Web Design and copyright: when creating a website with our name is an utopia

Some time ago a YIW reader aroused our interest with  a question, asked to us privately, concerning the copyright in web design. The doubts expressed on that occasion are the same that- as I had way to understand recently- many freelancers arise when they establish a working relationship in outsourcing with whatever Web Agency: Can I insert my name? Can I show the works done in my portfolio? With which words in the contract can I protect my copyright?

Being the author of the site of which I designed the graphic interface and the development, I have all the rights to have the authorship of the work recognized and to ask that once the site is online, to have my name inserted.

In theory I should have the right to insert the works I’ve done in my hypothetic portfolio. In theory I repeat.

But let’s see how it works in reality.

The Web Agency X delegates to an outside  freelancer a work Y. He’ll pay a TOT wage and he’s always and the only one that manages the  relationships with the final client. This  one, will never suspect that his site has been created by an Z  individual that, without external and useless  mediations, would have permitted him to save up to 60% of the amount paid.

Reason why the Web Agency will be careful not to be overtaken, so it’s obvious that it’s forbidden any kind of connection between the freelancer and the client. No logo, no image in the portfolio, nothing of nothing.

What does the inability of seeing one’s work recognized involve?

Independently from the wounded proud (after a year of  “clandestine” work, it’s possible that one’s ego is a bit bruised), the impossibility of seeing recognized one’s work involve some consequences –less prosaic and more material- that is good to evaluate, as in the long run these could affect the quality of our work as freelancers.

An example?

1- Loss of potential clients: more than from the personal portfolio, that a potential client could see among the millions online, a freelancer can count on the quality of the projects he handled. Creating a good site, from the pleasant and intuitive interface, the freelancer expects that the client would be so impressed, enough to feel the impulse to contact the creator.
The user could be an individual with an activity to introduce in the online market, or just a rival of the company for which you created the site; in each case, hiding your identity and allowing third parties to take  the merit of your work, every user is a potential client…lost. And an opportunity of earning for the outside agency and to make the matter worse, will be free to commission the work to another freelancer.

2- Loss of feedback: as said,  a web designer should let his works talk for him. But with what words could we present ourselves if unable to show to third parties projects on which we worked on? A bare portfolio is synonym of professional immaturity and has the defect to transmit little confidence to the client who is searching for a serious and capable web designer. The paradox of outsourcing, in fact can be resumed like this: a lot of work, little earnings and zero feedback. Nobody has never worked with us, no client can be our testimony and we don’t have no projects to show as a tangible sign of our experience. A desolating professional black hole.

And so, what should I do?

Begin from the supposition that your role as a freelancer must have a professional dignity of all respect: the first thing to do regards the evaluation of your role.

Start by answering yes, if  the client does not want to insert your copyright in the project you created and yes, if the client does not allow you to put no image and/or references to the project in your portfolio.

But you must add that these requests obviously have an additional cost, and that cost will be quantified and stated in the contract that you both stipulate.  The motivations that you can expose to justify the request are the ones expressed a couple of lines above and the motivations  are more than  justified.

The item in the contract could be approximately:

“ In accordance with the provisions of  the present contract, the delivery of the project web (with all the materials such as graphic concept, markup and so on) requires  the client the exclusive ownership of the project; with the present the provider gives therefore to the client  the copyright and the use  of the project, promising to maintain the  confidentiality and not to manifest one’s authorship of the work on personal channels such as social network, blogs, portfolio, etc.

As  compensation for the contractual conditions, The Client undertakes to pay the provider with the amount defined in the attached preventive.”

In the preventive the  item “Removal Credits  and confidentiality clause” may be  enough.

If you have established a relationship based on trust consolidate over time with the Agency , another solution could be the compromise.

It’s reasonable that a Web Agency cannot sell to its  clients a product that bears the mark/name of a freelancer: the credibility of the agency will certainly be affected, especially  in the long term.

But it’s also reasonable that you can insert in your portfolio the works done for the agency, specifying however the role you had in the project and defining that the project was commissioned by the Agency Alpha”: this way you’ll have the possibility of showing your works and the activity of the Agency will not be compromised: moreover always more realities rely on outside consultants  and on a team of freelancers for their projects, it’s not new.

In addition, putting pen on paper your collaboration with the Agency, you’ll become palpable for further collaborations in outsourcing with third agencies: a steady and lasting collaboration with a Web  Agency is a great business card, especially if you want to expand your client portfolio and introduce yourself  to the market as a professional consultant .

Even in this case, protect yourself with a small clause in the contract:

“The client agrees that the provider exhibits in his portfolio –as purely demo- images and information about  the work he has done.”

Instead if you don’t even want to renounce to your signature on the layout, you could add a sentence like this:

“The clients agrees to  have on his  site  a hyper link, named “Credits”,  which allows the provider to be recognized as the author of the web project developed.”

Of course “Credits” can be replaced by other terms:  some people prefer to insert “powered by…”,  others a more Italian  “made by…”, in any case the sense of the sentence doesn’t change. 

What is your experience on this subject?

For what I’m concerned I adapted the solution  of the “ compromise” with all the Web Agencies with whom I collaborated with and still collaborate and I can affirm that I have always had the good fortune to work with loyal and open to discussion clients.

But what is the situation for other freelancers? What is your experience about this topic?


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The Author

Web designer, has been working in the field of graphics and web development for six years and at the moment besides collaborating with a web agency successfully manages her freelance activity under the name of mascara design. Like many freelancers she is used to handling more roles, ranging from paper graphics to the development of html and css codes; nonetheless this passion of hers remains, always and however, web graphics.

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