Design working files – Though a seemingly simple request, asking your designer for their design working files is anything but.

Why you ask?

Welcome to the veritable minefield of copyright laws.

There is a common misconception that if you, as a client, are paying for something to be made, you are entitled to the copyright and ownership of the working files (including the digital assets).

However, under the Copyright Act, the creator of the artistic work is the first owner of the copyright. This means, that if no prior agreement has been made in regards to copyright, then the designer or “creator” of the “work” is the copyright holder.

So what does this mean for you as a client?

When you commission a designer, you pay for the finished product—the advert, brochure, business cards or any other piece of marketing collateral you will be presenting to your customers. This is what your quote includes.

If you would like to have access to the design working files, discuss it with your designer beforehand. In the initial briefing make them aware that you would like to own the working file and have it released to you upon completion. That way,  your designer can discuss with you upfront any artwork release fees and any other requirements they have around releasing working files. A request can, of course, be made later down the track, however, just be aware that there will most likely be a fee ranging from 50-300% of the total cost of the job.

As designers, the working files are our intellectual property. It’s likely there are aspects of your business you don’t share with others to ensure you keep a competitive edge and protect your business—and this is what working files are to a designer. Not only do they reflect the time, energy and expertise they’ve put into your job, maintaining copyright of these precious files helps them to protect their reputation and brand.

In summary

Ultimately, it’s up to the designer as to whether or not they will part with the valuable source files created during a project. The legal copyright of these working files lays first and foremost with the designer so keep this in mind if you wish to have access to them. We recommend that any agreements made are included in a well-written contract. And remember, owning the copyright and gaining the release of design working files can come at a price.

Design Working files and copyright: A quick guide

The client:

  • Owns the copyright of text and /or any assets supplied to the designer (should that be their original work)
  • Has the rights to use the final artwork file (generally a print ready PDF)

The designer:

  • Owns the copyright of any concepts and non-final artwork
  • Owns the copyright of all working files
  • Holds the license to all fonts, stock imagery & elements (unless otherwise stated)Copyright ownership of working design files

More from CSQD: Trusting your designer: 5 reasons why it will benefit your business

The information in this article is provided to help you become familiar with legal issues that may affect clients and designers. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for advice of legal counsel.