant. You’re not going to take this to court. What do you have to gain by posting these images? And what do you have to lose? I’m not you, but it seems like the balance is on the losing side (relationships, trust, etc.). I would apologize to your former employer and take them down.

I looked up the product too. There’s no reason you couldn’t redesign it for your portfolio. And as has been mentioned, there’s a huge gulf between what you can post publicly on the internet and what you can email to someone privately or bring to an interview.

also im guessing both apple and your previous employer have a bigger legal budget than you… definately not worth it.