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I worked for a tea shop as a tea barista and on the side have done projects that was not stated in my work contract (ie. packaging labels, menu, product photography). All was well until my access was suddenly revoked from our shared folder a day before I was handed a termination letter without warning. This meant that I have no access to my all my raw files, photos, etc. Do I have the right to ask for these files back and that they stop using any of my work in the store? I never signed any contract releasing rights to my work.

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As they stated in another thread:

In a work-for-hire situation (as an employee) you are not seen as an independent entity and you retain nothing which was create during your employment.

Nevertheless, you can try to negotiate access to digital copies of the work, in order for you to use, but still the ownership remains in favor of your former employer and it depends on them to grant access or not.

  • Even if I was never formally hired to do graphic design work? – babyGroot Mar 21 '18 at 6:54
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Clearly you have reasons to take this personally, but the fact probably is the employer has every right to own and use the work. You worked for him serving drinks and that was the scope of the job (apparently under a contract), then there was this spoken (not written) arrangement that you could also do some design work which the employer presumably paid for.

This has been discussed here before (see the comments below your answer), but generally without a written contract for that specific service, the entity paying for the work will own the work. I would just let it go.

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What would help if you listed in what country you work.

In Poland your employer have property right to all things you create ONLY if you were hired to create those things (exactly like a programmer). So if contract of employment don't mention such creative work everything done out of scope should be requested by writing. WITH extra "Contract of work" that state what work is ordered and how the copyright are handled. In case of such contract not been made only the author have property and authorship rights to such works.

But again - this is in Poland.

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Contrasting Opinion

Assumption: United States jurisdiction and laws.

Even in cases where the previous employer retains full rights due to "work-for-hire" status, it's both common practice and largely accepted under law that "fair use" does indeed include use of otherwise copyrighted works in portfolios for self-promotion, hiring and so on.

See link below from Graphic Designers Guild on this topic:

https://graphicartistsguild.org/tools_resources/fair-use-or-infringement

Further, I would look at this explanation from a copyright attorney for clarification - she covers your situation pretty clearly:

https://www.owe.com/resources/legalities/4-what-is-work-made-for-hire/

The bottom line is that you would have a decent case were you to wish to spend the money for an attorney, and might indeed prevail in court given time, money and dedication; the reality is that the material costs and time involved typically preclude most designers taking this route.

I strongly advise a brief consultation with a local copyright attorney, who knows your specific local laws and courts, as they can best advise you on cost/benefits: many will sit an initial consultation for a small fee, some may even do that first consultation gratis.

Please note I am not a lawyer, and do not play one on TV: I am a multi-decade illustrator and graphic designer, freelancing in most cases but not all, and have trod these roads before.

Good luck; as a takeaway, I'll add one last thought: this is one overweeningly strong argument for always retaining electronic copies of native files of your own work.

Argument and litigation about ownership and usage is rendered far more fraught when literal possession is at issue: if you do go ahead, have a good attorney, and make significant progress in court, it will no doubt occur to your previous employer pretty quickly that all they need do is "accidentally" delete those files, or have an "unexpected computer crash" which somehow foozles the HD and the issue simply... goes away.

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