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Sharing source files? No man!

We live in digital world where information is shared and transformed spectacularly quickly!

This phenomenon raises issues related to the rights awarded on a content or creation – whether it is a piece of work, a programme, or a product. It’s what we call intellectual property.

With digitalisation, sharing content is rather complex and ownership quickly questioned. Does receiving something from someone means it belongs to me? What are my rights on this content I have received? Can I share or modify it?

We never really wonder about the answers to these questions, but we definitely should!

As a communications agency, we are extremely concerned about intellectual property. We spend a lot of time explaining this to our clients who, sometimes a little naïve yet very demanding, ask that we share the source files with them.

Well, tough luck mate, it’s a definite NO!

Here’s why…

A bit of history…

The term “intellectual property” appeared within the legal industry in 1967, with the creation of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). It refers to the exclusive rights granted to intellectual creations and aims to ensure ownership is attributed, respected and protected.

Intellectual property touches all fields and protection systems. For example, copyright applies to works of the mind – literary, artistic… -, while patents are used to protect technical solutions.

Many types of rights can protect the same creation and are therefore part of the “protection of intellectual property”.

A changing context…

While intellectual property used to concern physical and tangible works, these are now digitised. Intellectual property when it comes to digital works is thus questioned; everything is accessible online, making works appear “common” instead of “new” and “original”.

But just because a digital work is easily shared or retrieved doesn’t mean it can be modified or used. Whatever the type, a piece of work benefits from intellectual property and remains protected by copyright laws.

And in the communications sector?

A communications agency produces creations, which are protected by copyright. This protection involves the safekeeping of source files, which are not transferred to the client, unless a specific agreement has been reached between the two parties – one that generally incurs additional costs.

Some unhappy clients tend to argue that “we paid for it!” But that’s not exactly the case, is it!? You pay the agency for the finished product or communication tool, not for the work itself, which is the fruit of our creativity and therefore remains our property. When you go to a restaurant, you enjoy the meal, you pay for it, but you don’t leave with the recipe!

Source files are the result of our know-how and technical expertise; they have real market value! Giving clients access to source files would therefore mean granting them the freedom to exploit the processes of the work as they see fit.

Though this sounds logical, agencies often find themselves explaining and re-explaining this to their clients, who don’t seem to realise what it actually implies.

To make this clear to our clients, we include a special clause in this regard in all our budget proposals:

“No source files may be exploited outside the framework of the transfer of rights sold by the author. Delivery of a source file shall be upon the transfer of the agency’s rights to the client. The delivery of the source file and the transfer of copyright – including usage, reproduction, modification – will incur additional costs.”