Who owns the original files? We or the client?

We’re located in Scandinavia and have had a client in Hong Kong the past 4 years. Made their site + brochures and other printed stuff since then. No actual contract has been signed.

A while ago, they employed a new marketing guy. He’s now asking me to send him the original files for some prints we made a couple of years ago for them. As long as it’s the pdf files they used for the printing, it’s OK as that’s the material they received back then.

But if he’s after the original files (Photoshop, InDesign, etc) from which we created the pdf:s, then I’m not as eager to comply as 1) I assume he’ll hand them over to someone else and we’ll lose their business and 2) they haven’t actually paid to become the owners of the original files, but merely for the result (i.e. the layout in finished form as pdf files).

Can someone shed some light on this? What’s the international practice, etc?

There are no standards on this. You would normally define what the client is purchasing within your contract. Basically without anything clearly defined, you can withhold the PSDs if you wish. However, there would be better, less confrontational ways to approach this that could be more beneficial.

I mean, do you really think it would be a bad thing for the marketing guy to have the source files? Why does he want them exactly? How do you think your client is going to view this , should you refuse to hand them over? Do you think they’ll see it as you being uncooperative and perhaps they may rethink doing further business with you? Have you spoken to your client?

what exactly do you think you’ll lose over this?

Just asking - it seems like you’ve got all protective about the source files when perhaps there’s really no need to. If the marketing guy just wants to mess around with something and make minor changes, I suspect the client would be unhappy that you were stopping him doing this, just because you feel that’s your job. I think the client would prefer the work gets done the most quick and cost effective way

Thanks for reply. Appreciated, even if you have irrelevant opinions that I never asked for. (If you have noticed that I’ve kept a client that’s located at the other side of the globe for four years, it should have been a pretty obvious indicator that I’m quite good at customer relationships. :wink: )

All I wanted to know is if there’s some kind of industry standards when it comes to this, as I remember it used to be.


LOL, well my friend, I thought I’d try to help you see it from a different perspective. I’m sure you are very good a customer relationships, although maybe not so good with forum relationships…? :nono:

It’s standard in our shop to retain the ownership of the masters but it’s the one contract point that 8 out of 10 new clients dispute so I usually revert it back to them before the final agreement. It’s also important to not assign them the rights of elements inside the original design that you do not have explicit rights to yourself (fonts, stock, etc…). Clients have a very hard time understanding that they can’t use a stock photo from their website on a brochure.

The standard is that the client owns whatever the contract specifies the deliverables to be and you own whatever workings that you used to produce those deliverables. If the contract isn’t that specific then you ought to be able to work out what is a deliverable and what is workings on the basis of whether the file forms a part of the finished work or is something that the client needed to receive along the way in order to make a decision - in which case it is a deliverable and belongs to the client - or is a file that you created while working on producing the deliverables and is not something the client needs to see (and could as easily have been produced in an entirely different format in a different program entirely) in which case it is just workings and belongs to you.

I always looked at it like this: if the client wants source files of .psd or .fla files in order to reuse them themselves, then holding on to them to prevent them from using another designer is like keeping the client hostage.

On the other hand, if they are asking for the source code to a custom shopping cart or database-driven member management application, you might want to think twice, because he could resell the application himself and not owe you a dime. For me, the deciding factor whether to transfer ownership to the client or not lies in its potential to be resold.

A few year ago, I was that marketing guy asking the agency for the original source files. I made changes to them in order to reprint updated versions of our marketing collateral. I also designed additional pieces using the same design elements from the brochure they created. They never once denied turning them over or insisted we pay them to make the changes rather than use me, their in-house designer.