What are your thoughts on NDAs?

I was contacted by a client looking for a design, but they want me to sign an NDA. I have not had to do this before.
What do I need to know about signing NDAs?

Quite annoying personally, and often completely unnecessary in my experience.

Annoying because I can’t show a lot of my best work due to NDAs, can’t include certain pieces in my portfolio, or show prospective clients, and most importanly I can’t brag about the biggest companies I have worked for!.

End of the day though, if a client wants you to sign an NDA, and you want the job, sign the NDA and grumble about it to your friends later like I do.

Sometimes the non-disclosure is just in effect until a certain date, like a product release. Other times, the client doesn’t ever want it to be discussed or made known. A lot depends on what you’ll be signing, so be sure to read it first.

As Glitchin was saying, an NDA can impede one’s ability to use the job for marketing purposes, like on a website or portfolio. When that’s the case, I’ll sometimes mention to the client that the NDA comes with an added fee because of it. They often balk at the idea, but not always.

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NDAs have become quite fashionable in corporate circles, particularly in the USA. They can be used to cover up wrongdoing, to prevent whistleblowers. They can be seen as restricting an employee’s rights. In the popular imagination, the main justification for them is to prevent industrial espionage, but would signing an NDA really stop someone paid to steal secrets? No, but it would stop someone (for instance) taking client lists to their next job, which is a perfectly reasonable use of an NDA. It’s probably OK to sign, but read it carefully first.

On the subject of not being able to use the artwork covered by an NDA in your own publicity, I never do that anyway without written permission from the client.

I always include a note to that effect in the contract. When a client insists that I remove it — depending on the client — that’s when talk of an extra fee for doing so comes into play.


Yes, double check if the NDA is prior to release only or for eternity. I agree with Just-B, if you can’t use it for or portfolio every, you should be compensated for the fact.

I’ve had to sign NDA for film and TV clients but once launched, that was fine to share.

I’ve had clients who I’ve been hired essentially as a “ghost designer”, no NDA signed, who have later asked me to take my portfolio pieces offline since they didn’t want their client to find out who they were using. Kind of a weird situation. But I did so to preserve the relationship with my client.

Read the NDA very carefully.
Especially look for any restrictive language regarding working for competitors, for any extended period of time. That can restrict your trade.

If you see something you don’t like, you can always ask what would happen if you struck the clause. You might lose the work, but would you do it anyway with the restriction?

Pay particular attention to any contract you sign. It may include prohibitions about posting anything concerning the work to social media, even if a formal NDA is not involved.

We work under them all the time for time sensitive and product sensitive releases. Usually void once the event occurs. Usually. Some clients are picky about net-searchable terms that might look like an endorsement.

I used to do quite a bit of freelance work for ad agencies when I was first starting out. Often, these agencies would not want it known that the work they farmed out to me was not actually produced in their shops by their creative staffs. I think some of them were concerned about the clients heading directly to me down the road, I also think it had something to do with them not wanting their clients to know they weren’t actually doing all the creative work themselves.

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Only had to sign two in my life, when I did some freelance work for a game title and visited the developer my brother worked for with a classmate. For as far as I know there weren’t many unreasonable restrictions. I just did the work they wanted me to and didn’t publish anything until the game release. It’s sometimes by that time pretty useless to show your work in your portfolio because it was about 2 years later and no longer my best work.

I had more problems with the company I worked for 5 years at. They had me sign a contract which said whenever I wanted to leave the company I wouldn’t be allowed to do work in the exact same branch for at least 2 years. (which was the only thing I had experience in since I got in as a graduate) I had to get a lawyer involved to undo this nonsense and to resolve the conflict I had. Now this wasn’t an NDA but I now read any contract or form carefully before getting involved. Because sometimes they make mistakes and put restrictions that are just not fair.

What you signed is called a “non-compete” contract. Those are starting to be scrutinized, at least at a state level, as unfair to workers. Some have passed laws concerning them. But that type of clause can and does show up in NDAs as well. It sure as heck can put a crimp in your clientele if you let it stand.

Any legal document should be approached with a large degree of skepticism.
Just the other day I had a doctor’s office ask me to sign a release to transfer some medical records. One item in the release said any information I released was not covered under HIPPA. I put a big slash across the form, crossed out my name, circled that item and handed it back to the receptionist. She told me I was the third one to do that that day. Then why the heck are you still handing them out, lady??? Is this a test?

I’ve signed several throughout the years The NDAs I’ve signed have basically said that the product or service is under development and that I can’t talk about it or reveal any information until the product hits the market. Just read it first to make sure you’re comfortable with the terms.

That contract was signed back when I lived in the netherlands, I don’t know if that was really something illegal they did or whether it’s just not a common thing anymore. The lawfirm at least made clear to them it was a way to screw your employees over. I’d never gotten as much out of that situation as they did. So i’m glad they exist and had the time to help me out.
Now the issue wasn’t so much that it was in there. But they hadn’t specified it further. So what they basically said was that I wasn’t allowed to do my work ‘at all’ instead of within a specific category of freelance work for a serious games developer.
The CFO from the company probably thought he knew a thing or two about laws and contracts and put it together himself, as I can imagine he would. :roll_eyes:

About that receptionist. Don’t think she meant to pester patients who come there, sometimes employees are asked to do things even if they don’t want to. Since I started working at a store, I know how annoying that can be. The higher ups decide something, and you’re thrown at the angry mob. It can make your job incredibly difficult to do and I can’t help but feel sorry if it wasn’t for her to decide. Then again we just can’t do anything but to find better jobs I suppose…

I didn’t give the receptionist any crap about it out loud anyway. She just doing her job. But I did file a complaint thru proper channels.

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@PrintDriver just to let you know, I realize my comment may have come off as defensive. It was more some of my own frustration with authority rather than trying to defend a person I don’t know :no_mouth:

What is a “Fully executed” NDA?
My client said “After I receive the signed non-disclosure I will send you back the fully executed non-disclosure.”

@ShadowElf they probably mean the copy signed by all parties. It’s not effective if it’s not.

Time periods are commonly addressed in NDAs, and usually require that the party receiving the information stays mum for a number of years. This specific information is usually up for negotiation. So, if you want this project, negotiate it if you can show this project result after the particular dates

NDAs vary in duration. Most of ours are less than 6 months, unless there is a project delay on the client side. Once the TV show airs, the event occurs or the product launches, it’s done.

Rights of publicity on the project always belong with the client, NDA or not. If you want to put any piece in your portfolio, have boilerplate language in your contract that says so. The client may strike that out if they don’t agree to it. If that happens, try to negotiate around it with them. A lot of them object to having their brand associated with yours by name. Simple fix is to offer to have any text as image (ie not searchable.) Others love the additional publicity and will go out of their way to supply you with added material or even a press kit. Your mileage will vary.

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