Project References Need Approval From Customers?

Recently had an issue where an integrator posted a detailed narrative and pictures on his website about a major surveillance project he was proud to have completed. Problem is, the client for whom he did the project has a strict confidentiality agreement for all of its vendors, which states that a vendor cannot even mention that they do work for the client, let alone provide the level of detail that this guy did.

When confronted, the integrator stated that "he did the work" and he "has a right" to use the project as a reference. I'm sure that the client's legal department is following up on this, and I'm not sure what the outcome will be, but it does raise an interesting question: what, if any, rights does an integrator (or manufacturer or consultant) have regarding projects that they complete?

Do you always get permission before using a project as a reference?

(As a side note, I find it a little ironic that some of the same clients who refuse to allow their projects to be used as references always themselves ask for at least three references when they are evaluating a service provider.....)


I dunno, seems to me if the integrator signed a confidentiality agreement, he signed away any "rights" he had to talk about it, and he doesn't have a legal OR moral leg to stand on: he went into the project knowing he wouldn't be allowed to talk about it and willingly agreeing to that, and then did it anyway.

Then again, given the way lawyers and the "legal system" operate, there's a chance he might actually get away with it...

"I find it a little ironic that some of the same clients who refuse to allow their projects to be used as references always themselves ask for at least three references when they are evaluating a service provider..."

"Do you have references?"
"Yes... I can tell you about them, but then I'd have to kill you."

Without knowing the details, it sounds like a dumb thing to do. Why tick off your client in such a heavily comptetive business? It doesn't make sense. If they wouldn't allow him to post details about the job and the client identity, they still might have been a good reference for a future possible client.

There have been some customers that I have worked for in the past that would not permit us to mention their name in any references or advertising and we had to sign lengthy non-disclosure agreements before we could set foot on site. (Hint: amusement parks and beverage manufacturers) And yes, they asked for references too...

See personality rights/ the right of publicity:

"The right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one's identity"

I have heard the contrary argument ("he did the work" and he "has a right" to use) many time before. However, that's simply wrong. You have to get explicit permission.

We have a similar issue with manufacturers ("if you say something positive about us, of course we have the right to turn you into an endorser, but if you criticize us, obviously you are a biased idiot").

While companies routinely and unknowingly turn their customers or the media into endorsers, this carries real risk, both legally and professionally.

We always asked if we could use a customer as a reference. Even more detailed, we'd ask if we could use specific sites because it could vary. We did have people say no. And related to what Grocke said, some of those bigger names corporations have a lot to lose by people divulging anything. You don't even realize how things ripple out once they're leaked...I'd tell you about it, but I'm under NDA not to. :(

"The right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one's identity"

Which says nothing about the person's WORK.

Let's say you are a security integrator and I own a pizzeria - "Sal's Pizza". You install a security system for me and then you include my company name and logo in your brochure. You don't have that right.

It would be different if you just said, "SoundyCo has successfully deployed systems at top pizzerias" but citing specific names and brands is where it crosses the line (unless you have permission from Sal's Pizza).

Ah, I see what you were getting at... I thought you were referring to the integrator's "right to use" - as in, sure he has full rights over his own image, etc., but not over his work.

You'll see this in practice often. Manufacturers will cite customers who are 'Top 10 banks' or 'US Military' or 'Major Big Box Retailer', specific enough that they get some credibility but not that specific that it uses a particular bank, branch or retailer as a public endorser.

In my experience, the company will ask first for permission to use the name/brand, get turned down and then adopt the language above as a work around.

That said, lots of companies try to get around this, especially in private or semi-private situations and use the specific brand ("We just rolled out systems at all the Cracker Barrels in Alabama", etc.) when they do not have general permission to cite them.

Btw, here's a brewing controversy over Exacq / Arecont case studies of an Illinois school.

Evidently, the manufacturers disclosed more details than even the community knew about the system.