Alumnus Sues NYU Over Logo That The School Asked Her To Design

from the did-I-miss-something dept

I’m trying to understand where the legal issue is here, but a “freelance artist” and alumnus of NYU is apparently suing the school because it used the bobcat mascot she designed. But here’s the thing: she designed it while she was employed by the school’s athletic director. In this case, she was just an equipment room clerk, but the associate director (a superior) asked her to create the mascot. And then the school used it. How is that possibly a copyright violation? She was employed by the school. Her boss asked her to do some work for the school. She did it. I’m having trouble understanding where there’s a copyright violation.

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Comments on “Alumnus Sues NYU Over Logo That The School Asked Her To Design”

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59 Comments
Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Gray area, maybe, depending...

I think the reverse is true. Unless she had some very specific terms of hire that excluded such things (and I doubt an equipment manager would) it’s work for hire.

From a legal standpoint, I think you’re probably right. The “everything you do is ours” clauses that they include in the employment contracts of people who are specifically hired to create artworks are probably more of a precaution than a legal requirement.

However, think about this from the perspective of a regular person on the street. Not the “moron in a hurry”, but a reasonably intelligent person who doesn’t happen to be as aware of legal copyright issues like readers of Techdirt. From a purely moral standpoint, don’t you think that what happened to this young woman would strike many as unfair? BTW, I’m not saying that it was unfair, just that the pool of people in a potential jury certainly might and that’s why this case is going forward.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Gray area, maybe, depending...

“From a purely moral standpoint, don’t you think that what happened to this young woman would strike many as unfair? BTW, I’m not saying that it was unfair, just that the pool of people in a potential jury certainly might and that’s why this case is going forward.”

Oh gods. You’re probably right, at least as far as the concept of “moral rights” has permeated the national consciousness.

Fuck you, Voltaire.

Eric Londaits (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Gray area, maybe, depending...

I’m with you. I’m not saying that her kids should keep receiving royalties many years after her death and that she should use the law to squash kids drawing the mascot in the cover of the student newspaper… but she should get some extra compensation for her work, since it’ll probably be used to make money (either directly, as in merchandise, or indirectly, as in good spirits).

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Gray area, maybe, depending...

I’m thinking along the same lines. Her lawyer said…

“She was paid to pick up dirty towels,”

This is only a guess, but I’d say that since her job description did not include anything about the creation of artwork and — more importantly — the standard “everything you do [create] is ours” clause wasn’t in her employment contract, they believe they have a case.

If you work in an art department, sure, you’re contract is probably going to include that kind of clause. But they probably didn’t think that the employment contract of an “equipment room clerk” needed to include this kind of language.

R. Miles (profile) says:

No subject

I’m having trouble understanding where there’s a copyright violation.
Do you not read your own articles? ๐Ÿ˜‰

The new way to do business is as follows:
Do something, matters not if you’re hired by a company or not.

Then, expect royalty payments for the remaining years alive simply because it was created and covered under copyright.

It’s the American way!

Note: I think it’s about time that ONE step be re-introduced regarding copyright and that’s one must register the content to be covered.

This way, stupid crap like this ceases.

Jonathan says:

Gray area, maybe, depending

I agree that if she worked for the marketing or art department, no issue. However, as a designer, I know how much a university would pay an agency to create a logo or mascot, so skipping out on any compensation for the talented equipment manager is not right. Do you know how much money they are making off of her design?

Anonymous Coward says:

1. The information listed in this and the linked article is insufficient to determine if the individual was an “employee” as that term is defined by law.

2. Even if 1. is proven, i.e., that she was an employee, there is still no information to determine if preparing the logo was within the scope of her employment.

In order to prevail the school will be required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the individual was an “employee” and the logo was prepared “within the scope of her employment”.

Enraged A-C says:

Re: Re:

Wait, what? … So, her case is already proven. Your saying that going into the trial, the college is guilty, and must prove thier innocence. That the artist doesn’t.

So, the collage is guilty until proven innocent? And, even if the woman has NO EVIDENCE they bilked her, she doesn’t need it, becouse she filed the suit, not them?

Is this how perverse our legal system has become? When did we go to “Innocent, so prove a case” to “Guilty, unless you can show us why you shouldn’t fry!”? I mean good gods man, do you even know the basic catchphrases of the legal system? Like the major one? We are not under Nepolianic law! (Well, unless you are in Louisiana, and even then the Innocent till Guilty trumps).

No wonder why Copyright Holders get to abuse the courts. They have perverted the very way America thinks, and they have triumphed in having laws unto themselves, in which they never have to prove guilt, they just have to prevent the other from speaking of innocence. NO! I say again, NO!

This thinking is a travesty, it is a horror. The founders weap openly from this statement. Lady Justice is killing herself with the blade. This is WRONG. How can you stand for it? How can anyone?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

No…

The individual will need to prove two things to get things rolling. First, she will have to prove she actually created the drawing, something that is pretty simple to do. Second, she will have to present a copyright registration to the court in order that the court has jurisdiction to hear the case.

Having done this, the burden would then shift to the school to prove that she was an employee and that the work was created within the scope of her employment. Without this there would be no way for a court to determine if the work for hire provisions of copyright law even apply. Perhaps the school will be able to prove this, but were I a betting man my bet would not be on NYU. I have seen situations such as this arise more times than I can count, and in the majority of them the “employer” blew it…and badly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Work done well beyond job function.

The story didn’t get into too much detail but from having worked with this kind of thing before she probable has a rather good case.

If she was an equipment room clerk, there probable was never a all your work belongs to us agreement, and even ‘if’ there was it probable wouldn’t cover the creation of a logo for the university. Such an agreement would cover something like making an equipment list, or forms for checking in and out equipment but wouldn’t cover a novel written at home.

Also, did they give her the supplies and the time to do the drawing? Or did she do it at home, on her own time, with her own equipment?

Even if its found that the university now owns the logo, they still might find themselves having to pay her as there is some protection from being grossly underpaid for work done. A ‘graphics artist’ is paid significantly more then an equipment room clerk making minimum wage.

AC's long lost brother says:

Umm...

How valuable can this mascot really be? Name me one great athletic program from NYU. They are a great school for a lot of things, but athletics sure as hell ain’t one of them.

On a side note, this really is a gray area. As was noted above, if they had contracted a firm to design a logo they would have had to pay, so it seems like they might have tried to slip one under the rug here…

hank mitchell says:

work for hire

in most cases, this falls under the “work for hire” implied contractual arrangement that most employees automatically enter into when performing work of this nature. There are some specific laws in the music industry where works for hire revert back to the author after a term, the copyright would revert back to the author. For example a composer working for a music publisher (rare these days).

zota says:

work for hire?

Picking up towels is an hourly job — was she paid hourly for her work on the logo? Was she given paid time off to work on it? Could be more a matter labor law more than copyright.

And legal issues aside, corporations who demand spec work out of young artists are bloodsucking douchebags. NYU knows how much that kind of work costs and how much it’s worth to them. They may be legally able to exploit one of their students to do it for free, but that doesn’t make them any less exploitative and wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

If she created the mascott independently without direction from her boss (which is what it sounds like), the design is hers unless she s0old it to them, which she obviously didn’t.

A friend of mine needs to hire fleelance artists on a regular basis and it’s quite difficult to prevent copyright from taking effect. A simple “we own your creation” clause does not work. The freelance nature of the assignment means that everything they create is theirs, unless…
If you pay someone regular wages for a design job, it’s probably the other way around.

She probably did this on her off-time and it was clearly not part of her usual job, so I can see how it could be argued she owns most of the copyright.

Matthew Cruse (profile) says:

scenario plus horse and barn door

So, after reading Mike’s post the way I read irt is this:
Director: Hey, your a pretty good artist do you think you could come up with a better mascot than the crappy one we’ve got now?
Her: Sure, I’ll work on that, it will be great practice and maybe some day I can put it in a portfolio, plus I might be able to use this as credit for one of my art/design classes
sometime later…
Director, man that’s a great drawing, it will look awsome on the Gym wall (or uniform or whatever)
Her: Yeah it is pretty good, I had fun doing it and the school will be better off
Sometime later after she meets some lawyers….
Her:COPYRIGHT!!!!! gimme $$$$$$$$!!!!!!

my point being that all across this country there are thousands of uncredited, unpaid artworks in schools and universities that are created by students as art projects, senior / class projects, out of civic pride, school pride or a sense of aesthetics (sp?). Why does she think that she is entitled to something special. If she thought her work was so great and she had put so much time into it that it was worth so much, she should have declared that prior to turning the work over and negotiated a payment at the time. After turning the work over and it goes in to use and is suddenly popular / valuable is too late. Sorr horse is gone, closing barn door now has no effect.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: scenario plus horse and barn door

I disagree. I’ve read several articles and they all say that she submitted it for approval, and next thing you know, it was splashed everywhere.

It sounds like they never got back to her to let her know that they liked it, so they would discuss terms. They just ran with it. It really sounds like the school misunderstood the intent of her submission (because jocks and administrators just aren’t artists).

So she contacted them and the jocks replied by saying, ‘Nah, nah, nah, boo-boo. Deal with it.’ and bristled about it, so now she’s suing their smug asses. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anonymous Coward says:

School pride

While in grade school the NEWLY built school had a mascot contest too. I won and they use.
At the time I was 12 years old… In no way shape or form could I have enter into a legal binding contract (up here in Canada you need to be 16 (I think) to enter a legal contract). Parents signed nothing.
Does that mean that I could sue them for illegal usage for the base X years?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: School pride

When I was in grade school, I was elected class treasurer. I was not paid for my time. I did not enter a legally binding contract.

For this reason, I think it is an outrage — an OUTRAGE! — that the corporate CFOs regularly demand not only a salary, but BONUSES for their work!!! Where is the pride in knowing that their labor is going to a good cause?? ENOUGH of the greed, I say!

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

She was already paid for her work, because she was paid for her time while making it. If she’s hourly, then she made her hourly wage while making the design … if she’s salary (highly unlikely) then she gets paid for doing a job. Now, it doesn’t matter what her job description is, and if athletic artistic duties were not part of the job description she should have held her ground when asked to do the design and negotiate a freelance contract in addition to her employment contract that covered her creating the design. By doing the work and not negotiating a new contract at that time, she was implicitly performing those duties under the original employee contract with the results of the work going towards her employer.

In essence, she made a poor decision and now wants to go back and get more money for it. Unfortunately, she did it in the wrong order, and should not be expected to be compensated after the fact because her price could have been rejected and NYU could have gone with a different designer that would have charged less or even done it for free for the publicity/experience/portfolio/pride. I’m sure there are hundreds of art students at NYU who would have done the design for free out of school spirit or simply to build a portfolio to get a design job when they graduated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“She was already paid for her work, because she was paid for her time while making it.”

This isn’t clear at all from the story. Being paid for the work means being paid for the time, and the equipment, used for the work.

“Now, it doesn’t matter what her job description is, and if athletic artistic duties were not part of the job description she should have held her ground when asked to do the design and negotiate a freelance contract in addition to her employment contract that covered her creating the design.”

Also not clear from the story. Depends on what was said. There could very well be a verbal contract. They ask, would you like to do a logo for NYU? She says, sure. Goes home and does it. The operative word is ‘would’. Also, if she used her own equipment, then its implied that she was doing freelance work.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

New York is an At Will Employment State

NY is an At Will Employment State, and she was ASKED to perform the work while being paid, and she was compensated for the time. It’s pretty simple, she does not have a right to anything, it was “Work for hire”

It does not matter if she was freelance or not. If her employer asked her to do the work, and she performed the work, and was compensated it was Work for Hire.

This applies to every field out there from shit sweeper to CEO

zota says:

Re: New York is an At Will Employment State

Was she paid for her time? Did she do it at work? Was there a drafting table or a computer with graphics software set up in the laundry room of the gym?

In New York, can an employer really ask a bottom rung hourly employee to do any task whatsoever without further compensation?

Also, from the article it looks like she handed over the drawing for review, expecting there to be a conversation about how it would be used if they liked it. But there was no further conversation. That’s legally fishy, but a major Univerity will probably get away with it. However it is unquestionably the work of untrustworthy scum who knew they could screw their overly trusting student worker.

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re: New York is an At Will Employment State

“In New York, can an employer really ask a bottom rung hourly employee to do any task whatsoever without further compensation?”

If they receive their previously agreed upon hourly wage for the work, yes.

The employee can always refuse, based on job description, and open a dialog for further compensation. But by doing the work without renegotiating the employment contract or creating a new contract, the employee is essentially implicitly agreeing that the work is covered under the previous employment contract.

I’m a programmer, and if I were asked to do a website design for my company, the first thing I would say is “that’s not what you hired me to do.” Then, I would open talks for an additional contract that covers me working as a graphic designer in addition to my other duties. However, if they asked me to do a design and I just did it, then even though they hired me to program, my graphic design work is still covered under my original contract as a employee and the design is there’s.

zota says:

Re: Re: Re: New York is an At Will Employment State

If you consider web design well outside the compensated purview of programming, it’s amusing to see how many people have no trouble integrating logo design within the field of student assistant athletic equipment manager.

Also, stepping back slightly from the labor law issues — you have the professional experience and economic power to negotiate for further compensation. Hey, that’s just great. Good for you!

But by your own example, the best interpretation is that NYU screwed over a 21 year old because she didn’t have the professional experience to know any better.

To me, it seems like a major educational institution might want to explain the issues involved in these situations to the students who have come to them to learn, rather than jack them over for a relative pittance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: New York is an At Will Employment State

“Also, from the article it looks like she handed over the drawing for review, expecting there to be a conversation about how it would be used if they liked it. But there was no further conversation. That’s legally fishy, but a major Univerity will probably get away with it. However it is unquestionably the work of untrustworthy scum who knew they could screw their overly trusting student worker.”

Her age also plays well with her story that she turned it in for review. If she is 22 now, then she as probable late 20s when she did the work. How many kids that age know to demand a written contract so they don’t get exploited? Few and far between.

Benjie says:

ehh?

“It probably depends on the initial terms of her hiring–if it included all that standard “everything you do is ours” language, which it may or may not, depending on the job…”

The “everything is ours” is for those times when someone starts a side project, not for when you’re told to do something.

To assume otherwise would allow situations like this

lets say you you’re a receptionist. You write down the schedule for your boss in a your assigned schedule keeper which is a requirement of the job. Now you leave your job, can you claim that because you wrote down the contents of that book, that you own the book?

It was an expected function of the job, you can’t claim you own it unless there was a separate agreement.

Comboman says:

Re: ehh?

lets say you you’re a receptionist. You write down the schedule for your boss in a your assigned schedule keeper which is a requirement of the job. Now you leave your job, can you claim that because you wrote down the contents of that book, that you own the book?

No, but not for the reason you think. No one can claim copyright on a schedule, since it’s just a collection of facts and not a creative work. Find a better analogy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ehh?

Let’s say you’re a receptionist, and also a decent painter. Your boss wonders if you could bring in an example of your work, implying that he might like something to hang in his new vacation cottage. You bring in a new painting, your boss tells you to set it aside for him to look over later and gives you another task. A little while later, the boss sends out a company memo with a photo of him posing in his cottage, arm on the mantle, with your painting above the fireplace. You ask for payment.

“Work for hire!” says the boss, as he laughs and chomps on his cigar. You are fired and never work in this town again.

“Hooray!!” say the commentators on techdirt. “The boss owns everything!!”

“and someday, I will be the boss…” they whisper to themselves, rubbing their hands together.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ehh?

“lets say you you’re a receptionist. You write down the schedule for your boss in a your assigned schedule keeper which is a requirement of the job. Now you leave your job, can you claim that because you wrote down the contents of that book, that you own the book?”

Your talking about work done for hire, that is relevant to the job being done. If that same receptionist went home and painted masterpiece oil works and started to sell them they would be hers. Regardless of what her employment contract says.

As for a school logo. Her expected function was to pick up towels. Designing new logo’s for sports teams is ‘way’ outside that job description.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

I’ve read several articles and they all say that she submitted it for approval, and next thing you know, it was splashed everywhere.

Without having the details on the school’s side of the story, it sounds like they never got back to her to let her know that they liked it, so they would discuss terms. They just ran with it. It really sounds like the school misunderstood the intent of her submission (because jocks and administrators just aren’t artists).

So she contacted them and the jocks replied by saying, ‘Nah, nah, nah, boo-boo. Deal with it.’ and bristled about it, so now she’s suing their smug asses. ๐Ÿ™‚ Bad PR move for them. Probably they could have worked something out, like a nominal fee and credit.

Benjie says:

Numbers

“No, but not for the reason you think. No one can claim copyright on a schedule, since it’s just a collection of facts and not a creative work. Find a better analogy.”

And if you take a digital picture, it’s just a bunch of numbers

anyway, what you’re saying is if someone is creative in the work they’re assigned, like using a multi colored pen, then it’s ok to claim copy right?

feel the sarcasm?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Numbers

If you have your janitor design the blueprints for your house, it’s not janitorial work.

And if you can convince a jury that creative work done by a student worker on their own time with their own equipment is not actually their work because a coach asked for it, then you may be clever. But you’re also an oozing sore.

Benjie says:

So is cleaning my desk at work

“As for a school logo. Her expected function was to pick up towels. Designing new logo’s for sports teams is ‘way’ outside that job description.”

I didn’t see anything in my job description for cleaning my desk, yet it’s expected. If you don’t want to do something in your job description say no and take it up in court if you feel you’ve been unfairly fired OOOORRRRR, tell them you want to retain ownership of your work.

Benjie says:

We got a winner

“Also, from the article it looks like she handed over the drawing for review, expecting there to be a conversation about how it would be used if they liked it. But there was no further conversation.”
^^^

She didn’t willingly hand it over for production use. no different than someone for their opinion and they take off with your work

ma’b I should’ve RTFM, but I’m at work and only have time to glance at stuff while waiting for things to run

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