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Can I use my coworker's personal artwork for work purpose?

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accd.211

Member
A coworker is very talented in creating artwork, but his role at company has nothing to do with it. He created some artwork using his own time for me, and those are completely free and out of his goodwill. Could there be any issue for me to use these artwork for work purpose?
 


quincy

Senior Member
A coworker is very talented in creating artwork, but his role at company has nothing to do with it. He created some artwork using his own time for me, and those are completely free and out of his goodwill. Could there be any issue for me to use these artwork for work purpose?
What is the name of your state?

Yes. There could be an issue if you use someone else's artwork for work purposes if the artist who created the artwork did not transfer any rights in the artwork to you.

When you are given or you purchase artwork, you own that individual piece of work only. You are not given the right to reproduce the work, distribute or publish the work, display or perform the work, or create derivatives of the work. Those are all exclusive rights held by the copyright owner and remain with the copyright holder absent an agreement to the contrary.

In order to acquire rights, you must get permission from the copyright holder, with rights generally granted in the form of a license or an assignment or transfer.

There are a few exceptions that may, or may not, apply.
 

accd.211

Member
Thanks! I am based in Minnesota. The artworks are 3D simulated pictures and videos. My coworker created those from scratch, those are for a work project that I am leading. So if he gave those artworks to me, and even reviewed those with me to make sure those are what I want, I assume there wouldn't be any issue?
 

quincy

Senior Member
Thanks! I am based in Minnesota. The artworks are 3D simulated pictures and videos. My coworker created those from scratch, those are for a work project that I am leading. So if he gave those artworks to me, and even reviewed those with me to make sure those are what I want, I assume there wouldn't be any issue?
You will want your coworker to transfer the copyrights in the artwork to you, through a formal written and signed transfer of copyrights agreement, or provide you with a license to use the artwork for your work project.

A license could be a limited license, which gives you rights to use the artwork for the single work project only (with the artist retaining all copyrights in the work), or can be fashioned to fit whatever you and the artist want and need.

The key is getting an agreement in writing between you and the artist that spells out the exact permission granted from the artist to you.

This written agreement is your insurance for the future that the artist will not sue you (or the employer) over the use of the artwork for the work project.

Good luck with your project.
 

accd.211

Member
Thank you for the input, very helpful!
A different but related topic/question, if there is no agreement signed, and later on, that coworker changes his mind and wants to sue the company for copyright, will I as an employee that acted upon the company's behalf be responsible for such lawsuit? (just curious how much liability an employee has for such work related activities)
 

quincy

Senior Member
Thank you for the input, very helpful!
A different but related topic/question, if there is no agreement signed, and later on, that coworker changes his mind and wants to sue the company for copyright, will I as an employee that acted upon the company's behalf be responsible for such lawsuit? (just curious how much liability an employee has for such work related activities)
Anyone who infringes on copyrights can be sued for copyright infringement. So, yes, both you and the company could be named in a lawsuit.

If the copyright in the artwork was not already federally registered prior to the infringement, the copyright holder will need to register it before filing suit. Copyright infringement lawsuits are often preceded by a cease and desist letter sent by the copyright holder and a demand for compensation.

Registration of the copyright prior to infringement entitles the copyright holder to statutory damages of between $750 and $30,000 per infringed work. If the copyright was not registered prior to infringement (or shortly after first publication), the copyright holder can collect on actual damages (profits/losses).

The best way to avoid a lawsuit is to get from the artist/copyright holder a written and signed transfer of rights agreement or a license to use the artwork for the work project.
 

accd.211

Member
Thanks!

The artwork are pictures and videos of a product. The raw product drawings that the artwork is build on belongs to the company/project. The drawings are not public now but will be once the product is launched. The software used to create the artwork is open sourced. In this case, is the coworker still the copyright owner?
 

Zigner

Senior Member, Non-Attorney
Perhaps - but instead of feeding us bits and pieces, you really ought to run the entire scenario by legal counsel. Or, simply get the coworker to scribble on some random piece of paper (at a bare minimum) that he gives you all rights to the artwork.
 

quincy

Senior Member
Thanks!

The artwork are pictures and videos of a product. The raw product drawings that the artwork is build on belongs to the company/project. The drawings are not public now but will be once the product is launched. The software used to create the artwork is open sourced. In this case, is the coworker still the copyright owner?
An artist can draw a picture of a company's product and the copyrights in the drawing will belong to the artist absent any agreement to the contrary.

But the artist may not be able to use the drawing for anything without permission from the company that manufactures the product - and the company that manufactures the product may not be able to use the drawing without permission from the artist. Neither can infringe on the copyrights/trademark rights of the other.

A personal review of all facts by an IP professional in your area is advised.
 

quincy

Senior Member
Too often, untalented people have very little respect for talent, time or effort of the artist. #GRRR
It is often the case that unauthorized users of copyrighted works do not understand copyright laws.

They can mistakenly believe that, if a work is found online, it is in the "public domain" and free for anyone to use. Many are unaware of what the exclusive rights are that are held by copyright holders and also misunderstand what public domain means.

I think, in other words, it is often less a lack of respect for the creators of original materials and more a lack of knowledge of the laws that protect these original materials.
 

kammeo

Member
My perception is based on personal experiences. I'll refrain from creating a list of who, what, when.
I stopped drawing or painting on anything copiable, transferable. I learned to say no to requests for art.
I painted the knot hole of the neighborhood tree when no one was looking. It was a year before I painted it again. Neighbors met Me that day. They are always very nice.
People take photos of the tree and post it on Facebook... that doesn't bother Me because it's a PUBLIC tree.
What's annoying is when someone asks for artwork, the price is agreed upon & after the artwork is complete they say they love it but they can only pay $65 because that's what the sign shop would charge. (I tore it in half, told them to go to the sign shop.)
It's way too much stress to create someone else's art idea.
The first time I considered a Copyright legal case, I was informed the retainer would be $5000. That was 1987 or so.
Then there's the thing about, You can win the judgement but You may never see a dime.
 

quincy

Senior Member
My perception is based on personal experiences. I'll refrain from creating a list of who, what, when.
I stopped drawing or painting on anything copiable, transferable. I learned to say no to requests for art.
I painted the knot hole of the neighborhood tree when no one was looking. It was a year before I painted it again. Neighbors met Me that day. They are always very nice.
People take photos of the tree and post it on Facebook... that doesn't bother Me because it's a PUBLIC tree.
What's annoying is when someone asks for artwork, the price is agreed upon & after the artwork is complete they say they love it but they can only pay $65 because that's what the sign shop would charge. (I tore it in half, told them to go to the sign shop.)
It's way too much stress to create someone else's art idea.
The first time I considered a Copyright legal case, I was informed the retainer would be $5000. That was 1987 or so.
Then there's the thing about, You can win the judgement but You may never see a dime.
It is cheap and easy to have removed from online locations any of your work that is infringed. You simply file a DMCA takedown notice.

It is not quite so cheap or easy to file an infringement suit. If you have registered your creative work with the US Copyright Office either prior to publication of your work or prior to infringement, however, you are eligible to collect statutory damages ($750-$30,000 per infringed work) which makes a lawsuit a realistic option for copyright holders.

That said, you are correct that being successful with a lawsuit is not the same as collecting on the judgment.

Now I think we have probably hijacked this older thread as much as is fair to accd.211, the original creator of this thread. :)

You can start your own thread if you have any questions we can answer for you. Thanks.
 

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