I've just lost my job and I did not manage to copy my design work from the company's computer. I am aware that the employer is the rightful owner of work I have done during my time with the company, but what about:

  • concepts, research, ideas (in any form), I collected for unpublished work or for personal enrichment;

  • obtaining digital copies of my work so I can add to my portfolio.

What are my rights?

Many thanks,


  • this depends on what your contract has stated and what you agreed to. Have you asked if you could use them?
    – user9447
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 16:08
  • @Darth_Vader I realize it is possible, but I never had a "contract" in an employment situation.
    – Scott
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 16:11
  • Duplicate of this: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/55201/… and possibly this graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/1708/…
    – go-junta
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 21:05
  • @scott there's usually always a contract upon signing of offer letter--though it may not actually say anything about this topic.
    – DA01
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 23:03
  • 1
    Which jurisdication are we talking about? US? Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 12:44

4 Answers 4


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.

Even if something is unused, if it was created for the employer or at the urging of the employer it is theirs.

In terms of digital copies, that's to be negotiated between you and the employer. They are under no obligation to provide you with anything. (Most don't have an issue with this though -- unless the separation was on very bad terms.)

  • It's usually implied that you retain the right to show sample work as yours in a portfolio, though.
    – DA01
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 23:04

Its going to be hard to answer this question because we do not know the details of your contract/employment. If you have left on bad terms you would hard pressed to be allowed to use the designs as a portfolio piece. If you do plan to use anything you did for the company as work you performed you could get hit with a cease and desist letter, the company complain to your domain hosting if you're hosting it and it will be up to the hosting company to shut down your site.

Hopefully if you left on good terms I would consult with your higher up such as the art director or lead designer and request to use them in your portfolio. Sometimes they will allow this but require you to watermark the work with the company logo or say you did X at company Y. Each is different.

Again all this depends on what you agreed to. The company has the deciding factor here. Even if you do not have a contract in your terms of hiring there may be a clause that outlines what you can and cant do with work you've touched. The best thing you can do is ask before doing unless you rather do and suffer the outcome.

In regards to concepts, research, ideas (in any form), I collected for unpublished work or for personal enrichment

It may belong to the company. Depending on the company some have in the hiring process that all intellectual property belongs to the company. Again, we do not have all the details so we are not going to be able to give you a sound answer to solve your issue.


Unless explicitly stated in your contract that you can't show the work you did in your portfolio, it's usually implied you can.

Ideally, as you've learned, you want to be collecting these artifacts while employed.

If you don't have them k now, your options:

  • ask your old employer if you can have copies (easier to do if you left on good terms)

  • ask an ex coworker (this can put them in an awkward spot, though.)

  • do nothing and chalk it up to a life lesson.


For the rights, you can have a look at this question, it has already been answered:

Who owns authorship when an employee makes a design for their employer?

For the solutions:

Your situation is not worse than someone who lost his/her hard disk. You won't find back all your research but that's only important if you want to apply fora position of Art Director, for example. A portfolio usually contain the final files; you can explain your research if you're asked to explain it. You shouldn't use the material you have on research for your next jobs.

Depending on the work you did, here are some options:

  • For websites, you can simply take screenshots of the website as it's hosted now. If it was changed a lot, check the Internet Archives
  • For logos and some graphical elements, you can also go look at the websites of the clients you worked for while being employed
  • For the brochures and flyers, if you worked locally, you can simply visit the places of the these clients and get a copy of the flyers OR you can also look online, sometimes the flyers and brochures are available as digital files
  • For billboard, posters or packaging, go take a picture of the product
  • To find some stuff online, you can also use keywords of the company you worked for; sometimes the private data in the PDF are still there, and they're searchable in Google. Clients usually don't remove these data, maybe you can find previous samples of your work

Yes the employer owns the rights of the work, but if you use it for a portfolio, that's almost as changing the lyrics of a song for a private birthday party. If you had no specification in your contract to NOT use the projects you worked on in your portfolio, then it shouldn't be an issue. And if it becomes an issue, you will be warned and you can then simply stop using these examples of your work.

And by the law usually, the person who interview you cannot tell to the previous employer personal stuff about you and cannot ask much more than "was he/she a good employee". So in a way you are protected by this, they can't share much info, in theory.

The only thing your ex-employer can do if he gets mad for using pieces of your work for a portfolio is to first send you a cease and desist letter. Then sue you if he knows you still use "his" stuff after asking you not to. If you get warned, simply stop.

Legally, there's not much risks involved, and in fact you are not doing anything illegal unless you signed a contract with specification about this.

Using your work for portfolio is very different from reselling it and frankly I don't think your ex-employer would go as far as causing you trouble for this.

By the way, you don't need 30 examples in your portfolio. You only need to show 10-15 good ones (10 is usually enough.)

Maybe it's easier to simply rebuild a portfolio using some old projects and adding new ones. Don't feel too attached to your old projects; you could always explain your situation to the person who will interview you. Frankly I wouldn't even bother mentioning this to the next employer, that looks very bad... just get to work and prepare new designs better than the last ones and gather what you can with the tricks mentioned above!

And of course if you can simply ask the ex-employer, that's really the easiest way to do this! Don't involve other co-workers, it's a very bad idea. They have no rights and responsibilities in this, and that's very close to stealing.

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