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Dealing with Clients and Copyrights as a Freelance Designer

Who Owns the Copyrights to your Designs?

Dealing with Clients and Copyrights as a Freelance Designer
Have you ever been in a situation where a client asks or demands working files of a document? What do you do when a client requests the working files for the designs that you created for them? Unless you specified in a contract, you don’t have to release any working files if you haven’t released the rights, and so you own the intellectual property.

A business associate explained to me, “it’s the same concept as when you buy a Big Mac, you’re buying the burger, not the recipe; or when you hire a photographer, you’re buying the pictures, not the negatives.” I thought to myself, here’s the perfect analogy! It simplifies and explains the actuality of the client’s request quite clearly.

As a designer, you have the right to protect your work. If you don’t want to get in an awkward situation with a client or jeopardize your relationship, the best advice I can give you is to write a copyright agreement before you start any work. The agreement will outline the terms and conditions for you and the client. State in the agreement the ownership and usage of the intellectual property, i.e.,what files the client will receive and owns rights to, will they get the working files or the high resolution locked pdf’s. It’s also important to include any fees that would be applicable if the client wants the working files. It’s up to you to decide the right price to own the working design files, but generally Freelance Communication Designers will double the cost of the production for a grand total.

One more tip, know your stuff – be a sponge! Absorb yourself with as much information and knowledge as possible on copyright laws, reach out to fellow designers for help or tips, or even seek legal counsel if the situation starts to escalate. Don’t feel pressured to back down if you feel deep down inside that you are being taken advantage of, stand up for yourself!

It’s ultimately your choice whether or not if you want to retain the intellectual property. However, if you were employed as an employee for the company, then the company owns the rights to the files. Sorry, but it’s their intellectual property not yours. If you were hired externally as a freelancer, then you do own the rights.

To sum everything up, during your career you may be put in the middle between the relationship with your client and the rights to your designs. If this happens to you then back yourself up with knowledge! And the best advice I have for you is to start your client relationship off with an agreement outlining the terms and conditions for the designs. This way you won’t get stuck in a nasty copyright battle with a client and potentially lose their business.

Here’s some resources to check out regarding copyright for Graphic Designers and intellectual property that I found helpful.

The Copyright Act

Copyright Basics for Graphic Designers – By Steve Ferguson

Questions about Copyright In Canada

AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services

  1. Thats a very well researched article; I see you took to heart what we wrote in our Copyright Basics for Graphic Designers. Thanks for the credit and keep up the great work 😉


  2. We wish more bloggers wrote articles like this to help freelancers and buyers of freelance work better together and understand that the transaction of money does not automatically confer rights of copyright and intellectual property ownership. Keep more articles like this coming.


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