What can I do if I was going through the interview process, part of which was to handle a marketing campaign for a prominent company, and now they are using it but I haven’t been paid?

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What can I do if I was going through the interview process, part of which was to handle a marketing campaign for a prominent company, and now they are using it but I haven’t been paid?

I spent 3 weeks producing the campaign and was told I would be flown down for the interview. After several weeks they contacted me saying that my work was solid but they were looking for a candidate with new ideas. I never signed anything and the company never asked to use my work. The work I produced is now being used by this company. If I had to charge a client for this it would be upward of $40,000. Do they have the right to use my work? Can I go after them for the time and money I spent on this?

Asked on January 22, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Illinois

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

They cannot use your exact copy, graphics, artwork, etc., since that would violate your copyright; if they are using it, you could sue them for copyright infringement and receive compensation or "damages." (When you create a new original graphic or textual work, you get copyright in it even without registering it.) They would also be liable under the theory of unjust enrichment: it is unjust or unfair, in a way the courts will not let stand, for them to use your work without paying you.
But if they just used your idea, not your actual work, they can do that unless they signed a non-disclosure or similar agreement. The law does not protect ideas, only actual creative work.
To use an example: I can't take scene or lines from "The Force Awakens" to make my own science fiction films. But if three years ago, the director had told me that he was working on a big-budget film about a rebellion still fighting on after the evil emperor is dead and the son of the heros turning evil, I could have made my own science fiction or fantasy film based on that idea, as long as there no Jedi, lightsabers, wookies, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, etc. etc. in it.


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