Is it ethical to make derivations (adaptations) of an external agency’s work as an in-house designer?

I work as a graphic designer in a big European (but not E.U.) public establishment with two fellow designers.

We have a corporate communications coordinator, which usually deals with all kinds of stuff including “managing” the design process, but it usually fails. S/he usually requests and pays for “designing a poster” to an external agency and then asks for its source files so that we can adapt that “design” to some other mediums such as creating a billboard, social media images, brochures or even “converting” it in our own language (when it’s designed in English) and even some revisions of the original work.

I’m suspecting that rather than paying for these revisions or adaptations to the external agency, our management tries to take advantage of us, being a some-kind-of public official, who they think will be obey their “orders”.

Is it legal or ethical to do something like that? I don’t think it is legal, ethical and even can’t be classified as a “designers job” to edit someone else’s work. I will be refusing to work on such projects officially but I can’t manage to find any similar experiences on web.

I’m planning to ask for an official consent of the external agency that they are aware of someone is using their work to create such derivations. I will also ask for the official agreement between our firm and the agency to see if there is any stated information about “modified work”.

What other things can I present to our general managers (which are hierarchically on top of this coordinator and its supervisor) to reject this kind of project?


In answer to your question about can you make derivative works from the source files provided by an external agency – it depends on how you purchase those “source” files. If you are paying for “work for hire” and the agreement is you own the source then yes you have every right to modify size or even use graphical elements in other works.

I’m familiar with “work for hire” because the artist Keith Haring sold several of his works copyright and all to Playboy. Playboy then made watches, towels, and other products from those works that a company I co-founded help sell – something Playboy could do because they purchased the copyright AND the work itself.

The Haring foundation, the group established to manage Keith Haring’s estate, didn’t like it and threatened to sue but the agreement between Haring and Hefner was clear – Playboy owned the copyright and paid more for the work in order to re-print. The estate was mad about the “reprints” being products not in the magazine, but “reprint” wasn’t defined as limited to the magazine so a lawsuit would have been expensive and fruitless for the foundation.

Yes you can make derivative work if your agreement pays for the copyright. If the work is considered “work for hire” where you management asked a designer to do a job and it was stated that the copyright of the work created transferred from the artist creating it to your buying managers then you/they can do whatever you/they want.

Copyright always stays with the artist by default, so best to have an agreement that states (c) is moved as “work for hire” and so derivative work(s) are fine and part of the agreement.

Without an agreement stating how copyright is transferred then NO you may not safely create derivative works since (c) is owned by the original designer.

Source : Link , Question Author : Anonymous In-House Designer , Answer Author : Martin Smith

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