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I'm a web developer for a small startup working with a team of about 8. Since I am considered a developer, I am typically discouraged from doing design work so I can focus on more technical issues. That said, I do have a strong background in design and, more importantly, can do a reverse image search.

One of our designers has been building a lot of logos lately and I started getting suspicious when they couldn't provide me with the raw vectors for their work. After doing a reverse image search, I discovered that the logo was blatantly copied from a major stock image site, but the colors had been changed. I did the same thing with most of their past logos, and sure enough they had all been copied with minor changes. Definitely still recognizable as the original image.

I brought this issue up with management, mentioning how this could lead to legal issues and it reflects poorly on my own work (since I am ultimately responsible for the web site). They said they would address the issue, but it's been 2 weeks and the issue has only gotten worse.

Given this situation, I have a couple questions:

  • What is the best way to address this issue with either management or the designer themselves.
  • Is there any way I can be held liable for these images?
  • Is it ethically sound to continue working for a company that feels comfortable stealing content?

EDIT: Just to clarify, I know that the licenses have not been properly purchased because I manage the certificates for our website. Any licenses would have to go through me for approval.

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    Have you told management this has continued? If they talked to the designer, it's been two weeks, and they haven't heard any feedback that it's continued, they may assume the talk worked and the designer has stopped. – Doyle Lewis Mar 25 '16 at 19:06
  • @DoyleLewis, That's a good point, I have not followed up. I guess I'm looking for advice on how to do that. I think that this is an ethical dealbreaker for me, but is that even worth bringing up with management? Should I just reiterate my previous concerns? – Robert Ingrum Mar 25 '16 at 19:09
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    Let them know it's ongoing, and ask if it's something you should continue to bring to their attention. That will at least let you know where they stand on the issue. – Doyle Lewis Mar 25 '16 at 19:11
  • Forget management, go to compliance. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 25 '16 at 19:22
  • "the logo was blatantly copied from a major stock image site" - if the design is accepted, how do you know he won't get the licensed versions. The copied version normally has a watermark on it, so you can evaluate the design. Then when it is finalised you buy the official version. What's wrong with that? – Brandin Mar 25 '16 at 19:24
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You have, if you're controlling the deployment of the work, a metaphorical bully pulpit. You can simply reject the logo on copyright grounds, and not put it on the site. Tell the designer that the work failed a copyright check, and they'll need to take it to management to get approval before it can be posted.

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    Couldn't agree more. It will sound like C-Y-A, but you don't want to be found the one with the signature under the deployment, when the copyright lawsuit hits. When management gives approval to this, you keep that document like you keep gold. – MelBurslan Mar 25 '16 at 20:19
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    @MelBurslan: This is a very good point, did not even think about the deployment. I just sent an email to management outlining my concerns and requesting explicit permission in writing for this and all previous works, so hopefully that will go a long way. – Robert Ingrum Mar 25 '16 at 20:28
  • This is the best resolution – Kilisi Mar 25 '16 at 20:50
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    Managers will sing a different tune once it involves a signature. – Nelson Apr 10 '16 at 18:02
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Whether you could be legally liable is a legal question, which wouldn't be answered here. But as a workplace question, you have a choice between assuming you can't be held liable, or you can, and I'd recommend the latter: Act as if you could personally be held liable. Especially since you personally know that a license is needed and hasn't been purchased.

The first problem is a designer not doing his job. Any halfway competent designer will either give you a design that they created themselves, or take a stock design, maybe modified, obviously in much shorter time, and tell you how to license it and how much it costs. What this designer did is absolutely not acceptable and could have got your company into big trouble.

The second problem is what to do about your website. You should first go to the person who can approve the license purchase and who can buy the license. If the license is purchased, that's that problem solved. If the license isn't purchased, the website doesn't get published, and you request a different logo from the designers. I suppose some designer would get into trouble about that, which would be well deserved.

  • Thank you so much for the response, I really appreciate it. I guess my fear is management responding that they don't care about the license. Is this valid grounds for refusing to put my name on it and not publishing? Obviously this wouldn't go over well, but the risk of dealing with legal is more important. – Robert Ingrum Mar 25 '16 at 23:01
  • @RobertIngrum It certainly seems like a valid reason for me, but you have to ask yourself if the potential risk (i.e. you being fired) is worth it. It's easy for us to say that you should take a hardline stance but we're not the ones paying your bills. – Lilienthal Mar 26 '16 at 15:52
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If management has not acted then this is a management issue.

Do you have legal liability since you manage the web site? That is a legal question. Do you have records the logos came from the designers.

If management does not care then I don't see how going to the designer would help.

If you refuse to post the content management may fire you or find another reason to fire you. Not saying that is likely just that it is a possibility.

Ethically sound is a value question. Do you as a person feel like you can work for a company that would avoid a licensing fee.

I just don't see the cost / benefit here as it just does not take that long to generate a logo nor that much money to just pay for it. It seems like the company should want original logos they can copyright.

  • Down vote may I ask what is the problem? – paparazzo Mar 26 '16 at 17:15

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