I work at a large, international company, with my office situated in northwestern Europe, and my manager has recently asked me to create a safety poster for use at my workplace. He also included some images he wanted to be on it, but I am hesitant to use them because the company does not have a licence for their use (he's basically found them on the internet and assumed that they are free to use for anyone).

Since the poster only will be used locally the chance to get caught is next to nil, and when asking my manager about my concerns about infringements on the creator's intellectual property, my concerns were dismissed "since noone will ever notice anyway" and "everybody does it". I agree with both these points, but I am still disappointed in the company as I expected them to hold themselves to a higher moral standard - and that they'd be pretty paranoid of any potentially illegal business their employees engage in.

I am hesitant to push the issue, as my initial concerns were ignored. But; is there a point in bringing it up again after it was dismissed the first time, and what would be the best approach to get my manager to listen to me?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:09
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    Did you try contacting the owners of the images and ask permission? Send a prototype of what you have in mind. If that doesn't work, I'd just interpret my boss's inclusion of images he wanted to be on the poster as an example of the type of image that they want and not the actual image. I'd then find or create similar images that don't violate anybody's copyright.
    – Dunk
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 17:38
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    "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 20:01
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    We can't answer whether there would be any point to trying. I suggest deleting that phrase and focusing on how to communicate the risk. Personally I'd suggest asking your legal department to help you emphasize that this is a bad idea ... Or potentially that it isn't, if the poster might qualify as fair use. I would definitely not proceed with images unless your manager instructs you to do so in writing, which he should be willing to do if he really believes this is OK. Finding unencumbered equivalent images us a much better idea.
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 3:51

7 Answers 7


Maybe your communication approach could be slightly different. Instead of just saying you're reluctant to use those pictures, try to provide a solution. "Is it OK if I use other slightly different images, especially ones which are free of rights?".

Since you have taken the responsibility to solve the problem you've presented, he might be more willing to accept that it is an issue rather than if you ask him to provide other images.

If that doesn't work, you can consider whether to just do as your manager wants and stop there or bring it up to an higher level if you're really concerned (with all the consequences that might have).

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    I think the solution of finding free use, or already licenced images and presenting them as an alternative is the best solution the OP can hope for. Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 13:56
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    @mikeazo - The OP has already been told to take company time to make the poster. Finding suitable images is part of that time.
    – BSMP
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 17:06
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    @Blackhawk - That would be veering off topic but if the OP works for a large, international company then their graphics group should already have a company account with a stock image service.
    – BSMP
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 17:08
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    This is pretty much the approach I ended up taking, and I've started looking around for some free images online (and in our company's gallery of stock photos). While it's taking a lot of time to find what I'm looking for, I think I'll be able to produce a result that will make my manager happy.
    – eirikdaude
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 20:13
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    +1. This is great advice in general too. Managers like it much more when you bring them a solution rather than bring them a problem.
    – Bamboo
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 4:36

Noone will ever notice anyway

Yes they will. The large stock libraries have to protect their investment, so they have crawling software that looks for their images. If your poster ever appears in a place where a search engine can find it, the stock libraries will eventually find a match.

everybody does it

No, they don't, and I know that your company does not agree with that standpoint.

You've done your due diligence. You have the opportunity to refuse to do the work (especially as your profile says who you work for and where...). If you decide to go ahead, you need to get your objections documented in writing - otherwise your boss will just say "No, I was never consulted on these images".

Bear in mind that if your poster is really good, it may be used elsewhere in the company, and could be seen by outsiders.

If you are forced to use this particular images by your boss, create a document for the poster showing all licensed material used (including fonts as well as images), and then contact your companies whistleblower line (the Alerline is confidential and anonymous).

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    Sure. "Can I get that in writing?" At that point you and your boss are probably both re-evaluating the employment relationship. Perhaps that is a good thing. Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 17:03
  • I don't think it even has to be addressed to the boss as such, but more a document showing the sources of material and a comment saying 'not licensed' next to the images, to show that the OP is aware of the issue and is highlighting it
    – PeteCon
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 18:07
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    @RobertHarvey I have an email exchange with him where I asked if he was sure that he wanted me to use these images, as I wasn't certain if the company had the legal right to use them. I think this will provide me with some legal cover. While it may not be waterproof, I hope I will not end up needing that insurance anyway, as I hope I can create something using material we have a legal right to use, which he deems acceptable. So in other words, I'll take the advice of some other answers here of providing a solution instead of a problem, and hope that he will accept that.
    – eirikdaude
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 20:18
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    I have a related question. In case they got caught and sued, who will get into legal trouble? OP, his boss, or the company?
    – user47813
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 8:54
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    @VarunAgw: Comments are not for questions. Please ask a new question (workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/ask) and link to this question.
    – raznagul
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 9:17

Most likely your concerns weren't heard the first time, because you presented a problem. But you were delegated a task to present a solution.

Presenting the same problem again will only make your boss mad.

Instead, find a solution. Find free images or find ones that cost money and ask your boss if he wants to spend the money instead. Present options leading to a solution. If your boss still chooses the cheap and illegal solution, make sure you get that in writing.

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    +1 for "in writing" - getting the boss to sign against your issues in your logbook (you DO keep a logbook of all your work, right?) will almost certainly deter him from his course of action, even though you are making no threat - simply covering your ass. And if I could, I'd give another +1 for the "solutions, not problems". I have found at work, that asking "Can I..." is way, WAY better than asking "How should I..." Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 3:07
  • No. The boss told the employee to break the law. It doesn't matter if the employee presented a problem - the reaction was to break the law. That's unacceptable and should be reported.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 17:53

Some answers already provide good solutions to mitigating/working around the problem of using illegal images, and the impact it may have on your company.

In addition to this, if you decide to just listen to your boss, here is the easiest way to cover your own ass:

  1. Make the poster
  2. Email it to him stating: Here is the poster with the images you suggested... General relevant stuff... Note that the image licenses should be considered before use.

Even if he ignores it, you can now defend yourself against anyone who later states that you should not have placed these images in a poster that got placed next to the coffee machine, or published in a magazine.

  • This is important, make sure that you have in writing that you object, so you are not left holding the bag.
    – Joeblade
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 10:56

I would not equate company policy with one manager's decision. The decision reflects your manager's sense of propriety, rather than company policy.

Is there a point in bringing it up again after it was dismissed the first time?

I would not. You already exercised due diligence by bringing up your concern to your superior, which was the right thing to do. And in this case, the only thing to do. Going above and beyond that can easily backfire, as your manager might perceive any further escalation on your part as indication of insubordination and lack of confidence in his judgment. This is a classic case of the issue just not being worth it.

What would be the best approach to get my manager to listen to me?

The best approach is for you to gain a better understanding of what types of issues your manager listens to (cares about), and not to waste your or his time with other stuff. I realize this might sound a bit harsh, but really, this is probably in your best interest.

Rather than trying to change the manager (good luck!), spend time learning about his priorities, personality, and what workplace issues are mostly on his mind and tend to get the most traction with him. Focus your attention and effort on addressing those issues, and you will get on the same page with your manager. Good luck!

  • I disagree with this answer - "This is a classic case of the issue just not being worth it." When are personal ethics ever just not worth it? Until we all stand up for what's right in this world it will continue being unethical, violent, etc. Standing idly by is not the answer.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 17:50
  • I fully agree that personal ethics must not be jeopardized in any setting, including workplace. Although the manager's justification is improper, the images are used for internal communication for non-commercial purposes, possibly falling within fair use guidelines. The employee could also easily compromise by adding a small attribution/copyright note to the poster under the image.My main point is that the issue appears trivial enough to have simple solutions that do not require escalation or taking up additional time or effort.My guess is all parties involved have more important things to do.
    – A.S
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 19:14

At this point, bringing it up again, will not change the outcome, unless you are planning to go above your boss' head and report him for illegal use of intellectual property to your ethics department, if you have one or legal department may be. But be prepared to take all the nastiness that will come from it. Is your job (i.e. money) or your moral compass more important to you. This is the decision you need to make.

Of course there is another sly method you can employ, by finding the intellectual property owner, letting him or her know what's happening (or even better after it happened) but, since you brought this issue up in the past, I am pretty sure the fingers will point to you even if they may not have any substantiating evidence that you are the cause of this legal headache.

So, if you have high morals and ready to give up your livelihood for them, go right ahead and report your manager to proper places up in your company chain of command or some intellectual property protection organizations and the creator of these images. If you value making a living more, then be a good soldier and march on with the orders. Maybe someone else brings this up to clear your conscience in the future. Unfortunately, the management inmost major organizations, is not as ethical as one might expect, I came to realize.

  • "by finding the intellectual property owner" - If you can contact the owner, you could always just request permission to use. If given, then there is no problem. If not given, then you can present the denied request to your boss along with alternative images to use. There is still the chance to get reprimanded, but at least you both 1) did the ethical thing and 2) did not get your boss in trouble. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 17:46

the poster only will be used locally the chance to get caught is next to nil

This (above) is your own statement. Given that you brought this up to your manager and knew of its lack of value, you're only going to give your manager the impression that you're obnoxious if you keep pushing on him.

You can go to your boss, HR, senior management, the law, or whoever you like, and count on being dismissed again. It'd be a poor career choice, because people will start to see you like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". How do you bring it up again? You shouldn't.

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    This could have been communicated in a manner that was much more professional that would have had a greater impact. Right now it reads like a bully just wants to back up another bully. Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 17:18
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    For some of us, ethics of private actions are quite significant.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 18:48
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    @BenVoigt What exactly are the ethics at play here? A safety poster for private/internal use with no commercial gain.
    – Shiv
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 1:28
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    @codenoir not when the value you're imposing on others is "obey the law". Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 3:53
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    @Shiv: First, commercial use isn't limited to "the product or service offered for sale" -- it can include anything done to support the operation of a for-profit company. Secondly, not everyone agrees that you have the right to do whatever you please with the work of others just as long as it is in a non-commercial capacity.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 6:37

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