Boss doesn't want me to offer similar style designs

  • A little bit of a rant and to look for some advice.

    So I have been working for a small private teaching company for the last 2 years (not teaching art) and my job has consisted of roughly 60% teaching and 40% design. Most of the design at first was just character design, advertising, a bit of animation and making materials to advertise their school and build their own brand, also most of these designs would be free to use. I guess I would call it building a library of illustrations. However the other month my boss wanted to use some of the previous material and new ones to make his own textbook to sell to other schools across the country. This took a few months as I am the only designer and I had very little time to fit most of it in, but we finally made it and he is getting a few thousand copies ready to sell.

    Anyhow, the job has a very basic salary and benefits (it's a salary for teaching not designing) and I asked for a raise from the new contract year (contracts are year by year) as I am providing skills that the usual employee doesn't have. Also, when I joined the company I knew from the interview that the pay would be low and I would only be classed as a teacher and not an illustrator/designer at first, but if I produced good work and it brought in a profit then I would be given a higher salary. At first he said we could talk about the salary after the Xmas break, and his thought now is that they want to focus more on teaching and less design and as it seems like I want to be a designer I won't be recontacted, but they may wish to request work in the future if I go freelance and if the book sells well. I now figure that as they have a load of designs that they can use by themselves and as the textbook is on it's way, that they don't need to pay for a designer anymore.... Anyway that is my mistake from playing along I guess, but you live and learn and rant a little about it :P

    My contract ends in March, so I have decided to try and go freelance from April and offer my skills where I can. When I mentioned about moving into freelance my boss said that I can't use any of the illustrations that I made for him (I understand that 100%) but also that he doesn't want me to use a similar style of illustration for other schools if I offer my services to them. I'm pretty sure he can't ask me to avoid the style of illustrations that I do for him as it's my style. Is that right? Surely even in the children's illustration industry someone can't ask you to avoid designing another book that is a similar style to the one you make for a certain client..... Have any of you been told something like that before?

  • That definitely sounds strange....
    I have a "non-compete clause" in my contract (I work 20 hours under contract for an internal agency and the rest of the time freelance) that states that I cannot do freelance work that damages the interests of the contracting company or favors a competitor. In practical terms, this means I cannot do any freelance work for companies in the same area of business. I'm fine with it and so far I only had to turn down one job because of that.
    However, I am still under contract.
    I have never heard of a non-compete clause surviving after termination of a work contract. There are confidentiality agreements that survive after termination of a contract (so you cannot disclose insider information to a competitor, even if you are hired by them), but I don't think there is any possible legal claim on the use of your time and work from a former employer.
    I would carefully read your current contract and see if anything of that kind is mentioned. If not, I honestly don't believe your boss' position is tenable. To be sure, you could think about consulting a lawyer - just to dispel all doubts.


    He doesn't own your style. He doesn't own your drawing skills. I'm pretty sure that's not legal. If what he means is that you can't create an exact copy of the illustrations you made for them, then that's understandable but your style? That's crazy.

    Anyhow, if you continue using your present style and he tries to go after you, don't worry. As long as you don't have any written agreement stating that you're prohibited from using your style for projects coming from other clients, then you're safe.

    I hope this helps.

  • Consult an attorney familiar with the arts and rights.

    Does your current contract state anything about creating artwork and the rights being retained by the company?

    If you need the job, accept a contract for a teaching position only and any illustration work would need to be done on a freelance basis (not work for hire) with specific rights being purchased.

  • @gary-wilkinson Hey Gary - i have no advice but man! this really made my blood boil! Telling you to not use the same style?!?! Your style is your own and he should feel fortunate to own a bit of it - your caricature work looks like it could be on Time magazine if you ask me - is someone going to ask Jason Seiler to not work in his own style?? This person sound very selfish and unrealistic - cruel? He is basically saying "hey, by the way... i own your style".....thus my blood boiling - anyways - Good luck to you - your work is super solid!

  • administrators

    No need to consult a lawyer, your boss is wrong. Style is not something that is protected under copyright and even if it was, you would own the style, not them. Unless they spelled that out in a contract before you started, you are free to sell to whoever you want to. The only leg they would have to stand on is if you signed a non-compete contract.

  • administrators

    BTW, if you not offering your services to direct competitors is important to your boss. Offer to sign a non compete contract and charge them a LOT for that. This is a way for you both to get what you want.

  • administrators

    Another BTW, Things like this are what I look for in negotiating with clients. I try to see what is important to them, then I try to accommodate that specific need. And charge them a corresponding amount.

    My friend was laid off from Nike recently. They paid her like 6 months salary just to NOT go to work for another shoe company during that time.

  • That sounds super shady. People will, unfortunately, do whatever it takes to get what they want. It sounds like condition of your contract was super foggy. And, Lee is spot on. If you didn’t enter into a formal agreement over the design work, they have no legal right to tell you what you can and can’t do with it. I would calculate what you would have gotten paid for the extra work you did - if you were free lancing at the time - and let them know “this is the cost of me agreeing to your terms.” But don’t sell your style. That’s ridiculous.

  • Thanks for everyone's comments and advice. There is nothing in the contract in regards to the creation or retention of anything related to illustration or design or a non compete agreement. I was never even classed as a designer and it was primarily a teaching position, with helping out with illustration on the side as they knew it was something I could do. However, a greater workload and responsibility was put on me later into the job in regards to design work that I felt wasn't something that was part of the contract. This was an issue that I hoped to address with the new contract in addition to negotiating the salary as it all seemed somewhat strange to be doing design and illustration work without that being included in the initial contract. I suppose as I enjoy designing and wished to build up my portfolio then I was happy in the initial stages to do that for the company. Also with it being a very small company I was hoping to help grow the media aspects of it (something I mentioned in my interview), but my boss has a million ideas that get built upon and then changed to something else (I'm sure others have dealt with clients who are just the same though)

    To be honest I don't think my boss has much knowledge on issues such as this and perhaps expects the style that I have made for his company to be his property. I will discuss it further with him before I leave, as I wish to be as professional as I can, as well as watching my own back, but thinking about it I doubt it will cause a problem in the future. If they do wish to seek my services as a freelancer in the future I will be sure to make sure the contract is something that works for both parties.

    It is an experience I can learn from though and I am excited to be giving freelance a go as it is something that I have always wanted to try whether I succeed or fail. Keep your eye on TIME magazine @Kevin-Longueil ;)

    Again, thanks for everyone taking the time to help out!

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