How to handle client requests to violate copyrights?


I know Google image search is not a free-for-all to grab any image needed. However, many, many, many clients don't grasp this concept and often request or send images they'd like to use in a design or product which are clearly a violation of copyrights.

I recently had a client send an image to me which, frankly, seemed too well done and too specific for the client to be sending. My thought was, based on the clients business, it was doubtful they paid someone to create the illustration depicted in the image the sent.

So, I did a little reverse Google image searching and found the original, which actually won an award for illustration a few years ago. I immediately knew the image was a violation of copyrights and threw it away. I expressed the violation to the client only to be met with "Do a Google image search for 'XXX XXX XXX' and you'll see everyone is using it. Please use the image."

When designing a piece and a client requests the use of an image they "found", and it is clear it's a violation of copyrights, what should a designer do?

I realize this is a legal question but... Can the designer include a clause in a contract to protect themselves from liability due to these requests? Is this effective?

In some cases, clients are fully aware that they may be infringing. However, in their words... "The worse that can happen is we get a 'cease and desist' letter. We'll remove it then." My ethics cringe at this. How should this be approached?

5/16/2018 1:47:00 PM

Accepted Answer

I've never run into this exact problem but if a client sends me a logo from another company I email them back asking if they have written permission to use said logo in their marketing. If they say yes then that is sufficient for me. To word it nicely I go with something along the lines of:

I see you'd like Acme Co.'s logo included in your artwork, do you have any sort of authorization from them to include it? Just as I wouldn't include your company's logo in someone else's artwork without checking with you first, I have to do the same for them.

Since this is more about a copyright image off of Google I would probably take a similar approach.

I remember seeing this artwork back when it was published in such and such (or when it won such and such award). I'm not familiar with it being released under a royalty-free license though. Do you know the artist or something.

Then when they reply they don't, follow up with more legalese.

If you don't know them then do you have the rights to use it? Otherwise it's in mine, and really your best interest not to.

If they persist after that point:

I'm sorry but I cannot knowingly help you commit copyright infringement. It goes against everything I stand for as a designer. If you can get permission to use it then I'm happy to proceed, or if you want to use a different image that is royalty-free.

2/4/2014 11:16:00 AM

In my contracts I have clauses to the effect of "Client promises that all artwork provided for Designer is owned by Client, or Client has permission from the owner to use it. If Client is sued for copyright violation, Client will state that it was not Designer's fault."

Whether it's effective, well, I'm not a lawyer, but this at least specifies that you're putting the burden of proof on the client, and the client is signing it.

I would stonewall along the lines of Ryan's approach. "Other firms may be using [image]. I have no way of knowing if those other firms received permission from the artist. Without that signed permission, I legally cannot use it in your work. This is for my protection and for yours."

If the client persisted, I'd either fire the client or let the client fire me. It's not worth my livelihood.