Your Web Site Is Done, Now Who Owns The Design Files?

by Joanna Pineda Posted on July 9, 2009

locked CD A client whose Web site we recently implemented asked us to make changes to their Web site.  What is normally a routine request turned into a major affair.  The problem?  The design firm that had created their original designs had gone out of business.  The contract specified that the design firm owned the design and the all source files.  So when the company went out of business, gone went the files. Ugh.

I attended a wedding recently where the couple had hired a much sought after photographer.  I asked him if he gave clients their digital files and he said yes.  He said that he believed in charging clients a fair price and then letting them own all the original images.  Yes, he makes more money if clients order photos or a photo book, but if they don’t, he’s been fairly compensated and he’s happy.

Like the wedding photographer, I fundamentally disagree that design firms should own their clients’ designs.  When we at Matrix Group create a design, our contract specifies that the client owns the design and that we will deliver all source files at the completion of a project once the final invoice has been paid. This only makes sense to us because each design is unique, is created just for the specific client, and will never be re-used.

I’ve had more than one designer complain that turning over a design to a client means they can screw it up.  Yes, it’s true, clients sometimes modify designs and we don’t like the results, but clients also deserve the ability to manage their sites without having to depend on us.  Like the wedding photographer, we charge a fair price, and then deliver a CD containing all files.  And contrary to what you might think, clients don’t retain us for a design and then bolt.  On the contrary, they stick around and give us more work.

Yes, there are always going to be cases where designers and artists should retain ownership of their work.  But I suggest looking carefully at all of your design contracts to make sure ownership is clearly delineated and you don’t get nasty surprises down the road.

2 replies on “Your Web Site Is Done, Now Who Owns The Design Files?”

It feels not open and fair to own the design. It’s a kind of macho behaviour I think. (My english is not so good I am sorry). I think your client is going to trust you more if you give them the design and the possibility to do with it wat they want. In the end they come back to you and give you more work and a good relationship.

Groeten Marjan van Welie (Jetverzet on twitter)

Marjan, thank you for your comment. My clients feel the same way, so doing anything else would feel unfair and not right to them. There is something very important about owning the design you paid for, and knowing that it won’t be re-used.

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