So, I get this email from a FLCW the other day: “I’m embarrassed to say, I have several work samples posted on my website that I didn’t get permission from the clients to use. I realize this is not good business. Do you get permission from every client, even if the piece was posted/published in the public realm?”
My reply? No. Call me crazy, but in my estimation AND experience, this is a non-issue. If I do a B2B or B2C project (virtually all my work) for a company – by definition, one created for public dissemination – I can display it in my online portfolio.
Only once in 15 years – many years ago – did I ever ask permission to use a piece. I was told I couldn’t and given no good reason for denying my request (the pieces were part of a customer newsletter!). So being, I suppose, a bit anti-establishment, what I took away from that unsatisfying encounter was NOT that I needed to ask each time, but rather that I’d never ask again. And knock on wood, in 15 years, I’ve never had a problem.
Sure, if it’s internal (i.e., proprietary and potentially sensitive, though not all internal communication is proprietary), you shouldn’t post those unless you “sanitize” the sample of all sensitive/identifying language, but you’ll know what those situations are.
As I found out, if you ask permission, there’ll be those clients whose anal legal departments have to justify their existences by making grand proclamations about what you can and cannot do with something you created for them. And for no good or logical reason other than they can. Why bother, when chances are literally nil that they’re ever going to know or care that you’ve posted them?
And what’s the worst-case scenario? They tell you to take it down. Think they’ll slap you with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit for posting a sample thousands of people saw? Not a chance. If they decide to be a—-oles about it, they’ll start with a simple “take it down” request. And you take it down. End of story.
She wrote back that she was about to met with an IP (intellectual property) attorney and would ask about it. Straining to not be a smartass, I wrote: “What do you think an IP attorney is going to tell you? Their very professional existence is predicated on coming up with every conceivable thing that could possibly EVER go wrong in a million years. That’s what they’re paid to do. Which, in our case, has virtually no relation to reality.”
She reports back later: “As you suspected, technically we are supposed to get permission from our clients to use their copyrighted material on our websites. It gets stickier if private citizens’ names are used (e.g., in testimonials) as that gets into publicity law which is akin to privacy law.
Same thing for employees featured in the pieces; they would require separate permissions in addition to the company permission. She recommends a form or a letter asking permission to host the pieces on my website to promote my own portfolio.”
There you have it. Sigh. I suppose this is where I’m supposed to say, “Well, defer to legal counsel.” But you know? I’m just not worried about it. At all. If there was ever a more textbook case of the old saying, “Easier to ask forgiveness than permission” this would be it. So, let me have it. Here’s your chance to tell me I’m full of it.
Do you ask permission before posting samples on your web site?
If you don’t, have you ever had a serious issue arise (aside from “take it down” requests)?
In my case, too many, if my long absence from the blog is any indication…. 😉 But that’s a good thing (the “being-busy”? thing, not the “not-blogging”? thing) . And I’ve taken my own advice (from the 7/22/08 post below) and started asking for more money, and no one’s balking. I’m telling you, when it comes to raising your rates – you’re the hardest “sell,”? not the client.
Anyway, I got a note from a new reader of TWFW recently, asking, “Curious. Are you mostly doing web copy in this day and age, or are you pretty much in the same industry as you started?” I guess the thinking was that the web has taken over the world and that, as such, that’s all we’d be doing. He IS new to the business. Obviously, there’s plenty of the traditional marketing communications pieces still being done out there.
But, it got me thinking about what people are working on these days. I figure, by sharing what’s on our plates these days, and how we landed it, it can showcase the wide variety of projects that make up the commercial writing sphere, while also giving us ideas about some new directions to go in, suggest to clients, hunt down, etc. And give any newbie lurkers? some confidence that this gig truly IS for real (in case they’re wondering…)
Me? I’m working on a brochure for an online high school catering to home-schoolers. It’ll be used at trade shows or in other “leave-behind”? scenarios. That’ll be followed by a catalog for the school. A graphic designer found me somehow, asked if I knew a writer in his area (an hour away), nothing panned out, he steered his client to my site, she loved it, called me up, and we were in business.
I’m also working on a case study for a building materials company (my sixth project for them), originally landed through a speechwriter friend of mine (whom I thank with free lunches every few months for the many thousands it’s put in my pocket).
Also working on some copy for a menu insert for a well-known restaurant chain – pretty high-level demographics, psychographics, etc. Amazing how much agonizing goes into what people are thinking when they read a menu (personally, I think they could care less, as long as their meal is good, but hey, they want to pay me well to agonize, I’ll agonize).
Plus, some book titling and back-cover copywriting for three self-publishing authors through my coaching program. Fun stuff.
So, what are you working on these days?
How did you land it?
Noticing any uptick or downturn in certain kinds of projects?