The Non-Disclosure Agreement: What am I signing?

Alex Bigman

You might be familiar with this scenario:

You enter a private contest (the kind with the padlock symbol next to the prize), create some great work, the contest ends, and now you’re ready to show off your great work to the world by posting it on your Facebook, blog, Behance portfolio and wherever else you leave an Internet footprint.


Remember that Non Disclosure Agreement form you signed before you were able to even view the contest? The one full of dense legal language? It looked like this:

Non-Disclosure Agreement

By signing this form, you agreed not to share any information about the contest — and that includes your design — anywhere. If you break this agreement, you might get into some very serious legal trouble.

We don’t want anyone in our community getting threatening phone calls from a client’s lawyer, so we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in order not to break any rules.

What is a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA)?

An NDA is a legally binding contract between two parties that sets rules about sharing information. The “disclosing party” has important information which they wish to give to the “receiving party,” but which they do NOT want the general public to know. The NDA basically tells the receiving party what information must not be shared. NDAs are very common in business, where companies want to keep their plans and data a secret from competitors.

When do I encounter NDAs on 99designs?

You are presented with an NDA whenever you try to enter a private contest (the kind with the padlock symbol next to the prize). Customers choose to run private contests because they want all of the information in them, like the brief, feedback and progression of designs, to remain secret. Think of it this way: when an entrepreneur pours his heart and soul into starting a new business, he is going to want full control over how his company’s mission and branding are introduced to the market. So it’s no surprise that he might feel apprehensive about sharing such business details with a large, global group of designers. The NDA assures him that his information will be safe with the designers in his contest.

Should I sign the NDA?

If you want to enter the contest, even if it is just to watch, you must sign the NDA. If you do not want this responsibility, choose a non-private contest instead.

What does the 99designs NDA restrict me from doing, exactly?

We encourage you to read the contract yourself. That being said, we know it is not exactly a thrilling read, and the language is difficult even for a native English speaker. Don’t worry: if you follow the following instructions, you will be fine:

  • Do not share any information about the contest (the brief, the feedback, your design, other people’s designs — ANYTHING) with anyone. Not with your mom at the breakfast table; not with your Facebook friends; and certainly not with total strangers via your portfolio site.
  • Even when the contest is over, you still cannot share. Even if you win, you cannot share.
  • You can only share if you make an explicit agreement with the contest holder in writing, signed by both parties.

What happens if I violate the NDA?

You can be sued and held liable for breach of contract.

Oops. What if I have already violated an NDA by posting things from a private contest on my social media, portfolio site, etc.?

Remove the sensitive material immediately and make sure the page no longer appears in search engine results (for example, when you do a Google Image search for the image). Some sites keep a copy of the page in existence even when you think you have deleted it, so you have to actually contact the host site about eliminating it permanently.

Simple enough, right? Just keep this in mind and, by all means, keep sharing all your great work from non-private contests to your heart’s content!

Any questions? We’ll answer them in the comments!

Related articles:
Announcing a new 99designs service: Swiftly
Introducing Platinum contests
Goodbye comment wall, hello Q&A!
That little ©: a quick guide to copyright
5 famous copyright infringement cases (what you can learn)

The author

Alex Bigman
Alex Bigman

Alex contributes from New York City on topics ranging from branding and typography to the history of design.


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