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I am in the interview process for a new company. They asked me to create a sample advertisement for their product before my interview. They loved what I did, but I'm a terrible interviewer so they were still on the fence and have asked me to create another piece for them.

Is there any risk that they may take my work and use it anyway?

Clarifying sub-questions because, of course, this is a literal possibility: What actions could I take should my design for them be stolen? (I'm in the USA) What should I do in the future to prevent similar work from being stolen?

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    it's very unlikely they would use it, with designs I actually care about I watermark them, could still be copied, but at least they'd have to put some effort into it. – Kilisi Sep 18 '16 at 20:32
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Is there any risk that they may take my work and use it anyway?

Sure.

enter image description here

But it rarely makes sense. Think about it, interviewing is an expensive process that takes a lot of resources, and it's very rare that something like this would actually be a good use of time or money. It would be much more effective to post for contract-gigs on any number of sites.

Clarifying sub-questions because, of course, this is a literal possibility: What actions could I take should my design for them be stolen? (I'm in the USA)

You could sue them, but that's probably a bad idea. (Expensive, time-consuming, difficult to prove, and would ruin your reputation.) It's one of those things in life where you simply have very little recourse.

What should I do in the future to prevent similar work from being stolen?

Nothing. You could copyright it, watermark it etc., but back to the previous question, it's going to cost more than it's worth to try to enforce, and people who sue prospective employers have a hard time getting job offers. Often in life, there's just nothing you can do about getting screwed over. This is one of those things. Better to just approach it on the assumption of good-faith and not waste you time and money on the things you can't do anything about.

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Well, I've seen this one up-close, but was not directly involved. Here's what I learned:

  1. Yes, there is a risk your work will be stolen. I saw someone produce a "music bed" (custom music composition) for an advertisement as a demo piece. The ad agency and the production company (who I worked for) stole it and used it.
  2. Yes, the risk is significant. You did this for an advertising division or agency? Congrats, you're in one of the sleazier areas of our society. Don't expect decency to count for anything (again, personal experience).
  3. Don't worry about it. In the scenario I saw, the agency wanted a 60 second version of the 30 second demo piece for a radio campaign. Needless to say, the composer wasn't too keen on doing another free job. Eventually the agency and company had to come clean with the client about what happened, and they lost the contract.

You're probably in an even better position, as you presumably have an email exchange with design direction. If it were to be stolen and used, lawyers will be lining up to represent your civil case.

Assuming you do want to prepare the second piece, make sure it is watermarked so that it cannot be used commercially, and be sure to include verbiage with it similar to:

The supplied materials and their constituent elements are for evaluation purposes only. No release of copyright or intellectual property rights shall are expressed nor shall they be inferred. Absolutely no commercial use is authorized, and this material may not be presented to any third parties or represented as the work product of anyone except the original artist."

Not that it would stop anyone who is intent on stealing, but it will put you on solid legal ground if they do.

  • They sound really dumb. The obvious solution there is "congratulations, you got the gig! Now make your demo 30 seconds longer so we can use it [for the client we already sold it to]." – HopelessN00b Sep 18 '16 at 22:55
  • @HopelessN00b - Actually, no, the production company tried to get both versions and never intended to pay for either. Advertising is almost as sleazy as legal in the U.S. – Wesley Long Sep 18 '16 at 22:56
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    Right, and in doing so, they lost the contract. They could have easily gotten the music and contract for a token sum if they'd been smarter, is what I was pointing out... and they wouldn't have had to be any less sleazy, either. – HopelessN00b Sep 18 '16 at 23:02
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It depends on what the work product you delivered was. It also depends on how much effort you want to put into protecting your work vs. how much you put into actually making it.

You can watermark or otherwise deface an image or a video. But if you are delivering Illustrator files or source code, they can do whatever they want with those.

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You see the risk that your work might be stolen, but see at as an opportunity. It's your work. The company has no right to use it. If they use it, they have to buy a license. Best case for you is that it is used in a product or advertisement campaign.

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