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I started logo and packaging design a year ago. The client warned me they would be complicated and would demand many changes - however, I believed with my skills (and love for the product) we would get there soon.

Now: I'm not sure for what reason - the client turns sour and won't communicate professionally with me (only bullying and sort of abusive way). They never indicated what they like as a final and for example: wanted to see the last three designs in 10 colors... etc. as they are not sure what information they want to say on the boxes. Believe me, I tried hard, even made tick boxes. However, they think I'm overcharging them as we haven't got to the final state.

I said I'd like to quit and am willing to give them all their final files (as usual process) - however, now they also demand all the logos that I created along the way (which could be about 10-15 logos). I believe they have no rights to those. They've been given the complete package of the final logo of course.

They also asked me to give them 'final' banners and packaging labels - even the latest we had them in a state of drafts - laid on A4 in a presentation style - not set to dimension, etc..

I couldn't find any information if the client has the right to use all the logos produced along the way? And can they force me to get to the final state (without paying for it of course) - I know the answer is no - I am just not sure how to explain this to them.

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Clients are NOT generally entitled to source files or design drafts unless you agreed to that in a contract. Do you have a contract or terms of business? What does it say? If it's unclear, seek legal advice.

Source files are somewhat analogous to a secret sauce recipe. They basically contain your trade secrets or intellectual property, i.e. information on how you constructed the graphics, information (and editable files) which could potentially be used by your competitors. Ask a chef for his secret recipe and you will be told to p... off. Ask a hairdresser to write down exactly how they cut your hair and applied all of the hair products, and you will be asked to leave the salon with half a haircut. Go and buy some furniture, and then ask the store's supplier for the blueprint for the design of that furniture because you already bought the table and chairs, and you will be told politely (or not) where to go. Graphic design is a skilled trade like any other in this respect, you sell a product, not the plans for that product.

If a client wants the source files, the generally accepted practice is to charge extra for that extra knowledge/convenience. Or if you don't feel like selling your soul, you are well within your rights to refuse.

Also, for the sake of clarity in future, it's probably best to draw up some terms/contract before undertaking any job, which stipulates very clearly that the client pays for the end product only, and that source files, sketches and drafts are not included in the price.

Although at this point, in your particular case, you may instead feel you just want to be rid of your difficult client. Just giving them the files is obviously a quick way out, and that's totally understandable.

Also note that nobody can force you to undertake unpaid work. That's slavery. It's abusive. Do not agree to this. It's totally indefensible, unethical, and illegal in most western democracies.

Disclaimer: This does not constitute legal advice. You might want to contact your lawyer if you have contractual obligations, and run it by them before you take any further action, especially if you suspect things might get out of hand and end up in court.

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  • Thank you for your reply. Very appreciated. Yes, I understand. I guess where I got confused is: I gave them a quote for logo and packaging (labels) design. Let's say 1700 NZD including 2 revisions. After 3 rounds they decided to ask an Maori artist to create specific 'cultural' artwork to include in the label design (indigenous / maori art). I gave them one more round included in the quote. Then I have invoiced them. After I have been charging hourly rate - and that's where it gets tricky with explanation - they believe that they own all work they paid for since it was under hourly rate.
    – Klara
    Nov 25 '20 at 1:31
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    @Klara - in that case, they may have indeed paid for the work, but they still don't own the source files (unless you agreed to that). These are two different things. Don't mix them up! If it was me, I'd give them only PDFs of everything that was done to date, in their current state. Obviously, you have more kindness in your heart than I do;)
    – Billy Kerr
    Nov 25 '20 at 14:07
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I detest these issues, but they can arise from time to time. It's even worse when a client has turned sour for some reason and are just being ridiculously demanding and unrealistic.

The first thing I realize is that the client is upset for some reason, which means they are of a mindset to just get "everything" without any considerations towards me. To that end, I know they see their requests as valid, mostly due to anger, even if they aren't valid requests. So, I try and treat them as I would any client asking for more than what they have a right to. I try my level best to not be hotheaded or outright argumentative and leave emotion out of conversations as much as possible (which is more easily typed than done at times.)

My first course of action is to refer to any contract. Repeat or cite clauses there if they pertain to any demand. My contract specifically states what a client does and does not receive for payment.

In the scenario posed in the question my response would be simple:

"Referring to our contract, only final files and completed works will be delivered. Preliminary sketches, rough ideas, and preliminary comprehensives are not part of our agreement and will not be supplied. Such items remain [my intellectual property/the intellectual property of my company, XXXXXXXX]."


Now, realistically, not every project may have a contract. Yes I know bad practice, but it is real-world in many instances. So, without a contract any client is not entitled to anything you do not wish to provide and have not agreed to provide.

US copyright law specifically states the artist retains the rights to everything other than in 9 instances, 10 if you count employment or work-for-hire situations. If the work is not part of a test, a video, a compilation, etc you still own the rights to everything. [ More info here.]

So, given this, one must look at what you've agreed to in writing.

"I said I'd like to quit and am willing to give them all their final files"

So you've agreed to provide final files. If the client is requesting more than final files, you need to define what "final files" means....

My typical response in similar situations is:

"Preliminary files remain the property of xxxxxx (my company). I'm willing to provide final [pdf/png/jpg/ai] files for XXXXX and XXXX for the price we agreed upon. However, any preliminary sketches, working roughs, or comprehensive designs created in the exploration of a final design solution will not be provided without additional fees to be paid prior to delivery."

This will, in all likelihood, anger the client more, so be prepared. You'll get the "we paid for the design, we have a right to the files." and all those misguided arguments much of the time.

"This is standard practice. It is customary for preliminary files to not be included with deliverables without additional compensation. This is inline with practices suggested by the American Institute for Graphic Artists (AIGA). You can read more in this article: http://aigasf.org/legalities-33-do-you-have-to-give-your-freelance-client-your-digital-files/"


In the end, it's all a negotiation....
How concerned are you with having an unhappy clients?
Will you be losing any word-of-mouth business do to this?
Remember one unhappy client can spread negativity like a wildfire.

So I tend to ask myself....

  1. Will I otherwise profit from the files they are requesting?
  2. Can I reuse these files in some other future project?
  3. Can these files be repurposed by them for some other use beyond the intended design?

If the answer to these is "no" then I'll provide more than simple final files. If there is no value in my retaining the files, I may as well use them to try and placate the client, at least partially.

I may provide a couple earlier comps that they may find useful, but would be of no future use for me. I tend to "give a little" here if the files have no other value for me. The goal is for the client perceive me as being more amenable. It makes it appear as though I'm more responsive and willing to compromise. Truth is I'm just trying to avoid any unnecessary bad word of mouth. If the client feels as though you worked with them a bit and "got their way", they are less likely to seek out opportunities to bad mouth me.

Note that I don't provide anything which may take a "couple hours" to clean up and prepare for delivery. I provide files which are easily prepared and don't require any effort to deliver. I won't put in hours of work to deliver anything of a preliminary nature, especially to a client I'll probably never see again. But if I can merely open a file and export/re-save it... I may provide that file.

If the answer to 1, 2 or 3 is "yes" then I stand firm and don't provide anything without additional compensation.

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  • Thank you! Unfortunately, they only see their version & nothing will change that (even if I would give them completely everthing). I could potentially reuse some ideas of the other 15logos - but I'm refusing to give those. I'm happy to pass on the ai files for the label designs & chosen logo since it needs another designer to finish. It was a time-consuming stressful job already.I'm staying professional. Where it got tricky: After the first rounds (included in quote), we agreed on hourly rate - hence they believe they own everything created under the hourly rate process (the drafts in between)
    – Klara
    Nov 25 '20 at 2:28

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