Am I Entitled to My Graphic Design Native Files?

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Written by: Nice Branding Agency

Categories: Nice Things

When we start a graphic design project for you, our process involves the combination of tons of different files into something brand spankin’ new. All the images, filters, fonts and drafts we use are the native files for your project; the source files for your final design. These native files are editable, intermediate files from graphic design programs (photoshop, illustrator, etc.). They’re valuable because they are created during our process to the finished work and can be used to create similar works or edited versions of the final piece. Often we get asked by clients about their rights to “their” native files - the native files from their project.

What Goes Into The Process

The design process requires that we take a lot of ideas and combine them into several drafts for our clients to see. Our approval process gets the client to collaborate with us to see what parts of the design is and isn’t working, and in the process we end up making several pretty solid designs until we get to the final, perfect one. But what happens to all of the pieces that were used to create the final file? Can't we just hand those over to you so you can make changes? In short, no. Besides the fact that we're pretty sure you don't have the programs needed to manipulate the files, there are legal reasons we gotta keep ‘em, too.

Here’s Why

Legally, the files are the intellectual property of the designer (us), because we created them. Often, clients, who paid for the work to be done, assume they have ownership of all the parts of the final piece. But, generally, you have only paid for the one final product and the intellectual rights to all of the other design pieces therefore belong to us. For example, after we worked through a business card design project for one of our clients, we received approval on the design and coordinated to have the cards printed and delivered to the client. Our business card development blog post walked through the entire process, showing some of the designs that we made for the client. Though we made them specifically for her and sent them to her for review, the only design that was hers in the end was the finalized design that we sent to print. She's also entitled to the print-ready PDFs so she can have the cards re-printed as needed.

Why Can’t We Let Clients Re-Work Our Graphic Design?

Aside from business cards, a client will at times, request the working files for another graphic design piece that we created. While the final files are yours to keep, we don't release the native files. So, why not? First of all, we aren’t legally allowed to transfer use of all the elements of our designs. We have paid to use all the fonts, images and filters in our arsenal. We are allowed to use them however we want for clients, but copyright prohibits us from letting anyone else work with them. If we buy the rights to a font, use it in a design, and then hand the files over to you to reuse, we could be in legal trouble for giving away the font to someone else. Same goes for stock images. So, if you had us design, say, a poster for a recurring event, you might feel like you don’t necessarily need to hire us again every time you want to change the date on it when you could just edit our file. But if we made them, those files are our property, and only our team can edit them.

Are The Native Files Included?

So, we solely have the legal rights to everything we create for our clients except the finished product. When you agree to work with us on a project, we are charging you for the final product. This means you haven’t purchased the native files when you purchase design work from NBA. Just to keep things above board, we lay out the expectations in a thorough contract up-front, every time we onboard a new project. We want you to know what parts of the design you are purchasing, who owns the rights to which parts, and the circumstances surrounding the transfer of any of of our graphic design. After 11 years in business, we have seen this issue hashed out time and time again. Being able to anticipate our clients expectations allows us to clearly communicate and mutually benefit off our design work. We’re communicators, after all, and we owe it to our clients to always be transparent up front about all the Nice stuff they’re gettin’. If you have a graphic design project you need the Nice girls to get working on, send us a shout.