Freelancers' Questions: Who owns the artwork, me or the client?

Freelancer’s Question: I recently did some leaflet design work for a client, to whom I sent a quote and an arrangement for the printing. I added the usual 10% commission on printing, to which the client agreed and has paid.

But now the client is asking that I send him the artwork files in case he wants more printing in the future. Am I correct in understanding that the artwork belongs to me, and that I have the right to retain it, and he has to go through me if he wants further print runs?

Presumably, further print runs could enrich both of us, assuming we can come to some sort of agreement. Would I need a legal expert to draft up any agreement to this end, or can I attempt it myself?

Expert’s Answer: Your question highlights a common misconception. Under English law, the intellectual property rights in a design belong to the person who creates the work, not the person who commissions it. The rights in your design can only be transferred to your client by a written agreement; even a verbal one is not enough.

Legally, what your client has paid for is a licence to use the design. The exact nature of the licence depends on exactly what was agreed and, when these matters do go to court, the judge will look through all the communications between the parties to come to a decision. In some cases, particularly relating to the design of company logos, the courts generally decide that the client has a right generally to use the logo.

For leaflet designs, most designers will retain the original artwork so that the client returns to them when they need another print run. There is nothing to stop you from letting the client have the artwork files and agreeing an extra price for this.

As for drawing up the agreement, it does not need to be done by a legal expert, but you might want a lawyer to cast an eye over anything you draft to ensure that it covers all aspects.

The expert was Sue Mann, commercial solicitor at Cousins Business Law.

Editor’s Note: Further Reading – Freelancers’ Questions: Who owns the copyright, me or the client?

 

 

20th August 2012

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