Is this appropriation or just lack of ethics?

I’ll try my best to keep this simple.

Municipality is a client. We provided them with a PDF file - still in draft mode with a “DRAFT” watermark on it. I left for a week off, came back to find that they cracked my PDF file open, stripped out the map I’d illustrated, deleted all credits for my organization’s design and research, as well as photos of a local mural that the Council does NOT want to be seen EVER (even though it’s our most Instagrammed image from our town, right in the centre of downtown…) And because they didn’t have the source files, all the fonts are screwed up and they POSTED IT ON THEIR WEBSITE! Links were not activated, everything is a mess. It wasn’t even finished, but they wanted full control and - as already mentioned - full credit even though they did NONE of the work!

What - if any - are the proper courses of action here? We are a non-profit organization that is supposed to be working in an arms-length relationship with the municipality, but they have literally been hunting us lately.

(Seriously: stalking our personal social media accounts, talking to our contractors’ other clients, sending a bloodhound to investigate our finances under false pretenses… it’s like living in Berlin in 1936. It’s awful.)

PS - We are in Alberta, Canada, if that makes a difference.

I appreciate any advice you can provide. TIA.

It sucks when someone rips apart your work and then ruins it. I’m not quite clear on your relationship with them… Are they a paying client?

If you want to preserve any kind of relationship I’d email/phone over and let them know you were “surprised” to see the draft artwork was on their website already as it hadn’t been finalized yet. You could also say you “noticed” they had altered the design, and the links etc. didn’t seem to be working. Did they want to go forward and have you revise the artwork to send them a finalized file? I’d try to finish up this project with them as quickly and painlessly as possible then going forward I’d be too busy for any new projects.

To answer the paying client question… they had paid an interim invoice for the initial design and content research, not for a finished product.

Staff had approached us then the elected officials lost their collective hive-mind when they found out. Thus, the stripping out of credit for all the work we did (and no mention or thanks on their website to add further insult to injury) really ‘got up my nose’.

So I suppose they got what they paid for - a half-finished (and now trashed) document.

Suffice it to say, I will never contribute my talents to anything for this council/administration’s benefit again.

Thanks for the reply. Have a great evening.

Legally speaking, it sounds like the agreement was fulfilled. This seems to be a result of internal issues on their side and not a reflection of your work. Consider it a blessing that you’re not credited on the hacked PDF, as it isn’t to your standards anyway.

If the agreement was only for development, use of a cracked file is not covered by the fee.
We aren’t lawyers here.
You might try the route wdesign mentioned but may also want to consider legal alternative.
Not knowing what the administration has in it for you, you might want to consider legal advise anyway if you feel they are “stalking” you for an unwarranted reason.

Thank you for your replies everyone. I know you aren’t lawyers but wondered if someone had had any experience with something like this and what played out.

The situation is so complex (beyond this project, which in itself was a gong show) that I can’t even venture through the seven levels of hell that it is to explain it. I appreciate your feedback - it is obvious that I need to start firing out resumes and find a new job because this is only going to get uglier. I refuse to work with unethical bureaucrats with zero integrity and no one in our organization with the teeth to stick up for us.

Thanks again.

Oh yeah - they are some kinda narcissistic rat’s nest there. I’ll sit back and wait for the phone call saying that people are complaining the fonts are messed up and they can’t read it, give us the source files. I’ll enjoy ‘dropping the receiver on the cradle’ on that call. :smiling_imp:

As a general rule, when working with government agencies, always assume there will be many many people providing conflicting direction and commentary. Some will have insights that are beyond your purview, and some will utter pure nonsense. If you can manage to make them reasonably happy, you might get the opportunity to work on their next project. Not every designer has the temperament to function in such an environment.

Ultimately, it’s their piece and they get to decide whether your map, and or any other content, gets included. Clients make bad decisions. Part of your role as a designer is to educate them so they don’t keeping making the same mistakes. If you don’t explain to them how they are damaging their brand, they’ll keep cracking open PDFs and mangling drafts, etc.

Did you specify in your contract that your organization would receive a credit line, or be featured prominently in the design? Per the Graphic Designers Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, a credit line is not something you should assume you get to place on graphic designs for your client (it’s more of a standard for illustrators though). If you did include it in your contract, and they removed it from the design, then they broke the contract and you are in a position to negotiate something to make the situation right for your org.

The smart way to quote this would be to say something like $XXXX to design the brochure, but if the client permits credit and recognition of our org in the form of (fill in the blank), then a discount of $XXX will be applied. Then if it gets changed by any one of the many people requesting changes, it’s not a big deal because they’ve already agreed to the compensation for such a change.

Not a lawyer, but I’ve been in this business since the 1980s and I do a lot of work for local cities and counties. The small ones tend to be very informal (two page contracts, and small committees). The big ones have very different cultures and procedures (50 page contracts and all sorts of supplemental documents and rules, and large committees and proofing groups). The large government agencies with the huge contracts ALWAYS have a clause where they retain the right to audit EVERYTHING I’ve done related to them, billing, bookkeeping, etc. They’ve never audited me, but they have audited others and found issues they wanted to address. This is a common practice when working with government agencies. Is it really persecution or are they providing fiscal diligence to their taxpayers by investigating possible wrongdoing?

No. No it’s not.

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