Freelancing for a freelancer -- ethical concerns

A good friend of mine is a freelancer who often gets in more work than she can handle herself. If available, I’ll take it on – maybe 10 hours a month. In these cases, she serves as project manager, handling communication between me and her client. I guess I assumed her client knew that she had someone assisting her on these designs, but now I know that has not been the case. Not only that, I just discovered some work I designed is featured on her website portfolio.

Though I’m not as confrontational as I should be, I brought it up and she said we both have the right to put the work in our portfolios. That doesn’t seem right to me – what do you think? What’s legal and ethical in this situation?

“Legal” and “ethical” are both relative concepts.

What’s legal is whatever you and the designer for whom you subcontract have agreed to. If there’s not a mutual agreement in place, then you’ve left yourself exposed to whatever happens. If legal action results, in the absence of a contract you may have difficulty establishing standing, but in any case the arbitrator/adjudicator will pass final judgement as to whether either of you suffered damages as a result of the other’s actions.

What’s ethical is also relative to mutual agreement and sustained business relationship. If you express clearly that you don’t want your work displayed in her portfolio, then it would be unethical to the relationship for her to keep it there.

Personally, I’m not sure why it matters. Why so possessive? Over the years I’ve displayed work to which I contributed, to which others contributed, vice-versa, and otherwise. Sometimes those contributions did indeed amount to “management” as opposed to direct creative execution. Any team effort is a shared product. The 300 people who worked on Feature Film xxxx all have Feature Film xxxx in their portfolios.


That’s why I’m asking for opinions here instead of coming across as a possessive jerk to her. :slight_smile: I’m kind of new at this.

What you said make sense, and I realize that in the absence of an agreement, there’s not much I can do.

It just feels like stealing. If we were talking about a painting I did, I can’t imagine that someone would sign their name to my artwork and put it on their wall in order to get more business. Is this situation that different?

Not unlike my initial reply, it isn’t that simple. If you were commissioned to do that painting by her, for a client of hers, it becomes the deliverable in her business transaction; an output of her operation.

Opinions differ of course, but in mine, that makes it acceptable for her to use it as representative of her product sold to a satisfied customer.

Of course, the above-described situation isn’t tantamount to her “signing her name” directly to a canvas on which only you applied paint. Obviously, that would be fraudulent on her part, and not really directly analogous to the portfolio-inclusion scenario.


A typical freelancer portfolio is just a collection of the work those those people are capable of doing themselves. If this is the case with your friend’s portfolio, this friend is being dishonest by passing off your work as his or her own.

On the other hand, a business portfolio or website is a slightly different thing. A business website that contains a portfolio of work is a portfolio of the kinds of work the business is capable of doing for their customers. So if the business regularly subs out jobs, well, that’s part of their business model and part of the services they offer to their clients. That being the case, it’s perfectly fine to show that work on their website since it represents the kind of thing the business is capable of providing their clients through their employees and freelancers.


What you are describing is exactly how design agencies operate with their designers. I started my agency doing the same thing your friend is doing (being overloaded with jobs and sub-contracting out work to others while being the director for the project). Your friend has the same right to show work she is capable of doing as a director as you do as the designer.


It may be similar to if you subcontracted a font designer on your project. Both of you should be able to feature the work in your portfolios.

If you did the painting as your art, then yes. But if you did the painting as an illustration for her design project, then not so much.

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