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Client asking for historic files

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Stephen OngClient asking for historic files
by on Dec 17, 2015 at 2:12:18 pm

Hi I have a client today who has requested some historic working files.

The work is white label for an agency so the design studio is requesting thre working files from me, so they can supply to their client.

The files are from 2013, the agency requested the entire after effects project so they can give to their client to use in-house instead of outsourcing work to me.

This is the first request for these files since completing the project in 2013, before that all deliverables were met.
Unfortunately I no longer have these files, I've got a final delivery copy of the film in an archive.

The agency seem annoyed at me for this.
Just wondered what your thoughts are on this, I've offered to re-do the work for a lower fee but they still seem unhappy, but now Im thinking it's not really my fault. All other clients who request working files ask me once it's completed, not two years down the road.

I was told i should offer files before deleting but then I'll be emailing around chasing clients every month to do a task that has only ever happened once in this instance.

Appreciate your comments in advance and this maybe the wrong forum.

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Todd TerryRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Dec 17, 2015 at 3:57:12 pm

Others may have differing opinions than mine, and I'd be eager to hear them.....

But as for me... um, no. You don't owe them the project files, and even if you still had them, I wouldn't give them to them.

The parameters of the job may have been different than I'm assuming, but to me it sounds like your original contract with this client specified that you were to deliver a finished product... which you did. Done. End. Finished. You gave them what you owed them and they (I assume) paid for it.

Unless your agreement with them stipulated they were also entitled to all the production elements that went into the project as well as the project itself, then you don't owe them anything else. I'm assuming they did not pay an archival fee either, so it was not your responsibility to even keep the files for future use.

Now... that's the technical side of things. There's also the emotion and client side of things. If this is a good client... say an agency that you have a long-time relationship with and one that pays you a great deal of money on a regular basis, then that's another thing. In that case it's up to your judgment as to how much to bend and what to give them, or offer to discount to them (which it sounds like that is what you are doing). In some cases, it pays in the long term to help them get what they need.

I recently directed and my company produced a series of commercials for a local attorney (a job through his ad agency). It was a pretty smallish job, definitely not big money... but of course he was absolutely THE biggest pain-in-the-ass client ever (at least so far, in our 18 years in business). And it took us something like five months to get paid. He loved his spots though... but now he wants some alternate versions. We're too expensive for him though (and so is his ad agency, apparently), so he directly went out and found someone else to post them... but he still asked us for our raw footage. Well, he can't have it... or at least certainly not for free. To start with, our job was to produced finished commercials... which we did. Also, he wasn't even our direct client, his ad agency hired us... we had absolutely no on-paper direct business or financial arrangement with him. I did quote him though our usual reasonable-and-fair rates for getting him the footage in the file formats he needs, and rights to use it. I believe his return comment was "That seems pretty expensive." Sorry, you don't get it for free.

Use your judgment as to what to give them, and don't burn any important bridges. But as for "The agency seem annoyed..." well, unless they are a cash cow to you, let 'em be annoyed. It won't kill them.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Dec 17, 2015 at 4:36:13 pm

I absolutely agree with Todd. Unless it's specifically agreed to in advance, handing over the project files is cutting your own throat, giving away additional business. AS well as teaching a competitor how to beat you, for free.

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Stephen OngRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Dec 17, 2015 at 4:46:42 pm

Thanks guys, that's reassuring,

There was no stipulation I would supply the production files, just an end product, they paid me a flat fee for.

They're a nice client but <5% of my income in 2014, which is the last time I worked for them, no work in 2015, they're print and web agency really, not video / animation, which is probably why they never asked for backups, all my vid production clients take backups and archive. I actually work for their client through a vid production company as well.

I did offer the discount earlier today, the owner then came back seeming annoyed and trying to proportion most of the blame to me for not keeping the working files, and trying to get even more discount on me recreating the project, which annoyed me a little and is why I've ended up here.

Thanks again,

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Todd TerryRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Dec 17, 2015 at 5:41:16 pm

You deserve absolutely zero percent of the blame. Don't take any of it, no matter how much of it they throw your way. You are completely and totally 100% in the right, and in the clear.

I don't know where I heard the term "nuisance client" (it might have been in here, maybe even from Mark), but sometimes the term certainly fits.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Dec 17, 2015 at 6:36:02 pm

Don't accept the blame. It's a negotiating tactic: the guy is grinding you.

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Tim WilsonRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Dec 17, 2015 at 7:12:05 pm

Time to tell them that it'll cost EXTRA to redo it. LOL

"Guys, I could do it from scratch faster than I can re-create something. Let me know if you'd like to also pay for the project files for the new project, and I'll invoice those separately."

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Al BergsteinRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Dec 18, 2015 at 4:13:54 pm
Last Edited By Al Bergstein on Dec 18, 2015 at 4:19:47 pm

Stephen, I also agree with Todd. I would simply send a well worded email, stating that since at the time you did the original work, that you were not requested nor paid to archive the footage, and that because it wasn't specified in the contract, you didn't. Explain politely that archiving not only costs money in use of hard disks, but also time, in terms of cataloguing, storage costs, and legal responsibility (your lawyer client will understand that). Offer them the ability to do that in future contracts, at a price up front, so that there is no misunderstanding.

All lawyers I've always worked think that things are too expensive, as do most doctors. Other clients just are clear that they don't have the budget to do certain work, rather than rail that I'm too expensive. They assume I know my business. Just ignore his complaints, as you understand your costs and charges as it relates to your competition. Be polite but firm, only apologize for the fact that they didn't understand nor ask for archival services, and say that you look forward to working with them again in the future. Explain that it will be very clear as to what it costs to archive work in future contracts, now that both you and them understand that it might be needed.

If you need further ammunition, take them out to lunch and you might mention that most big budget Hollywood films of the sixties and seventies were not archived, their film stock deteriorated and the films are in terrible shape. Now, decades later, the movie executives are realizing the mistake of not paying for that process as the value of the work has increased due to the internet. Clint Eastwood is one of the stars leading that campaign! It's an easy issue to misunderstand and ignore! I tell my clients that I don't archive my footage and if they want it for future use, they should request it and give me a hard drive to put it on. I don't pay for the drive, they do.


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John CuevasRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Dec 18, 2015 at 5:42:02 pm

Agree with Todd also, if it's not in writing, you shouldn't give away project files. We have one client who has that in their contracts, because they work with multiple vendors and on occasion will want us to give files to vendor b to recreate something for a different division.

One thing though I would suggest is always archiving your project files regardless, whether they pay a fee or not. Every project i finish, collect everything, put it on an LTO. Can't count the number of times, I've been able to just re-purpose something I created 3 or 4 years ago really quickly because I could pull up the old project. Just my 2 cents.

Johnny Cuevas, Editor

"I have not failed 700 times. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."
---THOMAS EDISON on inventing the light bulb.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Dec 18, 2015 at 6:28:40 pm

If you do give out project files, you should be charging extra for that, since you're giving away profitable future edit sessions to someone else.

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Patrick OrtmanRe: Client asking for historic files
by on Jan 2, 2016 at 3:08:27 pm

I'll give old clients footage if it still exists, for a reasonable price like Terry. No way on project files, not only because of what Mark says, but mostly because it's asking to be taken down a rabbit hole (oh, and we also need your After Effects files, and your fonts, and your plug-ins, and your Mocha files...). F&*k that nonsense.

I guess I'm pretty lucky, in that in 2015 we were not asked for raw footage or project files even once by clients. We had a major fortune 50 client ask for footage in 2014, however, and just as a contrary datapoint to the cheap lawyers saying "that sounds expensive" to you, this Fortune 50 client insisted we charge them a fair amount to provide the footage. And so we did.


Los Angeles and New York video production for businesses and brands:

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