Handing over source files to clients: Be realistic
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.”
This is absurd. As a designer you should not give away your source files.
The source files are a separate entity from the final design and will be treated as such.
In regards to your comment… “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.”
And that designer will be grateful to not work with companies such as those. Usage rights are understood quite well in the “real world” by well established businesses.
A few analogies to end with:
If you buy a packet of apples, you don’t get the tree they grew on.
If you buy a meal at a restaurant, you don’t get a recipe and food samples to give to another chef.
I agree with Caspian.
Why give the next designer, your competition, a leg up on you by handing over your skillfully masked, meticulously clipped, expertly layered working files? If it took you 20 years to master a set of techniques, why should you make the replacement’s life that much easier? Yes, give them a printable, editable file with supporting links for reproduction, but not all your production secrets and personal styles with it.
Why would a client come back to you if you don’t reserve your hard earned expertise for your own workflow?
Let the next guy prove his own worth, or fail if need be, to show why you can command the rate you deserve.
The article sounds like it was written by a client wants to undercut the professionals.
While I agree that as a ‘gun for hire’ the client may indeed have the rights to your outputs (unless you have a contract that spells it out otherwise — which mine does). What I think you have left out of the discussion is the designers IP in the creation of said artwork/design (and of course fonts…)
Not all files are created equally and to hand over the years of ones learnings with a client is, in my opinion, unnecessary. If the gig is over then the outputs of ones creative endeavours are usually theirs, but knowing personal approaches/efficiencies (nested styles, advanced stylesheets, conditional texts, super-smart objects based on many years experience is not. I’m not advocating crippling a file, but one should think carefully about exactly what one is sharing.
Have to agree with you on this subject. Files are useless to you if the customer goes elsewhere. Who can use some other companies files. I have only ever had to hold files ransom for payment. That is the only situation where I will hold files. No payment, no files. I do not work for free.