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I had a client that I worked for a number of years. During that time one of mock-up ads I presented was rejected, and therefore the design was not purchased/paid for. Today, three years after my presentation, I found the ad I designed for this former client printed in an international publication. What is my recourse?

My business is in the US and the publication is printed in the US and distributed in the US and Europe.

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    You clearly need a lawyer. – phoog May 3 '16 at 4:04
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You need a lawyer, as phoog says, and evidence that you created that mock-up and showed it to the client, better yet that the client had an opportunity to copy it (which would be quite common if that mockup was in electronic form), and the lawyer will advise you how to proceed best.

There is the possibility that your mock-up was stashed away somewhere, someone found it and assumed it was paid for, and used it assuming everything was fine, and now you are in an excellent negotiation position.

A good lawyer will try to get the maximum settlement possible before taking anyone to court.

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I am no lawyer but I believe its unlikely that you can do much.

  • Does the date of international publication marry with the time period of your presented solution?
  • Did you have a contract or some other agreement that said your designs were yours unless bought/paid for?
  • Did you have a contract that protected your ideas for a period of time (unless protected via trademark/copyright/patent most contracts at least within the EU will only offer protection of up to six months, a year at most)?

I recall some years ago (more than ten?) a story on the BBC news site (which I have tried/failed to find). A couple had proposed a marketing idea to a well known confectionary/candy company and even sent a video of the concept/idea. The couple got a thanks, but no thanks and were told that the company were bound by contract with an external marketing company.

Some months later, an advert appeared on TV and in cinemas that was near identical of that produced by the couple. They challenged it and lost. I cannot remember the reason, but if you have not protected your idea (with copyright/patent/trademark), you could be successful, but it will be an up hill challenge.

Instead of beating them up, it might be worth considering trying to warm an otherwise cold relationship. If you have not dealt with them in three years, try approach them and see if you can get new work out of them. But if you feel bitter (and I say this with respect) its perhaps best not approach them as it could create more stress than its worth.

  • You don't get copyright on ideas. I suppose a mockup of an ad is not an idea, but a copyrighted work. Since it was a mockup, the ad that he spotted is very likely a work derived from the copyrighted work. – gnasher729 May 3 '16 at 21:52
  • I surprised two people voted my answer down. Are you implying that a presentation is protected for several years by law, without an agreed contract? I agree that you cannot copyright ideas, but you can protect a design. If he had no legal document protecting the design, and if the date of the publication is three years after his presentation, I doubt any judge would entertain a case, let alone a win. – fiprojects May 4 '16 at 10:58

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