Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Or is it?

The notion that your printer has ownership of your print files is, unfortunately, a common one. It’s something we’ve been thinking about a lot recently, and we want to set the record straight on file ownership.

Claire Paterson
By Claire Paterson
  • 23 August 2017
  • Reading time: 7 minutes
Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Or is it?

If we had a pound for every time we heard one of our clients say “Ah, but my old printer has the print files for that job”... let’s just say we’d be seriously upgrading the Streamline Christmas parties. It’s strange to us, but this notion that your printer has ownership of your files is, unfortunately, a common one. It’s something we’ve been thinking about a lot recently, and we want to set the record straight on file ownership.

The fact of the matter is, your printer probably doesn’t own your files. The question of ownership can usually be answered by one simple question; who paid for them? For example, if you commissioned a design agency to create your logo, that logo belongs to you. If you drew your own logo on the back of a bus ticket (probably not advisable!) that logo belongs to you. Thanks to email and other services such as WeTransfer, Dropbox and Google Drive, even fairly large files are extremely ‘portable’. Our advice is to always make sure you have a copy of whatever you’re sending off to print – you never know when you might need it again and it’s always better to be safe!

Printing companies are notoriously sales-hungry and hate to lose out on a job – we’ve even heard of some less honourable firms inferring to their clients that their files are not available for release in order to ensure future work. Again, if you’ve paid for your files this is simply not true, not fair and not on. You’re completely within your rights to move printer as you see fit. You might be charged for a printer’s studio time if you’ve had them make changes to artwork, but really they shouldn’t be staking a claim on these invaluable brand assets.

We should point out that tools such as custom-made die cutting patterns or style guides that have been specially made by your printer don’t fall under this rule of thumb. They belong to the printer and if you switch supplier you may have to pay for a new one from your new printer. Sometimes special tools for die cutting, embossing or foiling are costed separately – something that’s always worth checking if you’re considering moving printer.

Copyright is a bit of a different ballgame, however. It all boils down to who actually created the files in the first place. In the UK, the author or creator of the work is usually the first owner of any copyright in it. So, if you want to make some slight changes to that shiny new logo your design agency lovingly crafted for you – you may not have the rights to do so. This isn’t always the case though. Sometimes asking these questions at the start of commissioning a design job can allow for an agreement that you get final ownership to be put in place. This page explains a bit more about how copyright works if you’re not sure.

All these things are worth bearing in mind, after all, your brand might not necessarily be a tangible asset that you can hold in your hand but it’s incredibly valuable. Make sure you ask the right questions up-front and never assume! That way, you’ll not only have a good chance of controlling your design files but you’ll be able to pick and choose suppliers in order to get the best results for your company.

Do you have any queries or questions regarding print files? We are here, and happy to help. Enquiries@streamlinecorporate.com

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