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Copyright and content ownership

Community Guru
Virginia F Member Since: Feb 15, 2016
31 of 45

Preston H wrote:

Remember: In an hourly contract, all work produced by the freelancer while working on behalf of the client (while being paid by the client) belongs to the client. Automatically.


This includes all intermediate files produced by the freelancer. All of these file constitute work product.


If a freelancer creates a great design file in Photoshop, and as part of creating that file the freelancer created 5 Adobe Illustrator files... all of these constitute work product. All of these belong automatically to the client.


These files, created while working for the client, are never the freelancer's files, and it is not up to the freelancer to decide whether or not to provide these files to the client. They already belong to the client.

No, no, no. Hourly or flat rate, it doesn't matter. Many clients do not realize that some file types are illegal for freelancers to hand over. And unless the client is buying the rights to any stock images used, those images are licensed to the freelancer - specific licenses require set parameters about how they can be used. Once out of a freelancers hand, clients may not honor those licenses.


From a very good online article about this subject matter:


"You cannot legally obtain the fonts from a designer. If you do, both you and the design firm are in violation of the font manufacturer’s end-user license agreement (EULA)"

"You may not be legally allowed to use any custom or stock photography elsewhere or after a certain period of time" (this, depending on the type of license paid for with an image).


Client do not automatically have the right to everything used in a project, and this should be discussed beforehand - if native files are part of the contract, I make sure clients are aware of these exceptions.

Active Member
Will M Member Since: Oct 26, 2019
32 of 45
Yes, I understand licenses and purchases of assets (fonts, images, logos)
from your example.
And yes, if its a work-for-hire agreement. Which in many freelance creative
communities opinion (and The Graphic Artists Guild I might ad) is to be
avoided. And yes, some elements, photos, assets may already be copyrighted
and one should obtain/purchase license use for those. And then there's
logos (which is obviously a little different as its so specific to the
brand that why or how any designer would be able to use it in other ways
aside from the specific client) And on this, I'm not referring in my
previous statement.

However, the original illustration, artwork, and even design, is owned by
the creator automatically in U.S. law and as in ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, unless
in contract between artist and client, to what usage rights are granted or
ALL RIGHTS granted by payment. Such as book illustration, poster,
merchandise, well anything even if it was the clients "idea" or direction.

I'm simply saying, this idea that the client should automatically own
something because they paid for the work (in regards to creative) is NOT
right nor correct.
Active Member
Heather F Member Since: Jan 25, 2020
33 of 45
Will, I completely see what you’re saying here. But say for instance I pay you to design me a product or image for my business. This item is then sold to customers and a competitor sees that it’s doing well, and copies it. As known in the US the person who owns the copyright is the one who must go after the infringer. How do I protect my company from infringement if I have no ownership over the design?
Community Guru
Petra R Member Since: Aug 3, 2011
34 of 45

Heather F wrote:
How do I protect my company from infringement if I have no ownership over the design?

Unless you have agreed anything to the contrary with your freelancer, you DO own the design.

Active Member
Will M Member Since: Oct 26, 2019
35 of 45
I’m not sure if I read that response correctly, but, no the client doesn’t
own anything unless the creative exclusively said you do in the agreement.
This is to protect the creator of their hard earned work and not the

However, UpWork and sites like them; sucker freelancers into the game to be
controlled by the buyers. This makes money for UpWork. It’s just a rat race
to the bottom unfortunately.
Active Member
Will M Member Since: Oct 26, 2019
36 of 45
Again, still how the contract is agreed on in the beginning of the project.
Say for instance, in your example it’s a product designed to be sold, I
would probably do one of two things in the contract: charge a flat rate
that includes royalities % after so many sales or charge a much higher rate
and sell all usage rights to the client. An then there is also exclusive
rights, which still give the artist a say in the work or at least keep
credit. And in the case of illustrators, this still allows control over
their work and opportunities to make a better living from what they do.

At the same time, the designer/illustrator is also capable to go after the
infringer as well.

In terms of say logo design, it’s just not usual, worth it or makes a lot
of sense to not give all rights to the client. (That’s why unique custom
logo design is not a measly $$ amount like some seem to think on sites like

The main point is; No it is not automatic and an all circumstances issue
that if ‘you buy it, you own all rights to it’ kind of deal. Make sense?

Active Member
Nicholas K Member Since: Mar 18, 2020
37 of 45

Will, I totally have been agreeing with you throughout the conversation in this thread. I'm just starting on Upwork as a 3D Modeler and Rendering Artist. I wanted to know is it ok to let people know on my profile that I would like to retain ownership of source files and the ability to use final images for marketing purposes? Just to honestly let people know up front. I'm not sure if people do this or not. Anyone feel free to chime in as well. 

Active Member
Will M Member Since: Oct 26, 2019
38 of 45
I believe as the creator of the work, you very well should have full rights
to keep the working files.
Active Member
Nicholas K Member Since: Mar 18, 2020
39 of 45

That's what I thought as well. Do you think it's relevant to still address it on my profile in the summary? What about the marketing part of it relating to my social media and website?

Active Member
Will M Member Since: Oct 26, 2019
40 of 45

Well, it’s mentioned in my agreement forms when working with clients. The
subject might be brought up in project discussions as to expected

Does that answer your question?
**edited for Community Guidelines**