Client: Can we use Disney princesses?
Me: They're copyrighted, so no.
Client: Even Cinderella? But nobody even likes her!
I'm a Freelance digital accessibility consultant. In an accessibility audit for a client, I noticed an egregious digital accessibility defect.
They offered me $50,000 CAD to ignore it, and "handshake assurance" that they'd pay the fine I'd incur if I got caught. The "assurance" was offered in person, without any signatures - me pointing out the problem and then "overlooking it" would have an email paper trail.
The fine would be between $100,000 and $150,000 CAD. They offered me $50,000.
It would have cost $1,000 to fix, with the added bonus of not leaving the future of my career in the hands of a clearly shady client.
I was putting together a website for a local business. Part of the job included rotating testimonials from actual customers, pulled from online reviews.
Client: These customer testimonials aren't positive enough.
Me: Well, they're the testimonials you have.
Client: Just make up some better ones and use the same names.
This story takes place sometime around 2007, after I had graduated college, but before being a full-time designer. This interaction soured me on working with clients so badly that I have not returned to freelance work.
Just after college graduation I was working as a security guard and picking up freelance graphic design contracts. One of my fellow co-workers asked me for my services in designing a logo, letterhead, and business card designs for his start-up company.
Being fresh out of college I only quoted a $300 fee. After a week of design ideas and lots of back and forth we agreed on five design concepts that he would show to his business partners. I fleshed these designs out a bit more and packaged everything into a very nice, very professional, very expensive, acrylic portfolio folder that I was given as a gift from a family member for graduating college.
The following day, when I arrived at my security job, my fellow co-worker called in sick. And the day after. And the day after that... and for the remainder of the week. He then quit. Taking my portfolio folder and all of my design work with him.
After not being able to contact my now former co-worker for well over a month I was resigned to the idea that I was not going to see my work, and my portfolio, again. So, I moved on, using online forums to search for clients.
One of those online clients was looking for a designer to take some of their sketches and convert them into vector designs for use online and for printing. I reached out thinking it would be an easy gig and got an email back containing what they were looking for and images of all of my sketches that I made for my former co-worker.
I had watermarked all of my images when I presented them to said former co-worker; even pencilling in a watermark on my original sketch work. They were looking to have someone remove the watermarks and digitize the work. I emailed from my freelancer account and set up a meeting.
We agreed to meet at a local coffee shop. I made sure to sit in my car until my former co-worker went inside first. I followed behind and sat down at his table right as he was pulling out his chair. He was not happy to see me. Nor I him.
Long story short, after some choice words in a public space, I was able to get my portfolio back. I was never paid. I am so happy that we now live in a more integrated digital age where I don't have to give out physical portfolios.
I'm a food photographer for restaurants. I have a contract for all my clients to sign. Starting work with a new client, I gave it to them:
Client: I'm never going to read it. Just summarize it for me.
I did. He signed it.
A couple of weeks later, I saw my photos on their Instagram account - butchered with Instagram filters. My contract states photos may be used in social media but must remain "unedited and unaltered." I messaged the client politely to ask them to remove the post and remove the edits if they'd still like to use the image.
Client: You told me I didn't need to credit you for the photos, so I own them - I can do whatever I want with them. I don't like to work with people who give me trouble."
Me: That's not what I said, and the contract you signed is much more clear on the matter.
Client: I regret hiring you. I did you a favor by giving you business plus complimentary food. Don't forget, you asked me for business - I didn't ask you.
But I also asked you to not infringe on my copyright?
Client: For this newsletter, I want Elsa and Olaf telling our customers not to "let go" these deals.
Me: I can't do that in good faith. Those are copyrighted characters, and if it gets to Disney they could sue both you and me.
Client: But why not? People use those characters all the time!
Me: My advice is to Let It Go.
I have this client who asked me to do him a website exactly like someone else's, even suggesting that I copy their text verbatim "to be changed at a later date." I fought back, but he would eventually insist.
This has been going on for months. I sent him an email:
Me: Look, I don't think I can continue with this anymore. I suggest you find another web designer whose professional ethics don't prevent them from plagiarizing a site, because I won't do it. I still think you shouldn't, but if that's what you demand than at least it won't be with me.
Several weeks later was my birthday. The client sent me a voice message:
Client: Happy birthday! Hey, thanks for being so patient with me. I haven't been able to read the last few emails you sent me but I'll get to that later.
I think he's in for a surprise. I don't feel bad, though. Who communicates via voice message and not email?
Client: I found this image in a magazine, I’ve scanned it and sent it to you. I would like to use this as a banner on our website.
Me: Sir, but this is an image of Kylo Ren from Star Wars. It’s copyrighted material. How about we use a stock image instead?
Client: Nah, I got this from a magazine so it should be fine. I really like this image, plus it will appeal to the teens.
It was a website that sells printers.
A client asked me to replicate (plagiarize) a website. I worked hard to create a site that had the key features of his example but which wouldn't violate copyright and sent him an email letting him know it was finished. He left me a voicemail in response.
Client: Thank you for your work, but it's not finished. I really need it to look like [other site]. Please make it look more like that site in a professional manner you would be comfortable with.
Um, I did.