When a graphic designer creates work for a client, in many jurisdictions, the designer keeps some rights to the work by default. This means that when e.g. designing a logo, the designer can sometimes claim license and usage fees - often more if the work is used in large circulations - long after the project has ended.

This default case can often be overridden by written agreements.

What are some real-world practices to deal with this? I realize this will differ strongly between countries, but I would like to know nevertheless how this is dealt with, and learning how it's done elsewhere doesn't hurt. I myself am in the "give up everything" camp: When a project is finished, if asked, I will sign a document waiving all usage rights without any further payment. Out of the belief that further claims aren't legitimate if you've been paid well for your work, just as a carpenter can't make claims to something they've built for a client.

But there are other practices, and scenarios in which keeping usage rights, and long-term licensing agreements may be perfectly justified. What are some general ways this is dealt with?

(Again, a disclaimer: I am asking out of curiosity; and because I think this is in some way relevant to many graphic designers. Whether this is in the site's scope or not, the community will have to decide!)

3 Answers 3


Of course clauses about source files can be hidden in contracts, but I believe it is important that it is clear from the beginning what will happen to the source files and that both parties agrees what will happen.

If the company requires the source files and tells the designer about this upfront the designer can set the price accordingly. Some time in the past we hired some designers to create additional graphics for some computer games. We needed the source files to be able to change things later. This was mentioned in every briefing and the every designer knew it before they even applied for the job. Since it was spelled out so openly this never became an issue afterwards.

As a contract we used a "Made for hire" template.


Are you concerned about who owns the rights or rather are you concerned about getting proper credit for your work?

I would think that unless it has been stated otherwise you as a designer are doing work for a client who can then turn around and do with it as they please, free of any input from you as the designer. I can't imagine any client agreeing to have work done only to have to go to the designer for approval at a later date. At my company, when a job is done, they hand over everything, layout files, source art files, the works, and the relationship pretty much ends unless we decide to pick it up again.

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    I disagree about the source file. I know many italian companies that they don't hand over the source file, but only the ending result (a pdf, a brochure etc...). It is a way to push the client to go back to you. If client wants source file it has to pay more (or at least this is the standard to do so between my contacts).
    – Littlemad
    Jan 10, 2011 at 22:41
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    That's pretty unprofessional/unethical. You're basically exploiting the naivete of your clients to suck more money out of them. That might work for smaller clients, but any corporate clients will know better. Jan 11, 2011 at 1:35
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    @Littlemad: We've had vendors try and pull that in the past. Usually we got the files one way or another, though sometimes we didn't. Either way, we never used them again. I don't know anyone in my industry who would tolerate that behavior. Jan 11, 2011 at 10:44
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    I do not own any company, I do not put in place this practice, I am just an observer of what is happening. I am just pointing out a different situation. In all the company that I worked and the one of my friend designers there is this dynamic. The crisis hit so bad Italy that businessmen are not going any more to designers but to improvised designers (usually the sons of someone that has fun with photoshop or something related). Companies & freelancers are not giving source files because they are already selling their product under the normal cost situation.
    – Littlemad
    Jan 11, 2011 at 11:37
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    Not handing over the source file, or charging a supplementary fee is also common practice in my experience.
    – e100
    Jan 12, 2011 at 9:29

I personally keep a copy of the source, and in my contract stipulate that I have the copyrights to all files involved with the site, however they have a (most of the time) exclusive contract to use those files.

Essentially it's a you get to use them all you want, provided you're using them, but you don't get the source files (unless you're willing to pay extra)

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