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  • 4 Year old project – Client Reaches out to ask for changes; best practices ?

    Posted by Alan Callaghan on October 6, 2020 at 7:43 pm


    I had a client reach out asking for a project we finished 4 years ago. I have the whole project backed up and just pulled it onto my work drive. However, should I just hand over the project ? Or prepare to charge him for editing services or just a fee to give him access to the files.

    He never took the project files at the end of the job, and we never discussed him having access to my files. What is the best practice ?

    Thank you!


    Mark Suszko replied 3 years, 7 months ago 4 Members · 6 Replies
  • 6 Replies
  • Jeremy Garchow

    October 6, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    Are they asking you to make changes or are they asking you to turn over everything?

    If they want everything, there’s typically a fee for your time spent restoring the project, and any hard costs (hard drive/shipping).

    If they want you to make the changes, tell them you’d be glad to and charge your editing fees.

  • Mark Suszko

    October 6, 2020 at 8:39 pm

    The project files are proprietary secret sauce – you NEVER just give them away. Either that is negotiated up front and you bill accordingly, or it is left out specifically in the original deal, always spell that out up front.

    You don’t say if the original product was a work for hire, but even then try to resist giving up project files because that’s leverage for getting repeat business. If they are asking for project files they plan to cut you out and take the work elsewhere.

    If it’s just a dub, as Jeremy says, comp it. If it’s a re-edit that is more than say 30 percent different or more, it should be negotiated as a fresh project though depending on the client relationship you might consider giving a discount. But free edits are a slippery slope.

  • Alan Callaghan

    October 6, 2020 at 9:01 pm

    Thank you for the reply!

    Looks like it’ll be an edit, so I will charge accordingly. I didn’t know if he wanted to get all the assets from me and if technically he had a right to do that. Nothing was discussed about that. I’m just a pack rat and save everything.

    Thanks Jeremy!


  • Tim Wilson

    October 6, 2020 at 9:40 pm

    @marksuszko wrote:

    The project files are proprietary secret sauce – you NEVER just give them away. Either that is negotiated up front and you bill accordingly, or it is left out specifically in the original deal, always spell that out up front.

    This, this, this!

    I’m glad to hear that your situation has come to a happy resolution so far, Alan, but Mark’s advice is critical for creative freelancers. Yes, the work itself is a work for hire, and clients can in fact make a decent case that the project files belong to them as a result. The project file wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t paid for the project, right? This is why you have to specify from the outset that they’re paying for the finished output, and NOT the project files.

    (It also doesn’t hurt to spell out re-editing terms, along the lines that Mark suggested.)

    I’ve also gotten into situations where clients have wanted to use licensed media that I used in their projects — sometimes imagery, but in practice, more often music — for later projects of their own. I have to tell them, “No, that license applied to that project. I can’t reuse it later either!”

    It’s the same principle in a way. If you want to pay me to never be able to make money from selling this again, there may well be an amount you can pay me for that — but it’s a lot more than what we’re talking about for this project. Rofl

  • Jeremy Garchow

    October 7, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    I’m just a pack rat and save everything.

    This is how I look at archiving in general. We save everything, as you never know when it’s going to come back and turn in to another job, or more importantly, client service.

    As far as clients taking project files, I find this to be a very tricky subject. Some clients ask for it as part of the negotiations up front. Everything goes in their archive, and they can do with it what they want later on down the line. Sometimes, even though they have everything, they still call for revisions or redos, which is great. (Again we save everything no matter if we hand over a copy of the material or not).

    There are other times when clients want the project and media, sometimes years later, and it was not negotiated up front. It is kind if a difficult situation to be in as you don’t want to hold too tight and not provide good client service, but you also want the job so you can continue the relationship. There is no right answer. We often fight pretty hard to maintain the project files and therefore any work that comes out of them, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

    Sounds like your situation worked out for the best, though. They called and asked for revisions and will hire you to do the job. Kudos!

  • Mark Suszko

    October 7, 2020 at 9:23 pm

    If you have not heard from a client in a long time, just go ahead and erase all your project files and media for their old work; I ***guarantee*** you, hours or days later, they will call you wanting the stuff you’ve just erased. It has never failed in my experience.

    Now, do they still own that stuff? Yes and no. A court case I love to reference for this is Walmart V. Flagler, or Flagler V. Walmart, (everybody was suing everybody in this story). The TL/DR: Flagler was an outside contractor shooting all of Walmart’s internal media stuff for them, for years, because Walmart was too cheap to own in-house production. The Walmart people treated Flagler like in-house staff (they were Flagler’s only client, after all) and let their guard down around the cameras. One day Walmart gets a notion to cut costs and fires Flagler to save a buck. Also to save a buck, Wally didn’t make a serious offer to buy up the raw footage, or, to be clever, buy it *before* ending the relationship. They told Flagler to erase all the videos. Flagler kept the media. Walmart sued Flagler, asserting it paid Flagler as “Work For Hire” (This is a VERY important legal term for you freelancers) and thus owned everything. A judge said no: Walmart owned the *finished videos*, as the actual work product but because the contract with Flagler left the raw media issue unresolved on paper, Flagler owned the raw footage.

    It was a Pyrrhic Victory For Flagler, in that images in the footage were copyrighted by Walmart, they couldn’t sell anything in that collection without Walmart’s Permission, and Wally wasn’t going to ever give permission, but Flagler could keep the raw tapes. Flagler found a loophole in that, while it couldn’t SELL the videos it kept, it could charge a fee for interested people to come ACCESS and view it. Thus, caravans of lawyers suing Walmart for this and that came and paid Flagler to mine his library for incriminating evidence in I don’t know how many lawsuits. And they got it.

    I will say this: That clever Walmart executive that fired Flagler without first buying and destroying the footage, when it was cheap, cost Walmart many times more than what was “saved” by shafting and bullying the contractor in the first place. Millions. Flagler I think is out of business permanently; burned with every possible future client. Nobody “wins” this kind of fight. And that’s why it’s a good lesson that, no matter how trivial the job seems, you state up front with any client, what they will own, and what they will not own, *before* the project begins. Bringing it up after the project is underway causes nothing but drama and lost business and bad press. You can fix this with a simple deal memo in plain english, signed at the start of the job, when the initial money changes hands. It need not be in legalese, but spell out who owns what.

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