So my boss buys tons of old images and asks me to use them on some of our work. I notice that these are images of classic/old famous stars and he wants me to make calender's and posters. He says he has rights for them but doesn't want to show them or tells me not to worry about it. not sure what to do in this situation and i have looked online for a legal document that i would like him to sign to protect me. any advice?


5 Answers 5


It doesn't matter.

He's your boss do what you are instructed to do or quit.

Your superior has told you it's okay... you seem to assume you are being lied to... that doesn't matter.

Your boss has informed you of something, it's your job to do what you are asked to do. You are not in any "legal" jeopardy here. If anyone were to get sued for infringement it would be your company not you or your boss personally. If the company were then to seek punitive action against its employees, they'd land on your boss first. If your boss then shirked responsibility and blamed you.. then you may have to defend yourself for your job. That's a far cry from worrying about the initial infringement. And if you think your boss is this untrustworthy... yeah.. find a new job.


Write a document on either your or your bosses' letterhead, in which you use language similar to this:

"The Client agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Consultant against any and all claims, costs, and expenses, including attorney's fees, due to materials included in the Work at the request of the Client for which no copyright permission or previous release was requested or uses which exceed the uses allowed pursuant to a permission or release."

In which you replace "Client" with your boss's name, and you replace consultant with your own, and indicate in it that you will be happy to comply with the request for design work executed with provided images with the explicit proviso that he sign two copies of this: one for his records, and one for yours.

I copied this language from another copyright thread on Stack Exchange (see link below) because it's very well done.

How to handle client requests to violate copyrights?

I have a similar clause in my own freelance contract language, and can tell you it's effective.

Be very careful: as already said in a previous answer, folks who feel free and easy playing fast and loose with copyright in one arena (scanned physical images) often feel just as free and easy ignoring IP (Intellectual Property) rights in other venues. Review your contract with your boss, looking for language related to IP: if there's no direct statement about ownership of works created, and there isn't the phrase "work for hire", then you own copyright to anything you create whilst working for said boss. If there is language about IP, or there is the "work for hire" phrase, your Boss may own all IP rights for work you execute. This all matters not only for how and what you get paid both now and later, but also for assignment of liability in case later someone gets sued for IP violation.

Caveats: I'm not a lawyer or solicitor, and do not play one on TV: I'm a freelancer of many years standing; my reply is based on my limited understanding of US IP law from my limited point of view as a freelancer.

  • Got it thank you. I have been looking online for anything i can use that makes this exact statement. you have no idea how helpful this is. all i was able to fine are liability ones that don't help as much.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 17:53
  • 1
    @Jay: well, this or any of the other answers ... Also, as a new member you probably want to read the tour some time soon. Welcome to Graphic Design SE!
    – Jongware
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 18:11

First - save the mail, print it with a date, put company stamp on it, just keep it for later use. Second - check your contract. In mine they state that all materials are provided by company as well as all what I create belong to them.

Third - does your boss want to use exactly the photo as in likeness of a star? Like this PHOTOGRAPH BY HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY

Or like the one used in Charlie Chaplin Wikipedia page?

You may need to educate your boss on law and say that buying a physical copy of a photo don't give you rights to use it/make money on it/ or even duplicate.

In the end you may think about changing jobs. A boss who infringe copyright on purpose may act the same way toward you and later use you as a scape goat.

  • So what he does is buy vintage images with stamps of the year on the back on ebay. He asks me to come in and use that image to make changes or print posters for him or commercial use later. I have avoided doing any of it but he mentioned it yesterday on my progress. I have talked to him about copyrights but he tells me not to worry about it that he does have rights, but when i ask to see the rights to i know what i can and can not do he just says i have all rights.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 17:18
  • and yes just like this image its just a physical image he wants me to scan.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 17:21

Any opinion on this forum is just an opinion, not a legal advice.

Are you on the legal department?

If you are, then, regardless he/she is your boss ask for the proper documentation and do your job.

If you are not, well he/she is your boss. Just design the proper stuff and prepare your next job/backup plan when the legal owners sue the company you work in.

Depending on the country they can get away with it or not. How to manipulate a photograph so that it becomes original artwork?

Try to send a memo to your legal department if you have one warning them to check the necessary permissions.

  • This sounds a lot like i was "superior orders defence" There is no way that it actually works
    – joojaa
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 18:10
  • im in California,all i really want to know is if i can have a written statement that can protect me so i can use or how much at fault will i be if i just do what he says. i just started to work in graphic design and im learning as i go. i don't want something like this to bite me in ass later in the future and prevent me form furthering my career.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 18:19
  • Short answer: depends on who/how much money/how dedicated anyone filing IP claims are to getting a resolution. My take as a designer is that one should avoid the risk; either by having such a caveat / disclaimer as already described, or by avoiding doing work you have reason to believe is in violation of another's IP rights. Morally too: if someone played fast and loose with your work, how would you feel about it, and how far might you go legally to defend it? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_infringement Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 18:28

First question. Are you employed by your boss and the company? Not 'freelance' but rather a full-time employee? If full-time then the fault would technically be on the company but you can possible be a fall guy and get fired. If freelance, then you can possible be sued as well.

Second are you documenting the conversation via email with him in regards to asking him if the images are legal to us and his responses? If you are, at least you have a little proof in the event they try to put on you. You're boss will totally cover his own ass if push came to shove. The email chain can stop that in its tracks.

This is by no means legal advice, just wisdom from previous jobs. Good luck!

  • 1
    yes im employed by my boss and most of the exchanges are face to face, but i will start with the emails because i can already see him covering his ass. and thank you for the advice i really appreciate it. this is my fist job as a designer so its an experience.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 17:37

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