Intellectual property, my @#$%! What you think?

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Blog entry by Div posted 01-10-2011 09:19 PM 1717 reads 0 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch

More than a year ago, I finished a lot of site specific commission work for a client. Stuff like a kitchen, flooring, wall paneling, bedroom and bathroom cabinets, staircase etc. The client was rather specific in what he wanted. He selected wood combinations, I was provided photos (downloaded from the Internet) showing specific design elements, the client made conceptual sketches.

The final aesthetic design of all these units was collaboration between us. I made dimensioned drawings and suggested various details, some of which was eventually incorporated. Dimensions, and design elements was discussed at length and finalized. I provided a number of sample sections and mock ups for clarification. Technical and structural design was completely my responsibility.

Towards the end of the project which stretched over a period of almost a year, our relationship turned sour on a personal level. This had nothing to do with the quality of the work which was all finished and paid for in full. My client’s partner repeatedly expressed satisfaction with the work.

I have added photos of some of this work to my portfolio on my website quite some time ago. Now, more than a year has gone by and I receive an Email from this client:

1. Demanding I immediately remove all photos of pieces and work commissioned by him.
2. Claiming it was built to his exclusive design. (??)
3. Demanding I respect applicable laws related to intellectual property. (??)
4. Threatening lawyer action if I do not comply.

I did not ask his authorization to publish any of these photos on the Internet. I don’t think I needed to. He makes a huge fuss about authorization from him.

What you think of all this? Thanks for your input LJ’s!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

24 comments so far

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 2480 days

#1 posted 01-10-2011 09:43 PM


I would almost think you were in the USA. I don’t necessarily think of it as right, but here in the States, your client would probably be protected, if for no other reason than because the work is now his property. Often businesses like yours, here in states, will have clients sign a waiver attached to their contract for work that will allow them to post photos as you have done. I would think that, at the least, it would be considerate to ask the other party prior to posting the photos online.


-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View stefang's profile


15512 posts in 2756 days

#2 posted 01-10-2011 09:45 PM

I’m not a lawyer Div, but I would think a design would have to be copyrighted to be legal intellectual property. Is it copyrighted?

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2495 posts in 2528 days

#3 posted 01-10-2011 10:05 PM

I have no idea what the laws in ZA are on this matter. But I do know that no matter what country you do business in, when a legal problem raises it’s ugly head, the only winners are the lawyers. I was involved in a legal battle in the 80’s. I showed my evidence to my attorney and he said, “Ever since I left law school, I have wanted to have a case where my client was right legally, morally right and right just in general. We went to trial, I won hands down and the sucker filed a bankruptcy the same day I was to take position of all equipment. The federal court got everything. lol That’s just us, er I mean justice.
RESULTS: I won, I’m out $40.000 in legal fees, plus $100,000 invested in the equipment and nothing to show for it.
Unless you have a lot of money to burn over nothing, give him what he wants. It is much, much more economical for you. You know the truth, you know the beautiful work you did, we have seem your craftsmanship and skills, walk away from it. Also remove him from your A list and put him on your S—-list.
Now I said all that to say this….Now you know what to add as a clause to all your future contracts.

Good luck and best wishes, Rand

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2362 days

#4 posted 01-10-2011 10:06 PM

Mike, no it is not copyrighted. How can it be if I have the dimensioned structural drawings?

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View patron's profile


13524 posts in 2763 days

#5 posted 01-10-2011 10:06 PM

following that line of reason (his)

client – i need this house remodeled can you do it
worker – yes i have worked for years remodeling homes
client – show me some of your work
worker – i don’t have any pictures of my work
client – that bad huh
worker – i’m not allowed to have any they belong to someone else
client – give me some references then
worker – i can’t do that either it is private
client – well i can’t use you then no proof , no recommendations
worker – can i haul that trash , my family needs to eat today
client – no , it appears you can’t be trusted get of my property and if you mention my name to anyone i will sue you

your story happened to me just recently
no contract
no design
no tools
i took pictures of my work
that i designed the tooling for
and used to show
i got called down for it

to this day 46 years latter
after 15 restaurants , recording studios
boats , houses
my name has only been used once

the only reason they can think that way
is they have more money
than we do
and aren’t very nice people to boot
all the other work i did
was ‘designed and built’
by someone else
who never did another thing

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 3336 days

#6 posted 01-10-2011 10:10 PM

I wouldn’t be interested in legal action. If it’s easy to make peace by removing the photos, I guess I would do that.

I had a somewhat similar experience when some photos I took of a log building course I attended ended up in some of my blogs. The instructor claimed that I was demonstrating proprietary techniques which belonged to him.
I compromised by removing all mention of him, his pictures, his courses and promotion of his book but argued back that what I had learned was mine because I paid for it and if I wanted to share my learnings, it was my right.

The whole affair was petty in my view but it was easier to comply than to argue in court.

I don’t know the legalities of your case, but I say avoid the trouble that comes from selfish people – it’s not worth the trouble. Your works speaks for itself in other pieces.

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View BarbS's profile


2434 posts in 3507 days

#7 posted 01-10-2011 10:24 PM

Div, I don’t know about your country, but I think my son-in-law, a busy contractor here, always asks permission to publish photos on the web of peoples’ houses. There may not be ‘intellectual property’ laws covering anything, but it is only considerate to do so, in my opinion. It sounds like your earlier ‘falling out’ caused this, more than his concern for his rights.


View kevinw's profile


189 posts in 3161 days

#8 posted 01-10-2011 10:47 PM

I make my living as a graphic designer and to show an item in my design portfolio I am supposed to ask permission from the client. I haven’t always remembered to do so, but technically I am supposed to. Not sure if it is law or professional courtesy. On the assumption that it is probably law, your situation would probably be the same. The former client is being a pain but your best bet is probably to just pull the shots and go on. I think what you would gain by keeping them up you might lose by bad reputation spreading by this person.

-- Kevin, Blue Springs, MO

View papadan's profile


1166 posts in 2790 days

#9 posted 01-10-2011 10:50 PM

Do you still have all the furnished materials from the client? You said he gave you pictures from the web of design elements he wanted! That means he did not design the projects, just furnished partial aspects of it. Tell him to kiss off. If he persists in his harassment, tell him you will remove the pics from your site and post his name and address as a reference to your work. That should shut him up! LOL

-- Carpenter assembles with hands, Designer builds with brains, Artist creates with heart!

View NBeener's profile


4808 posts in 2596 days

#10 posted 01-10-2011 10:54 PM

Is there any talking to this client, at this point ?

Rule #1 in negotiations: understand what the other party really wants.

Can you get any idea of what his objection is, and why ? Is there some reasonable $$ amount that would cause him to allow you to use the pictures (assuming that you think they HAVE any value to you) ?

Trying to find out what he really wants, first, may lead you to some compromise that works for both of you.

Presuming the client is anything even approaching reasonable, to begin with—certainly not always the case :-(

Good luck ! Rotten position to be in.

-- -- Neil

View Schwieb's profile


1792 posts in 2883 days

#11 posted 01-10-2011 10:57 PM

My first reaction was the same as Doc’s, sounds like you’re in the States with too many lawyers with not enough to do. Probably there, as here it will cost you the consultation with a lawyer to find out if he has any grounds for his complaints or if this is just being a pain and inconvenience to you. On the surface, while this was a custom job, design elements came from several sources and you were not provided with working drawings and collaborated on the work so I don’t see how the guy really has any claim and like stefang says, it wasn’t copyrighted for sure. I don’t think he has a leg to stand on as far as intellectual property because of collaorating with you. He just is being a pain in the @#%$#. Just because he happens to own the product does not give him exclusive rights to the images. You might have needed him to agree to allow you to post them. Don’t know how that works down there.

The trouble with rich people {usually people who seek custom work are} is that they have the money to make us working stiffs squirm because they control the purse strings.

Best of luck as to what you decide to do.

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4166 posts in 2278 days

#12 posted 01-10-2011 11:18 PM


tell him that as law is not your speciality you will have to consult an expert.
Let him know that you are going to request that the items are attached
and put into storage until a decision can be made of who has the rights to
the designs. Fixed items will need to be enclosed so as they cant be viewed
until a decision is made. :)


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View CampD's profile


1462 posts in 2908 days

#13 posted 01-11-2011 12:19 AM

I’ve added to all my contract,s (I have different size depending on how big the project is) That I reserve the right to publish any Pictures “I TAKE” can be published and displayed on my web site! No Ifs and or buts!!

Now he can threaten action with a Lawyer, it’ll cost him plenty. Tell him to have his Lawyer call you, see how he reacts. The laws are still vague on this subject.

If you took the Pic’s they are your property. Get a software that imprints a watermark.

-- Doug...

View canadianchips's profile


2310 posts in 2419 days

#14 posted 01-11-2011 12:39 AM

Div, I am not a lawyer. From what you have told us so far , it is my perception that you have just as much right to use the photo’s of the work YOU have done.
You stated that your client gave you conceptual sketches, chose specific wood and provided pictures that he got from internet (Did he have permission to use the photo’s ?)
The final sketch was a collaboration between you and your client . (Therfore his exclusive design argument is GONE)He is trying to take your technical and structural design and make it his (NOT GOING to FLY in court)
You also want to check the “statute of limitations” of civil law in your country.
So reviwing what he want from you: He can demand all he wants, when he has a legal document given to you, then and only then do you have to remove your photos.What is the worst he can do, you go before a civil judge, IF the judge decides in your clients favor ,you go home and remove the photo’s.When you are at that same court room YOU will have a chance to explain that the designs were a joint effort. “Intellectual property” laws are vague. They are words to scare people more than anything. A law to protect an idea !
Get him to WRITE down what his idea was . Until then it is anyone’s idea. Threatening with a lawyer. “BIG WHOOP” you can attend a cival law case yourself, judges don’t like it because you are not part of the “Bar Association” so the judge might not make the judgement in your favor. If you have written documents of everything you said and done, take them with you, writen word means a LOT !
I do respect Judges and Lawyers decisions, they have a lot of money and time invested into the work they do.
Best luck on whatever YOU decide.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View rivergirl's profile


3201 posts in 2260 days

#15 posted 01-11-2011 12:41 AM

This guy really sounds like a bear with a sore butt who has an axe to grind/personal vendetta. Well, what to do, what to do? I would print the photos and keep them in a hard copy portfolio to show potential clients- and save a digital copy to possibly email clients if needed at some point. If it’s on a website I would take it down just to shut him up and let him think he won his little battle. But I would continue to use the photos when I needed them on a 1:1 basis. And again I say, as a general rule PEOPLE SUCK. I’m sorry this happened to you- and also to Patron. And Div- I can’t help but wonder if this was the kitchen with the client designed attribute of “floating cabinets” that promise (IMHO) to be difficult to clean under? I HOPE IT IS. LOLOLOL

-- Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

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