If you’re a freelance designer you either have been, or will be at some point, asked to provide the source files for the work you produced for the client. Generally speaking, this means a full file collect of the InDesign file, fonts, any placed vector files and images, including a layered (PSD) file if applicable. Obviously this is so the client can use the files for producing further work. Without paying you. Ohhhh myyyyyy!
Unless you had a contract that spells-out otherwise, you are considered work for hire. As such, you do not own the rights to the work—those rights are transferred to the client when you get paid. But it doesn’t cover the “working files.” So unless the contract did stipulate that you hand over the source files, you aren’t legally obliged to do so.
But here’s the reality…
You likely aren’t creating a work of art. We’re probably talking about a corporate identity kit, or an ad, or a brochure. The world we live in simply doesn’t afford us some of the luxuries designers had decades ago with regard to keeping the source files.
Refusing to hand-over the source files (including those priceless layered Photoshop files) is NOT how you earn more work from that client later on. If you want to be an asshole about a few files that you’ve already been paid for producing, you’re doing nothing but pissing off your (now former) client. Trust me, if you’ve been paid for the work, don’t delay in providing those files to the client with a smile on your face. If you delay, you will tick them off immediately, and for many people, there’s just no getting back to a good place with them once that happens.
Zip it up
When you design a logo, provide the vector files. When you design a brochure, provide the InDesign file, any placed vector art, and any image files (including any PSD files that may be required to make edits). Add it all to a Zip file and send it to your client in whatever way is easiest for you. Burning a DVD with the files may be necessary, or even sending an external USB drive with all their files (which you should charge them for!) may be necessary if you won’t be working for the client moving forward.
There’s just no reason to be a stubborn ass about it. You got paid. Give them the files. All the files. What are you going to do with them if they’re no longer your client anyway? It’s just silly.
The only exception being the fonts. By law, you are not permitted to share fonts with anyone other than a service bureau/printer for the purpose of outputting the files for the specific piece of work you used them in. In other words, the printer can install the fonts on their device to print the file; but you cannot provide the fonts to your client so they can produce other works using those fonts. Convert fonts to outlines in your vector art, and provide a link to the site where the client can purchase the fonts if they so choose. And be sure to explain why you can’t share the fonts.
Back to reality
Again, it’s important to understand the reality of the business in the modern day. There are plenty of $25 an hour “designers” out there that will be more than happy to re-create the work for your client anyway—I know, because I’ve done it many, many times. So withholding the source files from your client will only ensure that you’ll never get work from that company again, nor any company that your client contact goes to work for in the future. It’s just not worth it.
I know many of my fellow designers will not agree with this advice, and still more will scream about contracts, legal obligations, standards & ethics, blah-blah-blah. No matter what the argument, I can still bring it back to “if you got paid, hand over the files if asked.”