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