If I’m a developer, can I use a screenshot of my work performed for another company in my portfolio?

screenshotDevelopers often work as independent contractors (sometimes called freelancers) for companies to create apps and other kinds of software.  When beginning this type of engagement, there’s often a consulting agreement signed by both parties that should outline who owns the copyright to the intellectual property that will be created under the agreement.

Let’s say the agreement specifies that the hiring company owns the copyright.  I’ve often been asked whether the hiring company owning the copyright will prevent the developer from being able to use a screenshot of the app as part of his portfolio when showcasing work that he’s performed.

A good argument can be made that using a screenshot would fall under what we call “fair use.”  Because the screenshot is probably not going to substitute for the entire app nor would it contain the app’s source code, it’s unlikely that it would be considered copyright infringement.

That said, just because a judge likely wouldn’t rule that the use is copyright infringement doesn’t mean that the company would be okay with the use.  And there’s nothing to stop them from putting up a stink about it if they think the usage is inappropriate (for copyright or other reasons).  Developers will also need to make sure that using the screenshot doesn’t violate any confidentiality agreement that’s in place with the hiring company in the event that the app hasn’t gone live for them yet.

From a legal standpoint regarding copyright infringement, using a screenshot of an app in a portfolio probably won’t be a problem.  But from a practical standpoint, developers should consider officially reserving the right in the contract to use the screenshot or doing something a little more informal by simply asking permission.

While it’s unlikely that anyone would bring a copyright infringement claim on something like this, it’s always good to cover your bases and simply get permission.  Not only do you protect yourself, but it also goes a long way in helping to build a good relationship with your clients because it shows them that you’re taking their interests and concerns into consideration.

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