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I've recently moved to freelance from being a full-time employee at a creative firm. Since I quit, I've decided to avoid burning bridges and keep a healthy, working relationship with them. In fact, I'm still doing some work with the creative firm, but only as a freelancer. In order to launch my personal website, I need to have some projects to display. I decided to show my previous employer the content I prepared for my website before I launched it to avoid future conflict. While their reaction certainly wasn't angry, they didn't want me to display any previous projects I did with them on my website even after making obvious mention of them and linking back to their website. They did say that I can show potential clients the work I did with them privately, but not directly display it on my website.

Since this discussion, they have let me at least attempt to portray those projects in a different light and if they still don't approve then I have said I would take the projects down permanently. Do I have any claim to the work I put in if I provide proper documentation of what I did and did not do? If I have any right to display some of the work I did for them on my website, is there a proper and appropriate way to do this?

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I think this requires more context. If what you worked on was some public website or service that is currently live, then in general (and if no other agreements/mitigating factors apply) there should not be issues with you discussing your role in it. If, on the other hand, you were working with a startup to produce the next-big-thing and they're still in super-secret stealth mode, then it's understandable why they would not want you mentioning them/their project.

Furthermore, your contract/terms of employment are likely relevant to this issue. Did they require that you sign an NDA? Many employers will. And if they did then you may well be legally prohibited from mentioning the project or your role in it. Conversely, if they didn't and there were no similar conditions in your contract, then they have no real legal grounds for preventing you from discussing your involvement. If you have any doubts take your contract to a lawyer and see what they have to say on the subject.

But to further muddy the waters, even if you are not under NDA, as a general rule you cannot use their trademarks or graphic resources without their consent. So if they wanted, they could potentially prevent you from mentioning their specific product name/brand/trademark, and from using any images/logos/screenshots/etc. on your site. You may be able to argue these points under fair-use, on a point-by-point basis, but probably you'd rather not go down that road.

Finally, a lot of the value in having a portfolio comes from having the references, not just from having the projects. And if a company that you worked for does not want you mentioning its project on your website and you do it anyways, you can be reasonably certain that they will not give you a glowing recommendation if anyone contacts them for a reference. So in that light it is almost certainly better to do what it takes to keep them happy rather than to push the issue and end up referring your prospective clients to a company that's just going to trash your good name.

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