19

Let me be clear, this client has been a real nuisance in making unreasonable demands, and has been really rude on top of that. After completing the project and receiving the payment he attempted to come back to me again for more follow-up work, but I told him "thanks, but no thanks". I don't need that kind of toxicity in my life.

Now, a year and a half later, he suddenly comes back and requests I send him ALL the "original" files to the long completed and paid project, without even saying "please" or "thank you" - presumably because he either failed to backup the files I sent him, or because he thinks he needs originals different from the vector files sent before. I am inclined to just ignore his message, and definitely do not intend to help him out in any way. What is your all's take on this?

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  • 2
    I would probably still give the files, and be happy they will never annoy me anymore.
    – Rainb
    May 16 at 8:39
  • See this related question, which is very similar: Client requesting source files to all design drafts and to all versions throughout the process
    – Billy Kerr
    May 16 at 19:15
  • 8
    Say absolutely - my standard rate for providing the files is XXX, assuming you're happy to pay that I'll send them right away. May 17 at 9:27
  • There is a fairly large discrepancy between "years after project completion" and "Now, a year and a half later". Which is it? The underlying question is "how do I deal with a bad client?" to which the answer is "F*ck you, pay me."
    – MonkeyZeus
    May 17 at 16:56
  • 2
    A little anecdote: I wanted to use a photograph of my father taken by a professional photographer about 30 years ago, for use in a published obituary. I traced him, asked permission, and he actually found the negatives of the full photoshoot, digitised them, and said he didn't require payment (but he got it anyway). That's the kind of professional I like dealing with. May 18 at 14:14

6 Answers 6

35

What does the contract state?

No contract...

  • Working freelance — Then legally (in the US) all original files are yours. Do with them what you want. You can simply say "no". You can charge additional fees for the files. You can hand them over willingly without any fees. It's your choice as the copyright holder. Note that even if you deliver the files, as the author you would still retain any copyrights related to the creation of the files unless they were expressly granted in writing.

    • Example: The client supplied text for a brochure. You designed the brochure using the supplied text and original artwork you created specifically for the project. The copyrights to that original artwork would still be yours unless specifically transferred in writing, even if the client has the actual layout files.
  • Work-for-hire or employment arrangement — Then legally (in the US) all original files are the client's. They have the right to request the files. However, unless stipulated in writing somewhere that you are responsible for maintaining backups of all work, it's not impossible that files were never backed up or have since been lost due to the time span since project completion (legitimately, not as an excuse to avoid delivery).

    • In a Work-For-Hire or employment situation (which are work-for-hire) you legally do not exist. You have no rights to any work you completed under the umbrella of the work-for-hire arrangement. Everything you created, no matter how insignificant, belongs to the employer/client.

I, personally, charge any client requesting files. My contract states as much. If I own the files (which is most common) file delivery is a separate and often larger fee than the initial work. And all rights are transferred to the client upon full payment.

If such a request occurs years after the work has been completed, fees would also include an hourly rate for retrieval from backups and preparation for delivery. After all, I'm not running a backup service.

If the client already has the rights to the files, no fees for the files themselves would be incurred – since such fees would have been paid at the initial project completion – however, retrieval and prep fees would not be waived. At a minimum, fees to cover the time for retrieval and prep would need to be paid.

All this means, it is going to cost the client something. The only difference is how much. And, of course, all fees must be paid in full before any files are delivered.


As to the personal dislike of the client... well, be careful. You may dislike this client, however the client may be influential in their industry and at a minimum have the ear of others that may someday need your services. The more difficult the client perceives you to be, the less favorable they'll react should they ever hear your name. Keeping things as unemotional as possible and just dealing with the business aspects can often keep you from "slitting your own throat" as it were through bad word-of-mouth.

Imagine, you really hate working for "Bob" but every weekend "Bob" plays golf with a foursome of billionaires... and one day, one of them turns to "Bob" and asks... "hey you know any designers good at X?" You want "Bob" to, at a minimum, not dissuade anyone from using your services.

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  • 1
    I'd just be careful. It's exceptionally unlikely you know "his circle". What feels good today, may be a financial mistake later.
    – Scott
    May 15 at 22:25
  • 6
    Financials are not an issue. Initially I even refunded him his down payment well into the project because he was such a dick. Then he begged me to finish it. I should have stuck to my initial decision and told him to bugger off. He's just some small fish, and not even in the same city, completely irrelevant to my otherwise excellent rep. May 15 at 22:30
  • 5
    Some people stick to tactics that have worked for them in the past. In this case, they may just try to annoy you until you cave or break communication with them.
    – Nelson
    May 16 at 2:25
  • 4
    I feel like you've answered your own question in your two comments above. If there was no contract then you owe him nothing. Stop responding, and move on. May 16 at 21:24
  • 2
    If you're going with the "no contract, no obligations" argument, that applies to you being paid, right? May 17 at 16:39
5

Back in the day when I was in plant print production, when a client asked for the flats (original stripped up film), we provided it even knowing that he might go to a competitor. Why? No reason to create acrimony - keep your credentials and reputation intact. By the way, he did have to send his own messenger to pick them up.

Update to today - as an account manager, I sometimes got into strained situations with a client. Sometimes I received a call from their agency asking for the digital files to the last project they need to edit. I knew I would never hear from them or the agency again. I did release the files and confirmed with the owner that it was OK to do so. Leaves a bitter taste but do it without argument, acrimony, or resistance.

Up to you if you if you want to charge a recovery fee.

Just do it, "fire" this client, and move on. You have other clients who are more than happy to work with you.

4

What have you got to lose by sending out the files ?

If this person was so difficult before, there is probably zero chance of you getting any more payment for the handover of these files, and refusing to send the files, or requesting extra payment, could further escalate this.

Even normal clients would have trouble understanding why they need to pay extra for source files, assuming they are not entitled to receive the files, as @Scott explained.

If this was a low-value project, I would just let go and send over the files politely, which may be your cleanest way out. Do mention that you no longer wish to work with him again, but making a final gesture of good will, then move on to your other clients.

He's probably not going to ask for the files every month.

If this was a high-value project, I would make a final attempt to receive compensation for the files.

As @Scott mentioned, even if the person was a total weirdo back then, you never know when a bit of politeness from your side may actually land you more work.

I had a client like this. Very impulsive, I like it, I don't like it, lets try something else, I won't pay for that part, kind of person. I was polite all the way during the job, but when he came back for more work, I quickly let him know I was no longer interested.

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  • 6
    "What have you got to lose by sending out the files ?" erm.... money for your work - even if that work is only an hour or two to retrieve files and prepare them for delivery. While you may never gain any new projects from this client, that's no reason to do any work for free.... you wouldn't walk by and ignore a 10, 20, or 50 dollar bill if you saw it on the sidewalk would you?
    – Scott
    May 15 at 22:03
  • And -- "zero chance of you getting any more payment for the handover of these files" Not if payment must be made prior to any file delivery. But I do agree that you want to try and avoid any type of adversarial relationship with the client if possible, no matter how unpleasant the client may be.
    – Scott
    May 15 at 22:05
  • 1
    There is no contract. I have done many goodwill gestures in the past and kept trying to help him, each time thinking that'll finally be the last time I hear from him, but he keeps coming back with more annoying requests. I am inclined to just tell him I had a hard disk crash and all files are GONE, so he finally leaves me alone. I couldn't care less about additional work from him or his circle. I want nothing to do with clients like that, don't need it. May 15 at 22:19
  • 4
    After a year though? For a client you never wanted to work for again? That would be the issue here.. existing client files I cna access quickly. However, I have a "special" archive for "dead clients" that is not necessarily immediately accessible (and I don't use any "cloud services" for reasons I won't go into.) .... not to mention the legal issue of fonts which may be a problem. I think you perhaps underestimate things :)
    – Scott
    May 16 at 6:41
  • 1
    Then just ignore this guy I guess, I don't see how you could extract more payment from this person.
    – Lucian
    May 16 at 11:47
4

The best way to get rid of him is to charge him a fee for your services and then do not follow up when he fails to pay. People who owe you money tend to leave you alone.

If you are experienced in judging what clients will pay, you can probably determine an amount that he will agree to but will be too annoyed to actually remit.

Or, try this: make a list of all the "goodwill" gestures you have donated to this customer. Next to each one write the fair price for the work. The total of these amounts is what he needs to pay you before you agree to any additional work. Of course it's not fair to apply fees ex post facto, which brings us to the next step.

Calculate what you would consider a fair price for the file retrieval task. Add in the ex post facto charges and offer to send him the files for this fee.

If he declines, you establish a proper basis for rejecting further requests for service. You simply can't be interrupted just to do favors for someone who wants nothing but freebies.

If he agrees and pays, you win some money and establish a proper basis for going forward. You may find him a little less annoying if you charge him double for every little thing.

If he agrees and does not pay, you may quietly celebrate. Not only will he avoid you, he probably will not denigrate you to his associates lest they find out the truth.

3

Beware.

  1. You are not obliged to keep a copy of the customers' data (no contract).

  2. There is some chance you have not even been entitled to keep a copy for yourself, after the contract had been fulfilled (and not extended). Many contracts/laws state quite explicitly that the contractor has to delete all copies of somehow “sensitive” or “trade secret” data.

Even if you are tempted to get a follow-up order or just want to do a favour to the customer (hah!), please check if you are rightfully possessing the data. Only if so, follow the good advice in the other replies.

2

As others have said, whether you're obliged to send the files or not depends on your contract and your jurisdiction.

Having said that, it sounds like you've don't really want to send the files as a point of principle, which is understandable with a difficult client.

However, unless the files have a large commercial resale value that you want to retain for yourself, or it's going to take you a lot of work to retrieve and deliver them, just offer to do it for whatever you think he'll pay and then buy yourself a nice coffee / meal out / holiday with the proceeds, and enjoy it all the more knowing who bought it for you :-).

Then move on, and make sure your schedule is always busy if they ever try to get in touch again...

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