I’ve recently had a ‘falling out’ with a family friend and also client. I’ve been designing for her for about 2 years and I already have an online portfolio made (including some designs she hasn’t used). There was no contracts involved. I was simply helping a friend. But she was aware in the beginning that I was building a portfolio. (I know, stupid mistake! I’m obviously still learning)

Now she’s requesting that I no longer use anything I’ve made for her in my portfolio. Does she have that right?

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    – Vincent
    Jun 14, 2018 at 9:56
  • She cannot in the slightest stop you - her position is totally ridiculous. Just politely ignore her.
    – Fattie
    Jun 14, 2018 at 23:55

3 Answers 3


I'm assuming you're in the US, and I am not a lawyer.

Short answer is that unless you have a contract specifically stipulating that the client gets the copyright when the work is complete, they don't own it, you do.

So I think she can't stop you.

See also: https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2014/06/06/what-if-client-forbids-you-including-something-your-portfolio/

But consider that potential clients may reach out to her to find out if she had a good experience with you. After a falling out and a specific request not to use the work in your portfolio I can't imagine that conversation going your way.

  • 1
    I would add the suggestion to edit and anonymize any portfolio items related to the problem client and put it in a "Concepts/Doodles" category. This will prevent a potential client from contacting a bad reference and let's OP keep the work in their portfolio.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jun 14, 2018 at 17:02
  • 1
    @MonkeyZeus With the added benefit of OP having now lied about the source of the material Jun 14, 2018 at 18:26

The issues with this situation are the "personal favor" approach with your client and that there is nothing in writing. The latter actually benefits you as the creator of the work:

When you create artwork of any kind, the copyright law automatically makes you the owner of a copyright of that work. Whether you create it first and sell it later or whether you create it for a client, unless you are an employee, you start out as the owner of the copyright. As the owner of the copyright you have control of five things that can be done with the work.

  • You control reproductions of the work.
  • You control derivative works made from the work.
  • You control display and exhibition of the work.
  • You control public performance of the work.
  • You control distribution of the work.

Source - Graphic Artists Guild, To Sell or to Rent: The Difference Between Copyright License and Transfer

Since there is nothing specifically stated contractually to prove otherwise, you legally own the right to the disputed artwork.

On the personal aspect of this case, I'd say you have a professional choice to make regarding the this situation. If I may speculate, it sounds like the falling out was ugly and your ex-client/friend is just trying to be spiteful about it. My advice would be to take the high road and move on. The sad truth is this most likely won't be the last time you run into this problem and it's never fun to cut work out of your portfolio for reasons outside of your control. But sometimes it makes more sense to cut your losses and focus on developing your skills and professionalism. It'll make you a better designer and person in the long run. (Caveat: I'm not a lawyer or a therapist, just speaking from experience)


If there wasn't a contract, which specifies that you can't put works which you created for her to your portfolio/website, there is no problem.

I have a similar problem in my company, which produces a lot of things made of steel. My job is to first create of a 3D model of a prototype, when a new thing is going to the market. Of course, I also have a portfolio and I was uploading this "prototypes" as well. My boss took me to his office and said that he know about my portfolio and demand to delete all of his company's prototypes. I said that there was no point in the contract saying I can't do that sort of thing.

But in the end, I agree. Of course - for a better payment. Because this is violation of what you are doing in the free time.

  • Just note though that you are an employee - for the OP she has total freedom.
    – Fattie
    Jun 14, 2018 at 23:55
  • Please note: Copyright regarding physical goods is really limited. As in nonexistent, releasing these will in fact disqualify for patents. Patents being the IP of manufacthuring side. So not only is this different its way worse considering your industry so be very careful about who you show these. Yes a portfolio for yourself is fine.
    – joojaa
    Jun 15, 2018 at 8:17

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