The Native (Files) are Restless

I was recently asked to supply the native layout files for some projects I’ve worked on in the past for a customer. This comes up every so often, so I wanted to write about it here. Some people think that because they paid for the “design of a [insert custom product here]” they now own the creative layout files, as well. That is not the case, unless the original contract between the parties states this. Intellectual property (IP) rights are the legally recognized exclusive rights to creations of the mind. Under intellectual property law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Those assets have value, which belongs to the creator.

Here are some comparisons:

If you were a jingle writer, would the client expect you to give them the sheet music and all the arrangements for the band in case they wanted to change the tune after you’ve already produced and recorded it?

Does Honda include the schematics in the glove compartment when you buy an Accord in case you want to rewire the emissions system to make it go faster?

Does Deb Paquette hand out the recipe with her unbelievable paella at Zola’s in case you want to make it at home after you tweak it a little bit?

 If you get a tailor made suit, do you ask the tailor for the pattern and a pair of scissors afterwards, just in case you’d want to make some changes?

In the graphic design field, a client is contracted to receive a finished product. Usually, a press-ready PDF file. So the graphic designer’s process, along with the tools to create it, are their proprietary assets.

That said, I am perfectly willing to sell a client those rights to my intellectual property after the work is completed, or it can be included in the initial contract and the pricing will reflect its inclusion.

Hopefully, this clears things up. Be sure your contract with a graphic designer states who owns the files in the end, and the associated cost, so there are no surprises or confusion!



Written by

Erika has been in the industry for more than 25 years. She has a Communication Arts/Design degree from East Texas State University (Texas A&M-Commerce); prepress experience from working at Creative Type & Graphics; offset printing experience from working at Epperson Press; web-offset and digital printing, and direct-mail experience from working at UMR Communications; production experience from working at Griffith Phillips Creative and RBMM (a division of The Richards Group); and design experience from working at UMR Communications, as well as working with her own freelance clients.