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What should I do if I client asks me for "working files" or "source files" on a creative project?

The agency generally owns these files and should not be expected to turn them over to a client, unless this is a specific provision of the agency-client contract.

U.S. intellectual property law makes clear that agencies own their source or working files, and Idea Grove's contracts remind our clients of this. But sometimes clients request them anyway.

AIGA LA sums up the dilemma well:

Have you ever had this conversation with a client?
Client: “Looks great, just go ahead and send over the Photoshop files and I will send out a check.”
Designer: “But…the source files are mine. You only paid for the finished product.”
Client: “What are you talking about? We paid for it, so we own it! It’s simple. Send them over or the job isn’t complete and I’m not paying.”

"Source files" or "working files" are those Photoshop files, Illustrator files, InDesign files or other intermediate files developed during the creative process that result in the finished product. IP law makes clear that these intermediate items are owned by the agency unless ownership is specifically ceded in the client contract.

Idea Grove occasionally waives its rights to source files in the context of longstanding client relationships and long-term client contracts. In other cases, we sell the source files to the client separately from the finished work product.