Freelancers’ Questions: Does an alias get around copyright law?

Freelancer’s Question: I am currently a permanently employed graphic designer but am actively looking for freelance work as I would eventually like to work for myself. To alert my friends, colleagues and others about my aspirations to be self-employed, I’ve drawn up a portfolio of work. However it mainly features work that I did at my current workplace. The portfolio is on my own website, my blog and on an online career profile. I don’t state that the work is mine and, where my name is mentioned, I’ve used an alias (derived from my real name) to get round any potential legal problems. Is my approach ok, or is at least ‘the norm’ for a full-time graphic designer looking to start freelancing?

Expert’s Answer: Looking at copyright from a very basic angle, the normal position of freelance contractors in a starting position is that they own the works. But as an employee (and presuming as seems obvious in this case that the work you are creating is part of your role and not outside of this) then copyright in all works that you create for your employer will be owned by your employer. This will more than likely be covered in your employment contract in order that there can be no arguments or ambiguity.

Simply using the company's work in the manner you are describing is likely to amount to copyright infringement i.e. you have copied the work and are effectively communicating it to the public. Accordingly your employer would be within their rights to bring an action against you. The remedies for such a claim can vary but may include: damages, an account of profit, or an injunction. In addition you will, in all likelihood, be in breach of your employment contract and thus could face disciplinary action and / or an action for breach of contract.

Using an alias (especially one very similar to your normal name) will not get you out of copyright infringement. The claimant (in this case the employer) would look at, for example, the owner of the domain for your website. They could then obtain a court order against your ISP to disclose details of the hosting account holder. More than likely, they will know it is you anyway as a result of the work all having been from the same author and also the similarity of the alias.

As a result, I cannot advise you more strongly to remove the company's works and create your own individual works in order to showcase your own talents as an individual.

The expert was Ben Evans, of the e-commerce team at Lawdit Solicitors.

 

 

22nd March 2011

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