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I have a customer that I've been making decals and apparel for, for several years.  We had a falling out about a year ago.  I haven't heard from him until a couple days age when he messaged me and wanted me to email him HIS designs, so he could give them to his new guy.  When we first started he gave me his logo (super simple : Stencil and brush script font)  Over the years he wanted some new designs and I made up a bunch and we made shirts and decals.  I never charged for design time since I was making the products.  He's telling me that the designs are his property and he wants them.  I think since I was never paid to design the logos that I don't have to give them to him.  Just wondering how I should handle this situation

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MZ SKEETER, care to elaborate or speak in general terms about the subject?  I'm very curious what the laws are, what's just good business practices and what people's experiences are so as not to get myself into the same situation.

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Digital files that are created in-house are yours, unquestionably. They have value, due to the labor invested, and you have no contract (either in writing or orally) to transfer back into the clients hands ANY of your proprietary working files.

However, that being said, the logo itself is not yours to use or reproduce. That design is the property of the copyright holder -- this client, ostensibly.

As a matter of courtesy, you are welcome to enter into a contract at this point, with two elements:  Performance & Consideration.
(Any first-year law student knows this.)  You agree to transfer the proprietary work/production files that YOU own (having created them yourself, with an investment of time, technical knowledge and graphics skills) in exchange for money that the client pays to obtain them.

Amount of money? Ahhhhhhh, there's  the rub.

It could be $20 it could be $200. Only you and the client can negotiate that based on perceived value. However, keep in mind that the logo was simple to reproduce, as you've noted, so your original (time) investment to create it was rather minimal.

I've sent old clients my design vector files of their projects, I don't really care, it's not a biggie, certainly not worth wrangling over, considering the work is done and I've been paid profitably anyway.

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1 hour ago, Wilson said:

MZ SKEETER, care to elaborate or speak in general terms about the subject?  I'm very curious what the laws are, what's just good business practices and what people's experiences are so as not to get myself into the same situation.

PM sent

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Thanks Skeetz, interesting dilemma. In this instance, the logo itself was not the ORGINAL creation of fishbone. Basically, I guess, someone just handed him a business card and he reproduced what someone else had designed for that business. It's quite common, actually, for a person to approach my sign shop with a business card, and ask if I can make a sign with what's on the card. At that point, I'm not DESIGNING the logo from scratch, all I'm doing is figuring out how to copy the artwork (and in fishbone's case, it was a matter of font identification only, apparently).

 

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The Original logo is the clients.  They have that design already.   Fishbone statement. " Over the years he wanted some new designs and I made up a bunch".  Those designs belong to FishBone, not the client according to the PM I sent. 

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7 hours ago, MZ SKEETER said:

The Original logo is the clients.  They have that design already.   Fishbone statement. " Over the years he wanted some new designs and I made up a bunch".  Those designs belong to FishBone, not the client according to the PM I sent. 

Agreed, I do this sort of stuff a lot and usually cone to some terms on what will happen to the final designs. I usually provide them to the client for what we decide on up front or like he did I often do them as a free part of the order but they don't get the design unless they pay for it. ALSO even when I sell them their logo that WE designed together I keep copyright and sign over equal copyright to them without releasing my claim to the original design. Like was mentioned I have no reason nor right to go produce their products because it's their business but I may want to use the design as advertising of what I did or pull elements from it or even derivative work for someone else based on the layout or such. Fishbone is not required to HAND OVER anything without fair compensation. The FAIR part may be negotiable or even something that ends up in court but some sort of agreement is in order. 

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I have a friend who is just starting up a business, and asked me to do some decals for them. The logo design was already done, and they were able to send me a few files - some were vector, some were raster, but they assured me that they had rights to reproduce them. I think it was under the assumption that because their business name is in the logo, it was theirs to do what the please with it. I tried, with some difficulty, to explain the difference between being the copyright holder, and being the business that able to use it. I am still not sure where they stand on it.

All I know is that whatever I have designed for me, or I'm subbing out to have designed for someone else - I make sure that the I will have the copyright once I've paid for the design service, that way, I can use what's mine, and pass along that copyright assurance to my customer.

I agree with Skeeter and Goose - if you didn't get paid, then it's your intellectual property. You earned and deserve to get compensated for that. It would be interesting to see how your former customer/friend would be able to prove that he paid you, specifically for, those new designs. Even if he asked you, which is is something like an implied commission - if you didn't get paid, you have no reason to turnover any finished work, or even work in progress. Sometimes Frenemies suck.

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For anyone outsourcing any of their artwork, it's also important to distinguish between owning the copyright and being licensed to use a design you've had created.  On many of the hire-a-designer type sites it's become popular to deal in licenses rather than copyright transfer. 

The general gist is that you go to one of the sites looking to have a logo done for business cards and shirts. You pick an artist and they design a logo. You pay $50 for a license to use the logo on the business cards, shirts, stationary, etc. and go on about your merry way.  It's a logo for YOUR business right? Why would the artist care what you do with it? 

A couple of years pass, your business grows and before long you have your logo on a billboard and a tv commercial. The artist you haven't spoke to in years still owns the copyright and you don't have a license to cover the new media.  Here comes the cease and desist letter with an option for a huge invoice.

Turns out there are graphic artists out there that are using this model as their business plan.  Pump out as many low-priced logos as you can create. The more you license, the higher the odds you'll have a customer succeed one day.  It's not extortion if you legally own the copyright.

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