Portfolio of past work w/ former employers


Fellow 'Nects-
I'm putting together a website for my sole prop office. I see the biggest component to this marketing tool as being able to show examples of work. I do not, however, have a lot of personal commissions, 3 total (small residential jobs), that I was the responsible professional.
However, I do have a lot of images, drawings, and sketches from work with former employers (3 offices) over the past 5 years.
My question is...beyond citing the owner, architect of record, and design team members for the project (consultants incl.), are there any copyright and/or proprietary issues that I should be aware of?
I'd like to be able to post some nice jpegs (photos, plans, details)of commercial and public projects that highlight my skills and experience. I appreciate your advice and insight...

Feb 6, 08 11:28 am


if memory serves, there are several posts which have addressed this in the past. i'll try to hit the highlights with your questions:

first, and i can't stress this enough, you need to go back to each of those employers, explain what you'd like to do, and get their permission. the absolute worst thing is to take a 'screw them i don't need permission attitude', since it won't get you anywhere. also, merely 'citing' the relevant information isn't enough -

the agreement my partner and i signed with the firm we had both left included the following:

what our role was on the projects we wanted to show (let's say: project architect through cd's.)
what images we were allowed to use with those projects.
what copyright information needed to be on the images.
what venues we would be allowed to use them in (web, proposals, etc.).

we had a little back and forth about what 'exactly' our roles were, but in the end, we got plenty to use and maintained an important bridge to the firm.

with regards to copyright in general: anything you produced, for a firm, is theirs. period. drawings, photos, models, sketches, anything. they own all copyrights and it's their decision about how those materials can be distributed. this is doubly true for professional photographers - lots of times, they own the image and are just granting permission to the firm to use their images.

you do not, contrary to popular opinion or sentiment, have any inherent right to use any of that material. on the flip side, the aia code of ethics (which is not legally binding) does say that firms shall not prohibit the 'reasonable' use of materials by someone who worked at a firm. what constitutes 'reasonable' is pretty hazy, but the bottom line is that, at least as far as the aia is concerned, your former employers should grant you some kind of usage rights. note, though, that they have to grant it to you. it's not just an automatic given. so, negotiate with each and see what you can get.

in the case of photos and renderings: if you create something, yourself, that does not rely on material from the office (ie cad files, photos, etc), you can use those without needing permission. i wouldn't recommend it for drawings (since they would be almost impossible to do without using their base files to create something), but photos of completed buildings are totally different. you can shoot those yourself and you would own the copyright on the image, not the content in the image. that's something we did with the completed projects - rather than use the firms professional shots (and needing to put their name on them), we took shots ourselves. not as good, but...

lastly, same thing applies with any digital files - cad, word, excel, whatever. those are always to be considered proprietary. if you take them to use with an outgoing client, for example, you could be prosecuted for theft, mostly likely for felony theft since the firm could very easily value the files as greater than $1,000. just saying...

i think it's a great idea to show off your past work. what you'll probably find, though, is that you want to get your 'own' work out there as soon as you can. good luck with the firm and in getting something to show off what you're capable of.

Feb 6, 08 12:40 pm  · 
1  · 

Laru, I appreciate your extensive response and advice. I was concerned about the proprietary / litigational aspects of this issue - i.e. cad dwgs. Thanks for clearing up the issue. -Wake

Feb 6, 08 1:07 pm  · 

how does this apply to grad school portfolio?

Feb 6, 08 1:26 pm  · 


it probably doesn't. context, in some ways, is everything with this. if you're a lower level staff person and are just job hopping or going to grad school, most employers really won't care so much about using material from the firm, so long as you don't 'over-represent' your role. starting your own firm, though, is a different animal. now, you're the competition and the rules will change...

Feb 7, 08 9:32 am  · 
1  · 
Sean Taylor

I can't imagine any former employer thinking it was ok to show their work on your website. It's one thing to have it in your portfolio where you can explain (in person) exactly what role you played, but on a website?

Feb 7, 08 11:45 pm  · 

Lots of people do. Check out local small newish firms.

Jun 9, 23 5:31 pm  · 

Does this apply if the former firm doesn't exist any longer [it was purchased by another company]? The former owner is a retired architect now.   

Jun 9, 23 12:50 pm  · 

Yes. You would have to ask either the owner if he retained rights, or the new company.

Jun 9, 23 2:01 pm  · 

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: