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Turning over project files to a client

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joel jacksonTurning over project files to a client
by on Nov 17, 2009 at 9:04:21 pm

So, this has probably been asked about 1 million times but I'm a freelance motion artists and one of my TV clients want's my project files from a series that aired last season. They want to use my project files to build the motion GFX for this upcoming season. I know from past experience that someone either under bid me and they want to pass the files to them or they want to create them themselves in house. Generally I consider my project files my intellectual property and do not turn them over. The client owns the final GFX but I should own the means to create them since I developed them, right? I have no signed contract stating that they own the project files as well as the final GFX. In fact, there is no contract on this job specifically. I also do not have a general contract stating anything about them owning the project files.

I'd liken this to say...buying a car. Say I buy a ford pickup. Yes I own that car. Then next week I purchase an auto factory. I then go back to ford and say, "Well I bought the f-150 last year so I expect that you will pass on all of your technical information to me so I can build my own f-150 this year in my plant."

Am I right here or wrong? Does this analogy apply to our business? They bought the f-150 (GFX package)from me last year do they then get the plans for the f-150 this year?

I know that I designed the GFX for them specifically so this may make a difference. Ford did not design the f-150 specifically for me. However, I still am 100% freelance. I do not work for them, I own my own business and see this as intellectual property.

I really don't know what to do on this one...

Help???

Joel


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Emre Tufekci S.O.A.Re: Turning over project files to a client
by on Nov 17, 2009 at 9:18:09 pm

If you have a contract you should spell out that its "intellectual property". If you don't have a contract then your client is out of luck as "IT IS" your intellectual property .

I recently had an argument with a client (with a contract) asking for the project files. He said, "If I buy Windows Vista software, it is mine and I get to take everything home .Why can't I take the project files for this show?"

I told him that if he can get the source files for Windows from microsoft, I would give him the project files for free.

He went "AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH....."

DONT give them up, they are your intellectual property, but you can sell them.

I did a show opening (special event) for a client they liked it so much, they asked for the project files so they could modify the opening and use it for next 2 years on various projects. I ended up selling it to them the project files for triple the price.


Emre Tufekci
http://www.productionpit.com



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Mark SuszkoRe: Turning over project files to a client
by on Nov 17, 2009 at 9:18:39 pm

Joel, I agree with your analysis that the project files are tradecraft, not workproduct, and you don't give them away. However, you *could* give them over and charge them apropriately for it, if you felt like it.

I don't see much downside since they've obviously decided to go with someone other than yourself, so if you get them mad, what's the harm? It may even work out better for you to stand firm in this case, because the lowballer that underbid you was probably counting on the time and effort saved from cribbing your project files when he or the client figured their budget.

If they now have to do the project from scratch, that's going to take more time and they may not even know how you did it... they may come back and ask you to do the thing again. If so, be totally courteous, but continue to protect yourself. Read carefully any written memos or contracts first, and if they just want an oral agreement, be smart and still get something in writing. Try also to get at least a token amount of money up front at signing time.

You know your work is good if you get an award: you know your work is GREAT when everybody is stealing or copying it:-)


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walter biscardiRe: Turning over project files to a client
by on Nov 17, 2009 at 9:32:56 pm

[joel jackson] "Generally I consider my project files my intellectual property and do not turn them over. The client owns the final GFX but I should own the means to create them since I developed them, right?"

Absolutely correct. They own the final result. You own the project files which are, in effect, your "services" that they paid for.

Unless it is stipulated in your contract they they are to receive the "Project Files" or "MetaData associated with the finished work" they are not entitled to your project files. That is your work and your "trade secrets" as it were.

I now specifically have a clause in my contracts that state Project Files are not part of any agreement and are not a deliverable. Those are property of my company. If they want the project files, it is a minimum $100 extra per hour, $1,000 minimum extra per project.




Walter Biscardi, Jr.
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joel jacksonRe: Turning over project files to a client
by on Nov 17, 2009 at 9:37:41 pm

I agree. It's like I painted a picture for them and they feel entitled to my brushes, pallet, and paints because they paid for the painting.

Joel Jackson
http://www.creativebloc.com/port.html


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Nick GriffinRe: Turning over project files to a client
by on Nov 17, 2009 at 10:33:12 pm

A middle ground might be to sell the client some of the component parts -- pre-comps without the underlying work that created them. Handled correctly they'll not feel that you're holding back on them and you won't be giving away the "magic." That said, DO make sure to get paid for what you turn over and keep it pleasant. Remind them that you're available for future projects when the need for fresh creative trumps budgetary limitations.


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Richard HerdRe: Turning over project files to a client
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 5:27:50 pm

Walter, how does that square with "Work for hire" agreements?
Thanks!

(Also it'd be a great cow service to offer some boilerplates)
-rh


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Shane RossRe: Turning over project files to a client
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 8:09:31 pm

[Richard Herd] "Walter, how does that square with "Work for hire" agreements? "

That would be you coming into a company as an employee of sorts. So then the graphics or editing project files that result are the property of the company that hired you. As a freelance editor, I edit for a lot of people...and they get the project files of my work. But if I am hired as a company to edit something, they get the end result, and the source tapes, but not the project files.



Shane



GETTING ORGANIZED WITH FINAL CUT PRO DVD...don't miss it.
Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def


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Scott CarnegieRe: Turning over project files to a client
by on Nov 23, 2009 at 7:26:33 pm

"I now specifically have a clause in my contracts that state Project Files are not part of any agreement and are not a deliverable. "

Same thing here. Ownerhsip is clearly stated that the client owns the final gfx, but I retain ownership of project files.


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Bob Coleon the other hand...
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 1:46:48 am

- no, really, I agree with the consensus about this. But I'm curious about a related issue. What if Client #2 came to Joel, and wanted something VERY similar to what he did for Client #1? As in, as close a copy as legally possible. How would you define that?

Clearly, Joel would be in the wrong if he simply re-created the entire look, substituting the new show's name for the old. But what about repurposing the project files in a somewhat more disguised way? (like, um... I "might have" done myself....)

I don't know anything about the high-end motion graphics market, but is there such a thing as a "look" buy-out? In which case buying the project files, for an appropriate added fee, would be part of the deal.

Just asking.

Bob C


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Ron LindeboomRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 1:56:31 am

You can't copyright an idea, only work.

So in your scenario, Bob, if the second artist can copy the work dead-on without even a single change, it flies in my book.

Otherwise, Windows would have never had a chance or a legal argument, would it?

;o)

Ron Lindeboom


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Bob ColeRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 2:01:24 am

Ron, I was thinking about just one artist - the original creator - and to what extent he or she could essentially copy himself for a second client.

I know that artists get hired to repeat themselves ("We came to you because of that look you know how to do").

Not a burning question - just something that the various posts made me wonder about.

Thanks.

bob


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Mark SuszkoRe: on the Gripping hand...
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 2:51:06 am

You mean, like asking Ken Burns to do your documentary, and asking him to use a rostrum camera move on stills? Or Richard Linklater to do a commercial for you that looks like hand-drawn animation? Hey, isn't this the point, that customers like to keep coming to a guy who can deliver a certain look, they are seeking that out specifically, even if he's not going to make it a complete clone. How often do we get asked to replicate some look somebody saw in a commercial or music video? Love it or hate it, if you become the "flavor of the month" with some stylistic trick you did, get ready to be asked to do the trick over and over with variations until you or the audience get sick of it.


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joel jacksonRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 2:53:35 am

I think an artist has every right to re-create his/her own look as many times as clients request. Unless the project files and look are totally bought out then there is no issue. However, if the rights are completely bought out for a certain look and all of the accompanying files as well, then copyright law applies. The look must be changed X% (I'm not sure of the actual wording and percentage) to not infringe on the rights of the owner, in this case being the company that bought the work from the artist.

However, this is veering off topic. No one has paid me for my project files yet!

Joel

Joel Jackson
http://www.creativebloc.com/port.html


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Ron LindeboomRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 4:07:41 am

I misread your question, Bob? Now I've never done that before. ;o)

I thought you were talking about another artist basing work on the technique of another.

But directly to your real point: I think that an artist should be able to work their style as long, short, rarely, or often, as they want to and that customers are willing to pay for.

Where I would question things, is when an artist charges a client for work that the client thinks is original and then sells the exact same work to another customer.

I'd be uncomfortable with that. But that's me.

Your mileage may vary,

Ron Lindeboom


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Bob ColeRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 18, 2009 at 1:21:39 pm

[Ron Lindeboom] "I think that an artist should be able to work their style"

I think that is the operative word: "Style."

You can re-use the style, just not the file. (Thanks, Johnnie Cochran)



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Mike SamarasRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 19, 2009 at 11:45:59 am

Saw a job advertised recently (on a freelance basis) that specified part of the role would be supplying full project files. Didn't feel right so I let it go. Well not right for the price that was quoted per job.

Interesting points raised about intellectual property. This is what I thought but it's reassuring to have it confirmed my others. :)

m.


makemassair a multi discipline freelance creative professional, specialising in video editing, post production & graphic design.


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joel jacksonRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 19, 2009 at 3:11:37 pm

I acctually spoke with a copyright attorney yesterday about the issue. She said that unless I have a written contract stating that the project files (ie my intellectual property) was to be part of the deal then I have very good ground to stand on in either denying the files to the client or selling them to them as a buy out. She also mentioned leasing the files. This means they are allowed to use the project files for X seasons of the show for a certain fee. This would work a lot like licensing music.

Anyway, just thought I'd relay what the expert had to say about it.

Joel Jackson
http://www.creativebloc.com/port.html


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Mike CohenRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 19, 2009 at 6:37:17 pm

This conversation makes me think of animation. When you hire a vendor to create animation for you, you own the final output (image file sequence or movie file in specified format) but not the Maya project or whatever. And some vendors then charge a licensing fee, ie, use the work in broadcast for 5 years for $X.

Generally you can specify in your contract if you want exclusive license and/or source files, and you pay a premium for that.

Mike Cohen


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Bob ColeRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 19, 2009 at 6:52:21 pm

[Mike Cohen] "Generally you can specify in your contract if you want exclusive license and/or source files, and you pay a premium for that."

That reminds me of the time I was on the other side of this discussion.

I'd hired a 3d animator, and I asked for the project files. We never discussed it after that ... and I never got those files.

Bob C


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Emre Tufekci S.O.A.Re: on the other hand...
by on Nov 19, 2009 at 7:06:56 pm

I guess the only exception to project files is when you hire an artist to work in-house on your machines. Then you own the project files as well.

Emre Tufekci
http://www.productionpit.com



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Todd TerryRe: on the other hand...
by on Nov 19, 2009 at 7:30:19 pm

Sometimes you find yourself on the other side of the situation.

A while back we subbed out some After Effects work, used a very very talented young man in another city that, actually, we found right here on the COW. Stunningly good work.

Our contract with him specified several different elements as deliverables: a show open, several internal bumpers, some graphics background plates, etc. No mention was ever made of the actual project files, we didn't need them nor wanted the extra expense.

BUT... when he finished them all and we had approved everything and he made the real high-res files, we got the message from him with download instructions that said something like "The first piece is in such-and-such folder, the second piece is in the next folder.... all of the elements are in the 'Elements' folder, all the After Effects projects are in the 'AE' folder...." etc.

I was quite surprised. He's a young guy (super talented, but a mere child), and maybe he didn't realize he was "giving away the farm." To tell you the truth though, I never even opened his projects. If I need something else, I'll just call him again.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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