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The Perils of Freely Giving Away Your Working Files

One of the ethical issues that creatives face from time to time is the question of whether to freely hand over your Working Files or Source Files as a part of your deliverable. In my humble opinion, handing over the source files for free per se isn’t the real issue here — it’s the possible repercussions of doing so.

That’s the reason why it is a common practice for creative firms, agencies and professionals to charge a premium for adding the working files as a  part of the deliverables to a project. There’s no specific standard rate for it though; some would say an additional of at least 50% of the project’s price , others would argue that it should be 100% of the quoted price of the final artwork… I personally think it all depends on how much you value the time and effort you’ve spent on the project plus the perceived value of the opportunity costs that you are exposing yourself to by handing over the working files. I mean would you say no if a company offers you a retirement fund in exchange for the working files of their logo or artwork?

What do you mean when you say ‘Opportunity Costs’?
Charging a premium payment for the working files is the Creative Agency/Professional’s way of ensuring that we are properly compensated for delivering a ‘template’ as opposed to just completing an artwork. Handing over the Source Files empowers the client to:

  •  Easily switch to a ‘more-affordable’ (more often than not; cheap and less experienced) designers who would just bill them beer money.  Thus effectively exposing yourself to the possibility of not getting other projects or billable work from that client.
  • Makes enough changes to the artwork that deviates so far away from your style and creative integrity as a designer. I know that this one is a little personal, but it is always too easy for designers to be attached to their work.
  • Use the file as a template for other (unrelated) projects or even tweak it a little bit so that they could sell them off as templates for other companies

How can I avoid such debacle?
Explicitly state it in your contract that you’ll require an additional fee should your client request for the working files. If you’ve already started drafting the quote for a project wherein you’ve listed down the scope and deliverables of the project, just add it there as a note or an additional option where you could name your price. Or at least mention it an email exchange with your client so that you can refer back to it when you need to. Just remember that you can’t sell what you don’t own — meaning you can’t include the fonts and other proprietary stuff in your packaged file. The most you could do is send them the link where they could purchase the licenses for these things.

I know it seems inconceivable, but there are quite a handul of dumb*ss misinformed clients who think that they own everything associated with the project — including all the licenses for the fonts, images and software that you’ve bought and used to complete the project. I (vaguely) remember an incident wherein a publisher, whom I’ve helped launch, revamp and rebrand their primary school project into a decent magazine, asked me for a copy of all the fonts and a copy of the software that I was using because her newfound (presumably ‘more affordable’ and more of a masochist) BFF designer only had an older version of the creative suite. Even after tediously explaining to her that I am ethically and legally obligated not to supply her with the font/software files she still had the hardest time understanding the logic behind copyright violations and software piracy – almost as if she finds moral comfort in ignorance, telling me (with profound conviction and just a notch shy of something that would qualify as shouting) “Asking for all these file isn’t illegal! I know of no existing law that prohibits you from giving me these files. The whole publication is mine!”….hmmn… whatever.

The bottomline…
is that, as a creative you have to give value your work and your time. You have to know what you should be compensated for, and whenever you’re giving something away for free (not just the working files, but anything other than the deliverables stated in your contract, which includes your professional advice) — you have have to let your client know that they are getting these in good faith. That way they’d understand that you are actually doing them a favor by adding value on top of what was agreed on. This will also give them the right impression that you are a professional and your time is valuable. If you don’t give value to your time, your profession and your works; how can you expect any client to do so?

Rockstar for hire.
I help businesses create memorable branding experiences for their customers.

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