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What do I charge for the authoring files?

Client wants design to be his property



9:05 pm on Nov 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I have a client that I have to give a final quote to for his site. He has asked for the authoring files and asked for a quote for them. I haven't come across this before and I am hoping some of you might have some advice.

Have any of you come across this before? How did you handle the situation?


1:49 am on Nov 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Not sure what you mean by authoring files in this context, but if I buy code I buy the right to use and reuse as I see fit or I buy elsewhere.

If I sell code, do what you will with it. Reuse it. Resell it. Whatever. But I don't sell exclusivity. My libraries of markup, code, and templates will be reused and sold again and again.

It's unlikely that any of it is 'special' or truly unique. He's just full of himself.


2:33 am on Nov 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for replying. I'm thinking he's talking about the copyright that goes on the bottom of the page. Some site have the designer's name and others have the company's name. Am I right in thinking that all is needed is a discussion and not a price quote for that?


3:19 am on Nov 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Certainly no price quote. No reason for you to pay for a 'Designed by:" link. He can provide it or not. Yes, if that is the case then it is simply a discussion, IMO.

If a buyer, I would want an include that iterated my default and existing copyright to all content. I might link to you as a designer if you wanted the link (but probably not). I think such links are way over valued. My personal recommendation to a colleague that you do good work is far more valuable.

If a designer, I would take the path noted above. I don't need the link, wouldn't ask for it, but would 'pitch' for getting personal recommendations when appropriate. "Been a pleasure working with you, yada-yada-yada....."

The content belongs to the client, so I would consider copyright notice and 'Designed by:' link as separate items completely.

Not much practical value, but you could put your name and website in a <meta> for anyone that might look - which will be pretty much no one. References rule.

These tags don't do much, but they can be used to establish author and copyright. Copyright is best right on the page if one wants to be explicit.

<meta name="author" content="Your name. - www.example.com">

<meta name="copyright" content="Site owner.">


10:24 am on Nov 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Good reasons NOT to give your client the copyright to the design:
  • You are do not need to fear creating other designs which have some similar features; if the earlier copyright is infringed it is fine, because you own it
  • They cannot mess up the website design as that is creating a derivative work, but must either maintain it as designed or scrap and start with a new design
  • You cannot be refused permission to show the design in your portfolio: you still own the design
  • They cannot do the 'rebranding scam' in which they copy the whole website for a 'friend' and just change the logo and a few design elements... ripping off your quality work
  • The copyright is an asset; worth additional money if the client wants it transferred
  • They cannot employ another designer to modify your design, ensuring that you maintain control over design integrity

    In most countries the copyright is automatically held by the agency that created the work, not the company that paid for it.

  • tangor

    11:20 am on Nov 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

    html code is difficult to copyright. Tell client: "You page code was part of the deal. You get it gratis." They are happy, you get paid quicker.

    HOWEVER, if you created a ball-buster JS/AJAX/PERL/PHP script to make it work, that you negotiate. Within reason. YMMV


    12:59 pm on Nov 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member leosghost is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

    vincevincevince has it right ..you make a site you are authoring a work ..a piece of "intellectual property"..the client gets the right to use it "as is" ( for a price )..the copyright ( and all the potentials vincevincevince mentions and numerous others ) is worth many many times more than the price (s)he pays just to use it ..


    3:51 pm on Nov 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

    5+ Year Member

    Thanks everybody. This was all very helpful. You have given me quite a bit to consider.


    5:12 pm on Nov 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Administrator httpwebwitch is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

    I'm totally in agreement with D_Blackwell. Any client work I do involves the delivery of the final product, but also all the materials used to create the end product. That means they'll get a disk containing the original PSD files, Word docs with the content in them, and sometimes I'll even toss in email correspondence directly pertaining to the project, since they often contain planning and implementation details that the client may need to consult later.

    As for exclusivity - no I will never reuse someone's interface design, logo, or content, but if I make a whopping PHP class that handles authentication or a public API, I'll use that again and again on other projects. I have a personal arsenal of really good home-made utilities that I can use on any site I build.


    7:46 pm on Nov 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member rocknbil is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

    ^ ^ ^ Same here. Of all the "buyer" or "client" complaints I hear, this is the one where clients seem to feel the most short changed.

    You buy something, it should be yours. Retaining copyrights over your work in the interest of squeezing more money out of it will be perceived just as that, and it doesn't matter how right you are to do so, what matters is that client's perception and what they will say when your name comes up.

    In the interest of future work, allowing clients to do my marketing for me, I look at it like this, and word it as such in my agreements (more formally:) This is a work for hire. I'm the instrument of creation for **your vision**, and being your vision, it's yours. I retain only the right to use your works in portfolio presentations, acceptance of this agreement is permission for me to do so.

    I will give source files but of course, I don't have the right to give them the programs to open them (i.e., .fla files, etc.)

    A personal preference, I never ask for or would implement a "designed/maintained/created by" link or use myself in the meta author. It just looks tacky for the client, makes me look tacky, and went out with "hit counters" and the font tag. I've had customers ASK me to do this and explain why it does neither of us any REAL good. "Isn't this losing business for you?" No. Sometimes saying nothing . . . speaks for itself.


    5:38 am on Nov 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

    This is a work for hire

    That depends on the contract and most often not the case. It could only be considered if the client comes in with a comprehensive RFP. If the consultant is free to do what is best in the client's interest there should be no discussion about the fact that the intellectual capital is the property of the consulting firm.

    The client only buys the right to use, for the duration of the contract.


    3:41 pm on Nov 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

    Compare this to the older world of advertising. You hire an advertising agency; but you can't reuse their copy or content on your own, or get another agency to edit and adjust it. This is exactly the same.


    6:40 pm on Nov 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member rocknbil is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

    That depends on the contract and most often not the case.

    Precisely. The proposal/agreement is what sets the stage, defines the playing field, without it it leaves too many open ends. The approach I posted is what **I** do to clarify ownership.


    11:11 pm on Nov 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

    5+ Year Member

    As far as the OPS original post is concerned, I normally give all files used in creation if requested. They already have the final code and can edit as they see fit. I don't transfer copyright of any works I create to the client but I also will never follow up on any alleged infringements if they are known. I have better things to do then chase down every person who has changed a file I created for them.

    They can do whatever they want with the files after they are in their possession, whether that be move the content around pay another developer to work on the project, whatever the case may be. They paid me to do a job, once that is done, why should it matter to me if they pay someone else to edit the files or images or do it themselves? If they choose another developer to do that, I should look at what I did wrong not take them to court and generate an enormous amount of badwill.

    I do have an issue with someone claiming to have created something themselves if they haven't.

    I have to say worrying about copyright on a layout or color scheme seems like a waste of time IMO. A person that thinks they are the only one who has ever created a color scheme or layout seems a little egotistical to me.

    Maybe my POV is biased since I develop and release Open Source software. I just don't see the benefit to holding your client hostage like that.


    11:55 pm on Nov 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    Clearly two armed camps on this question. I'm with bkeep on layouts and such. Zen Garden is probably the ultimate example. A bit of rework and you would never recognize that it was your own EXACT HTML markup behind the 'new' design.

    I am more understanding on the programming side. Not (X)HTML or CSS markup - but genuine, complex programming.

    However, if I don't own the final product and am not free to edit, reuse, what-have-you - I'll get somebody else. I am darn sure paying for it!

    .....holding your client hostage like that.

    I don't do it, and I won't take it (unless a situation where I have to accept a second-tier option).


    3:49 pm on Nov 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

    I don't think holding the client hostage is a "goal" - I was merely talking about my own right to reuse code. Under "work for hire" that would not be possible.

    Rather than "giving away" any code, an approach could be to license the work as open source.


    8:26 pm on Nov 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Administrator httpwebwitch is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

    Looks like there are two very opposed camps on this issue. Those that retain everything including copyright and source files, and those that give it all away.

    Great arguments on both sides, actually. Even though I usually give away all the source materials when a project is done, I can think of situations where I'd definitely hold on to them and not let the client run away with it.

    I've created hundreds of thousands of websites. This is not an exaggeration (depending on your definition of a "site"). Along the way, I learned that in digital media, ownership gets sliced into some rather finely distinctable parts. I first learned of these rights as they pertain to works of Fine Art, but it's the same with any kind of product created by one person for another.

    Again to disclaim, I'm not a lawyer. But the following tip was told to me by a lawyer back when I was in Art School. That was many years ago, but I assume that this is all still true today:

    When you create something for a client, you will always give them a License to use it.
    Basically, the client will want to use the thing, or else why would they be paying you. A license can be as liberal or restrictive as needed; often it's the author telling the client exactly what they may do with their work, explicitly. You'd only bother talking about licensing if the client isn't getting ownership.

    You will also almost always give them Ownership.
    Ownership (in short) means no one can take it away from you, because that's stealing. It usually means you are allowed to sell it, too.

    If you choose to, you can also give them Copyright.
    Big topic, too complex to summarize here. In fact we have a whole forum dedicated to it [webmasterworld.com].

    But as the creator, the following rights can never be taken away from you:
    - the right of Authorship
    - the right of Integrity
    - the right to Anonymity

    The right to Authorship
    This means you may declare that you created the material. The owner is not allowed to claim that you did not. This is why you can put something in your portfolio and show it off, even though you might not actually own the material. And no one can else may claim authorship, because that's plagiarism.

    The right to Integrity
    This means that as long as the owner associates your name with a work, they must leave it unchanged. This applies in a big way to works of art, illustrations, paintings, musical recordings... for instance if you own an Edward Gorey illustration, even if you own the copyright and the licensing rights, you are NOT ALLOWED to change that work of art in any way, and still call it an Edward Gorey.

    This applies enormously to digital web media, a highly transitory medium which can be spoiled easily by the next dingbat who touches the site. You don't have the right to prevent that from happening, but you do have the right to forbid someone to boast that you created something that has lost its integrity.

    The right to Anonymity
    This means that for any reason, you may request that owner not attribute you as the creator. Say for example you created a work of art, sold it, then it was used in an unflattering context. The owner is not allowed to say it is your work, if you tell them not to. If you create something you're not proud of (and who hasn't?) the owner is not allowed to attribute it to you.

    That's it - even when you've given everything else up, when you create something, those three rights are yours forever; they're not transferable.

    If you are a lawyer and anything above is incorrect, please take the time to correct me


    9:03 pm on Nov 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Administrator httpwebwitch is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

    As an addendum, the choice to transfer the source files (I mean, Photoshop PSDs, Flash FLAs, Word dox, email correspondence, meeting notes, etc) is a matter of negotiation in the contract, and the rights flow the same as above.

    Parts of a project may be transfered separately - that is, the client may own the written copy, the images, the logo, the design, the layout, and even the markup and CSS. But you may choose not to sell them the CMS they use to maintain the site, and offer them only a license to use it on this project.

    I own one site where I own the domain, the content, and the "stuff" - but the CMS is someone else's property, I have a license to use it, but I'm not allowed to copy the code to build a clone. Fair enough.

    As for putting a copyright (c) notice on the bottom of a page - that should always belong to whomever owns the site. Usually it's just "copyright(c)2009 example.com"


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