Can I sue a company for using my images?

My sister opened a business over a year ago using much of my help. I was promised payment for labor and my skills. I created websites for her and did manual labor all without being paid, which she then decided she didn’t want to use my websites. I also created many images for her business which she had used and the company is still using today. I was never compensated for my hard work. I still have some files and can prove the images are mine. I don’t have anything in writing about payment as it was a verbal agreement. What should I do?

Asked on March 4, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Illinois

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

You should speak with an attorney--you may be able to sue your sister and/or her business if you want.

1) Breach of contract--a contract does not always need to be written to be enforceable. If there was an agreement that you would be paid for doing the work, and you did the work, it may be that your sister needs to pay you.

2) Unjust enrichment--the law prohibits one person from "enriching" herself unjustly at the expense of another, such as by taking and benefitting from another's labor without compensation (unless, that is, the person had volunteered or gifted his/her services). Therefore, if your sister has used your images without compensation, that may be unjust enrichment.

3) Breach of copyright. If you were never paid for the images, you are likely the copyright owner; therefore, your sister may not use them without your permission, and may be forced to pay compensation for their unauthorized use.


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