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Shabbat Parashat Tzav | 5770

Pninat Mishpat: Responsibility for the Pay of a Graphic Designer

(condensed from an unpublished p’sak of the Beit Din of Eretz Hemdah, Yerushalayim)

Case: The defendant (=def) was involved in putting out a book of articles. He was in discussions with the plaintiff (=pl), a niece of Rav S., to do the book’s layout. Rav S. took over the finances and rights to the book. He agreed orally to wages for pl of 25 shekels per page, received def’s permission to have X Publishing House publish, and had 2,000 copies made without pl’s approval. X refused to pay pl because she overcharged, according to def. X gave def 400 copies of the book at 15 shekels a copy so that they could sell them to cover charges. Def sold enough to pay 2,800 shekels to X and 5,500 shekels to pl. However, pl figures that she was owed 8,800 shekels, leaving a balance of 3,300 shekels, and claims she has rights in the book (due to improvements she made to it) so she should receive royalties until she is paid. Def claims that Rav S. was in charge of the finances, including negotiating her wages, and, therefore, he is responsible to pay her. Def demands some of the 5,500 shekels he paid to her back because he has determined she was overpaid. He also claims that pl is responsible to sell books if she wants to be paid and that her overcharging caused the book’s distribution to fail.


Ruling: Pl has the status of a worker, in this case, a kablan (one paid by the task, not by time). As such, she is responsible just to do the work she agreed to in a reasonable manner and has no responsibility for the success of the project.

On the other hand, regarding responsibility to pay her, although the overall project was def’s, he is not responsible to pay pl. Firstly, since def denies accepting responsibility, the burden of proof is upon her that def did so. Secondly, it is clear from various statements that pl made during the litigation that Rav S. is the one who hired her, and therefore, it is to him that she should go for her pay.

Regarding the possibility that pl return money to def, we rule as follows. As we have determined that def was not personally obligated but Rav S. was, def was like one who pays someone else’s debt. There is a machloket between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama (Choshen Mishpat 108:1) whether the one who paid can demand repayment from the debtor. There is also a machloket whether he can ask the money back from the person he paid (Pitchei Choshen, Halva’ah 5:(91)), and therefore he cannot get the money back out of doubt.

Does pl have rights in the book? There is an opinion that uman koneh beshevach kli (an artisan acquires rights in the object he worked on up to the value of the money due him), and there is a question as to what opinion is accepted (see Pitchei Choshen, Sechirut 13:6). In any case, it is not applicable here because pl did not make improvements in the book but only made improvements in the computer file, which was used to produce the book. Therefore, she does not have rights.

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R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

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