I'm an employed graphic designer. I did illustrations, branding and prototyping for my employer. I'm aware that without a specific contract, whatever work is done by a salaried designer, is the company's property.

Hence, I want to ask my employer to permit me to use and publish the works I did for them in my portfolio since it was not covered in the contract. My employer is willing too to give permission if I draft the permission letter because they don't have any special way of their own to do it.

But my question is how do I ask, "see these particular works were done by me and I'm going to use them as such and with such wording. Give me permission." How do I mention those specific works in paper in the permission letter? And how do I say see I'm going to present them like this?

Email is a way, then I can attach the works. But any way to do this on paper?

  • Why would you work without right to say you did the work? Anyway whet right you have depends on locale you are in. In many places you have a right to use the stuff in your portfolio regardless.
    – joojaa
    Sep 18, 2018 at 13:31
  • @joojaa I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean exactly. My contract didn't have anything related to me using the works. I read any work done under employment is the emoloying company's property. And I did work without a doubt in mind about this missing part in contract. But they are willing to give permission to publish the works too. So I need to figure out how to get it.
    – Bluebug
    Sep 18, 2018 at 13:36
  • @joojaa Just read the local laws about copyright. And it says, However, for works made in the course of an author's employment under a "contract of service" or apprenticeship, the employer is considered as the first owner of copyright, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary. So basically I still need to ask for permission.
    – Bluebug
    Sep 18, 2018 at 13:51
  • 2
    You're just adding them to your portfolio, not selling it; it's just to show that you worked on it. Usually it's not a case to have a permission written down, unless it's some top-secret project or explicit stated "you have to ask for permission to showcase it in your portfolio". As long as you don't claim copyright on it, should be fine.
    – Luciano
    Sep 18, 2018 at 14:03
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    you cabn not just read the law from one point you need to read the entire relevant section many jurisdictions say that but then proceed to give lots and lots of exceptions also what actually is considered copyrightable is of merit. Yes there is a loophole in copyright regarding this you can have something copyrighted if its copyriggtable somewhere on the globe but you can not transfer it over unless its copyrightable under your law.
    – joojaa
    Sep 18, 2018 at 14:48

2 Answers 2


I don't think it's overly complicated. You could easily write up something which states they give you permission. You don't need some huge contract or anything.

[Your name] has permission to display work created while under the employment of [Company name] for the purpose of a design portfolio.

At no time is work be resold, repurposed, or redistributed. Permission is given to merely display, in print and web form, completed projects which [your name] is responsible for overall visual design.

Permission is granted to display the following design projects:
- Client Z Branding
- Client Y Tri-fold [product] brochure
- Client X Illustration of [subject]
- Client W [application] User interface
- Client V Website Interface

Authorized Signature _____________________________ Date _____________

Traditionally, even in work-for-hire situations (employment) you do still have the right to use things in a portfolio as 'fair use" unless they've specifically made things "confidential" or you are under a non-disclosure agreement as well.

If you are under a confidentiality agreement or NDA, then you may need to list the exact projects they are giving permission to display - but I am not a lawyer and if such an agreement exists, without knowing what it states, I'm speculating based upon my own experience with NDAs.

You could ask over at http://law.stackexchange.com , but they won't give direct legal advice and this question really kind of comes close to that (i.e. an actual lawyer may not answer it).

  • 3
    Great answer. I'd just add to keep communication open with your employer. Sometimes confidentiality and non-disclosure are required because a project isn't released yet. You might be able to put it in your portfolio but at a later date. I would double check with them before displaying anything in public if you have any hesitation, to ensure you don't put yourself in bad standing with them. Also be sure to state the employer's name as well and which part of the work you've worked on.
    – curious
    Sep 18, 2018 at 14:34
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    @Bluebug I really don't think you need a lawyer here. As Emilie posted, you merely need to openly communicate with your employer. If you want to display a project, ask about it first -- "Is it okay to display this in my portfolio?" -- if the answer is "no" or "I'd rather you not" then don't argue about it and respect that. Although you aren't technically bound by an NDA if you haven't signed one, employment does mean the employer actually owns everything you do. So just as you'd ask to use my pencil... just ask to use their designs, that's all.
    – Scott
    Sep 18, 2018 at 14:40
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    If you have specific projects you've done you'd like to use, then list those in the agreement. That will make the employer feel more comfortable since the agreement isn't so "open ended" and they are granting permission for a specific list of projects. In 3/6 months.. make another list for new projects with a permission form... etc.
    – Scott
    Sep 18, 2018 at 14:41
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    is @Bluebug lawyers are contrary to popular belief not expensive when it comes to thigs like this. Many of them will charge you very reasonably.
    – joojaa
    Sep 18, 2018 at 14:42
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    Sure. The important factor is that both you and your employer clearly know what is being referenced and there's no confusion over which illustrations they are giving permission to display.
    – Scott
    Sep 18, 2018 at 17:07

Unless the work you are doing is super secret, any work you do for anyone anywhere—even if they “own” it—can be used by you for self-promotional purposes in a portfolio.

When you say this:

“Hence, I want to ask my employer to permit me to use and publish the works I did for them in my portfolio…”

You are being overly submissive to your employer. Especially when you say this:

“I'm aware that without a specific contract, whatever work is done by a salaried designer, is the company's property.”

Yes, the design work you did is their property. But that is simply a copyright/trademark concern. Unless you plan on mimicking the company you work for online or in print, you are overthinking this.

The only case where you might need explicit permission from an employer is if you signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) when you were hired. An NDA basically states you work for XYZ company and the details of your work cannot be disclosed by you for any reason.

That said, NDAs are fairly common to the point of uselessness and overly restrictive for cases like portfolios.

For example, I work as web developer. I have signed NDAs with many employers. But my online portfolio still highlights work I did for them. How can I do that? Simple! I’m not revealing deep code or system specifics which is what the goal of these NDAs are in my case.

In general, I believe that you are really overthinking this for a portfolio. I mean you realize pretty much any work anyone presents in online portfolios is work done for other clients and I am fairly confident 99.9% of these people did not ask their clients for permission? Because it is automatically assumed you will use your work to build your portfolio.

Now yes, there are cases where companies like Apple and Google might not want you to even acknowledge that you work for them, but that is a draconian extreme.

  • 1
    Yes I haven't signed any NDA or NC clauses but the employer says we have to in future as they are still developing that contract..
    – Bluebug
    Sep 19, 2018 at 3:37
  • @Bluebug Well, that stinks and seems silly. But you know, happy you understand my PoV on this. Sep 19, 2018 at 9:06
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    Yeah and since I asked them about it (mistakenly), the employer thinks it's the standard way to do it and I can't undo it now. So I think I should have them sign the paper just.
    – Bluebug
    Sep 19, 2018 at 14:11

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