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What to say … when a client asks for “source” files

Posted by Ilise Benun on

Troy Birdsong of Birdsong Creative has been getting this question often as "the digital age soars ahead." Here's his question:

Clients are asking for “source” files. With a new client I have the standard “proprietary process” that I’ve pulled from the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines book (which is half price today 4/10). I can usually get them to understand, but they aren't always happy.

However, with existing clients that I have a long standing relationship with, it gets a bit stickier. I don’t want to offend them, but I also expect them to respect that line.

When asked for source files, I usually say “we don’t typically….” and explain the reasons, but give them the files anyway for the sake of the long term relationship. Larger organizations that are used to dealing with creative agencies get it, but in this economy we’re dealing with smaller companies that don’t. Either way it’s awkward.

feel like there’s more that I should be doing on the front end to derail this conversation before it ever arises.

Stephanie Jones suggests: I have language in my contract about my ownership of the native files and also about how pricing can be negotiated to obtain the source files, so when asked about it I can say, 'Sure, I'd love to prepare those for you. As you're aware from our contract, the ownership of the source files belongs to me as is standard in this industry and consistent with copyright laws. However I am open to discussing a reasonable price for the files.'

Then I discuss the value of the source files and why they incur more cost. The conversation is never really fun to have, but by outlining expectations early in the process in my contract I can at least fall back on that so it doesn't look like I'm trying squeeze more money about of them willy nilly."

How do you handle this question?

If money matters are leaving you searching for words—the Creative Professional’s Guide to Money provides great language and guidance for a number of money-related situations. 

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