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So I've had about the worst client I've ever had. Politician doesn't understand how art or design works. Doesn't think she should have to pay artists but agreed to pay me for my work. Thinks all of her ideas are the best and is mad no one thinks on her level. That kind of thing.

This job started off as a quick favor to my friend who is the Campaign Manager she was having difficulties with the design. I made it and they liked it. From there they started critiquing like crazy and asking for a flyer and a mailer which is when I said I'd need to be paid for my work if this is turning into a job rather than a quick favor for a friend. They agreed and paid me for all three things for a flat rate. more requests came in and I filled them. It got to the point where no one was communicating directly to me and changes were being made in a sporadic amount of texts to me. I asked for email communications with the Politician since nothing I finished with her campaign manager seemed to please her fully.

She just wouldn't answer me. I felt disrespected. I had to practically beg her not to do certain things to hurt the designs. For another month this goes on and I've made almost double the amount of projects and triple the time spent since my first payment. One day I start getting all these texts at work (the first time she ever really spoke directly to me and not through someone else) asking me to design her a billboard within an hour or two. I then told her I'd be sending her another bill and that I'd like to start a better billing format. I wanted to secure my second payment before doing any further work especially because she wanted 2 double-sided new mailers that same day. She replied a short "fine" and didn't not reply again. I sent the invoice and said I would work on the billboard as it was a time issue. After seeing the price was double what she paid me before (because I'd done about 10 hours extra work) she started arguing. Now this was a measly 400$ bill where I even gave her the numbers I was sort of working with the hash that bill out. So she tells me to stop working on the billboard and that the company will finish it. Fine with me. She then asks me to take the billboard out of that price. I tell her no thats not in that price. That's for everything else I've done for you. The billboard would have been on the next bill same with the 2 new mailers. (Previously I had made her one of those mailers but she decided suddenly she didn't want it and was appalled that I would dare to still charger her for it if she wasn't going to use it) After some arguing I agreed to work on the two mailers with no additional pay. This was mostly for my friends sake who I just wanted to see end this campaign. However they still did not cut me my check. What gets worse is that the prompt for the mailer was not given to me until late that night and she needed both the next morning. I tried to work with her wordy scribbled drawing that I was sent to copy. I ended up taking out an incredibly blurry and yellow photo sending her copies of what it looked like and explaining why I re-worded or deleted some things. No response as usual. Until the next day when I had a prior engagement at 3pm. I sent her my final for only the first mailer (I never received anything for the second) As I'm in the car heading to my destination I get many messages saying how I deleted something crucial (weird seeing as it was scrawled hazardously under some other text) She was upset because of the mailing deadlines however she did not pay the printer and thus that gave us until the next day to complete the project. She started demanding my project files and I told her no that it would be completed that night and mailed out tomorrow. She then stole what I had of my design gave it to the printer who then copied it and made a second (mudslinging ad she was told not to do) mailer (which also had the wrong date on it) and had it sent out for the entirety of their budget. I'm not kidding. She argued with her Treasurer for every cent they had so she could rush order my stolen design and something with mistakes on it to print and mail. I still have not received my payment. She is refusing to let the Treasure send me my check. She says I should discount her on the mailers since they were never completed in time. I told her that that bill was for the rest of the work I've completed time after time. I have the hard copy of the stolen design since it was accidentally mailed to me. I refuse to lower the bill anymore than its lowered. What options do I have? Is small claims an option or even worth it?

  • This story sounds SOOOOO familiar...! – Digital Lightcraft May 22 '17 at 9:31
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    Do not vote for this person. Support the opposition! – Silly-V May 22 '17 at 21:01
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I'm not really certain this is a fitting question for this Stack. It's really more of a rant about a bad client than anything else. A few tips to perhaps help a bit (some may sting a bit).

  • Is there a contract? I'm guessing there is not. You should always have some form of written agreement, no matter how informal it may be that at the very least states you own everything until payment in full is received. And after payment what the client actually owns. This, of course, in addition to other details regarding the client relationship you require. (Such as no native file delivery) Without this in writing there is no actual agreement between the two parties and everything comes down to "he said/she said".
  • You caused this. You are the professional here. It's up to you to slow people down if not stop them dead in their tracks. When you get text after text after text with deadlines, especially unrealistic deadlines, it's up to you to put the brakes on and tell others what you demand for a good client relationship. Any failure to do this means they will just walk all over you, as you are experiencing. Every client wants things for free and as fast as they can get them. And I do mean every client. As the professional it's part of your job to manage expectations not just push a mouse around.
  • Never agree to any work without approval of a price in writing agreed to prior to starting the work. Email and texts are fine, but get approval first. If you get a text .... "I need a billboard designed by tomorrow" ... You reply with "I can do that for $xxx.xx. However, I can't get you a design until XXXX." From there, it's a matter of negotiation. If they agree, you have approval in writing. If they counter then it's up to you to determine what you can live with. The only clients I will just do whatever they ask are clients I've had for 10+ years and they are fully aware than I bill for everything and they understand my rates. New clients should never be treated this way, ever.
  • You are wise to stop working until you get payment. Do not be swayed from that position. As mentioned above, you should never have started any work without discussing payment.
  • Realize this client will most likely just go find someone else they can take advantage of and never pay you if possible.
  • Stolen designs; ouch... it hurts, but this is what bad clients do. Without a contract in place it's your word against hers and court is really your only viable option. (However, for a politician a local news outlet may be interested in the story. It won't get you paid and may cause some bad word of mouth for you, but if you the sort that seeks vindication, well....)
  • Small claims: Realize that no small claims court will actually collect any money for you. All court does is give you legal standing to pursue collection tactics (liens, garnishments, etc). You will still be responsible for collecting any money even if you were to win. Of course, defaulting on a judgment can carry other punitive consequences. So there's some additional incentive for whoever loses to pay.

Ultimately it's your choice what you do.

Only you can determine if the amount of your losses are worth the time and effort it would take to try and get compensated. By all means, look into small claims if you are so inclined... even file a case. There's no telling what the reaction may be. You may get offered a settlement before ever going to court. On the other hand, you may lose any court case because there's no actual agreement. So it is entirely possible you spend money and time to file a claim.. and lose.

Chalk this up to a learning experience and make a better attempt at getting pricing approval before doing any work in the future. And slow down those rapid fire clients. They don't understand what you need until you tell them and stick to it.

It's all too easy to get swept up in the (often frantic) emotions of some clients. It takes practice to learn to detach and remain calm and collected in the face of a client who seems exasperated, and haggard, because they've failed to plan for a looming deadline. An "emergency" on their part does not mean it constitutes and "emergency" on your part. Don't ever try to pull off what you know is impossible. You just set yourself up for failure. There will be other work and other clients.

(For what it's worth, my experience tells me politicians and realtors can be among the most difficult clients. They often fail to place any value on the work of a designer.)

  • Which is slightly surprising as those areas get more value form graphic design than your average small business. – joojaa May 22 '17 at 6:54
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    I agree. Treat this as a learning experience. As frustrating, and unfair as it is, paradoxically you only have yourself to blame. Harsh, but true. – mayersdesign May 22 '17 at 7:42
  • "Quick favor to a friend" can easily turn bad. Learn from this and move on. – Lucian May 22 '17 at 7:59
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I realize this is a stale question but for the benefit of those how might come across this question and prior answer via a search I'll correct some misstatements.

First, if you are operating as an independent contractor without a written agreement explicitly stating the work will be "made for hire", as you've described here, you ALWAYS own the copyright to any work you've done unless you have signed a separate written agreement assigning ownership of the copyright to the client. The client's use, if they paid, would be an implied license based on your agreement (oral/text/informal written.) So, when the client refuses to pay you, their contract claim to a license disappears due to their material breach of the agreement.

Therefore, any use of that design is copyright infringement. Why is this important? The federal copyright statute provides for statutory damages, i.e., damages that are unrelated to the profit the copyright holder would have made on the sales. The statutory damages range from $750-$30,000 per work and can be increased to as much as $150,000 in cases of willfull infringement. Furthermore, the statute also allows for a court to award attorney's fees in addition to the statutory damages.

Thus, that $400 the politician refuses to pay can could cost her up to $150,000 plus attorney's fees if she uses the design even once. Each new use, i.e., billboard, then mailer, then 2nd mailer, could each be another $150,000. So, when the campaign refuses to pay, you are in a VERY strong negotiating position, which is further strengthened by her time constraints. Have you ever heard of a rush job costing less money? Ask a plumber how much less he'll charge on a holiday or weekend... When someone needs something right now, you can demand much better terms - like more money and payment up front of a retainer that is applied against your hourly rate. That ensures you get paid for at least some of your work.

One more thing, you have three years to bring a law suit for copyright infringement, so you could still sue the politician based on the timing of this question. I'd be glad to discuss the issue further with you directly, and my contact info can be found in my profile.


Note:

I'm referring to US law, specifically 17 U.S.C. sec. 504 for statutory damages, sec. 505 for attorneys fees, and section 507 for the statute of limitations

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    Welcome to GD.SE! Can you update your wonderful answer with some country/other context for the numbers and examples you use? – Ovaryraptor Jun 4 '18 at 15:38
  • I'm referring to US law, specifically 17 U.S.C. sec. 504 for statutory damages, sec. 505 for attorneys fees, and section 507 for the statute of limitations. As for ownership of a copyright, the default under the Act is that the author of the work owns the work. The two primary exceptions are where the work is created by an employee in the course of their employment, or where an independent contractor agrees in writing that the work will be a "work made for hire." In those cases the employer/client owns the copyright. – KDavis Jun 4 '18 at 16:12
  • Thanks! I've added that information to your answer as well. – Ovaryraptor Jun 4 '18 at 16:17

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