Stop theft by other designers

An issue that occasionally raises its head. This is the 2nd time this has happened to me and I am wanting to get an idea of how others protect their intellectual property.
I was recently approached by someone requesting a Polo Shirt design for their Local team and supporters, I had to create the design and then organise the printing of the Shirts in a variety of sizes - 12 of the shirts required players individual names on the front left chest, I created the design and presented it to the client, with the costings. The client then went cold on me for a couple of weeks, when I finally made contact with her she said she was waiting for another couple of designers to get back to her. 5 days later I was actually passing her business and saw the team in new Polo shirts with my design on them - FRONT & BACK - what would your course of action be here, and how would you negate this happening in the future?

It sounds like you did work on spec, if your “client” was waiting for another couple designers to get back to her.

Contract contract contract. No work until deposit received (or PO if you’ve extended credit.)

Consider it a life lesson.


It would be a very rare situation where I would do work for an unknown small client on job without a contract saying that I would be paid for the work I did. For that matter, it’s best to insist on an advance on this kind of thing.

All that aside, if you’re certain they stole your work, contract or not, it’s your work. There’s always small claims court (or its equivalent if not in the U.S.)

If you have been communicating by e-mail (including forwarding of proofs and returned comments), chances are you have an iron-clad case.

In this specific case I would contact the team and tell them what happened. Use your emails as proof. They won’t be happy with your client.

Where I work we have a few different ways of preventing this kind of thing;

  1. Money Up Front - make sure the client knows what services they are going to pay for, the cost breakdown, and the reasons why. Sometimes we accept a deposit instead. Not suitable for many clients however.
  2. Watermark Proofs - when sending proofs out we use the work ‘PROOF’ across the design in a low tint, visible but not obtrusive. If the client really objects, send a PDF locked for printing or amending (there are ways round this however).
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Even if something has PROOF written across it, that won’t stop someone from having their nephew with photoshop copy it.

Send them a bill for the work with a note that you noticed they selected your design.


That’s a good idea. Then take them to court if they don’t pay you.

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