Freelancer and Airtasker are brawling over who came up with the concept for the 'Like a Boss' ad campaign

Screenshot from the Airtasker campaign.

Two of Australia’s best known tech companies, Freelancer and Airtasker, are engaged in an escalating behind-the-scenes legal brawl over who owns the idea behind the “Like a Boss” marketing campaign.

Online labour marketplace company Freelancer, headed by high-profile entrepreneur Matt Barrie, started an investigation when it saw competitor Airtasker launch its campaign in September.

Freelancer says the campaign is so similar to its own advanced plans that it can’t be a coincidence. It has sent legal letters demanding the advertisements be taken down.

Here’s one of the Airtasker clips from its Like a Boss campaign:

“Being LIKE A BOSS is that sense of awesome empowerment that you feel right to your core when you truly succeed at something,” the Airtasker website says.

According to legal letters and other documents seen by Business Insider, Freelancer first sent an email in September to Airtasker alleging that confidential information on its proposed marketing campaign was being used by Airtasker. Freelancer says this is misappropriation of intellectual property.

Freelancer says Nikki Parker, its former regional director who resigned in October 2014, came up with the “Like a Boss” idea, including the concept of developing characters with back stories. The company had been preparing to launch its campaign when Airtasker went public with similar wording and ideas.

Freelancer says the slogan appeared after two of its employees moved to the competitor. Airtasker’s VP of marketing Simon Reynolds and senior product manager Devadittya Banerjee are former Freelancer employees.

Airtasker co-founder and chief executive Tim Fung has denied any wrongdoing by the company or any of its employees. He says no Airtasker employee was working at Freelancer during the time the “Like a Boss” marketing idea was supposedly conceived.

“No Airtasker employee was even working at Freelancer whilst Nikki Parker and Matt Barrie allege they brainstormed the idea for ‘Like a Boss’,” he told Business Insider.

“According to Linkedin, Nikki Parker worked at Freelancer from May 2013 to Oct 2014. Simon Reynolds commenced and ended his employment at Freelancer prior to this time — he ended his employment in August 2012.

A draft design from Freelancer’s campaign.

“Dev Banerjee commenced and ended his employment in December 2014 to April 2016. We note that this was after Nikki Parker left Freelancer — she stated in [industry publication] AdNews that her “Like a Boss” project ended when she ended her employment.”

Fung says advertising agency U Don’t Know Us (UDKU) was responsible for his company’s campaign and not the two staffers who had moved over from Freelancer. Airtasker has so far ignored Freelancer’s demands that it stop the advertising. The “Like a Boss” slogan, characters and videos are still prominently featured online.

When the campaign was launched in September Reynolds told AdNews Australia: “Our community members found a great feeling of accomplishment when using Airtasker, to the point where they just might break into dance. So we wanted to bring this to life in our first major marketing campaign.”

Piper Alderman, lawyers for Freelancer, say the Airtasker campaign is “nearly identical” to Freelancer’s proposed campaign. In a letter to Fung, the lawyers said: “They (Freelancer) identified that one or more employees of Freelancer lnternational, who were privy to our clients’ confidential information, are now in the employ of Airtasker.”

The lawyers added that the law does not allow an unfair competitive advantage through the use of that confidential information. Freelancer has foreshadowed legal action to prevent Airtasker’s further use of the information.

Fung says Freelancer has not used the concept in any public activity even though it claims it came up with the idea in 2013.

He says Freelancer even tried to register a trademark for “Like a Boss” on the day after Airtasker’s campaign was rolled out on September 19.

Here’s another clip from the Airtasker campaign:

“‘Like a Boss’ is a popular expression and internet meme dating back to 2004. The expression was made popular by the Lonely Island song in 2009. There are 1.8 million YouTube videos and 19.7 million Google results referring to the term ‘Like a Boss’,” he says.

A spokesman for Freelancer told Business Insider the campaign was developed internally, from concept to development and production.

“Almost everybody working at Freelancer in the marketing and product groups over the last number of years knows about this campaign,” the spokesperson says.

“We have a huge amount of material as part of an ongoing campaign that has been developed for years.”

The spokesman says there are limits to what Freelancer can say because the matter is subject to legal process.

However, it would be “a truly astounding coincidence” for both companies to have come up with “absolutely uncanny” similarities in concept and slogan.

And this from two companies located a few blocks away from each other in Sydney, the spokesman says.

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