My client wants to be the "designer" too... help!


Like so many new grads right now, I’m freelancing. Also like all other other newbies, I’m getting all my advise about pricing, contracts, etc from here! thanks for all the great tips.

My question is that my client is having beef with the “design ownership” section of the contract. It basically says that I own the design til they pay me and then they can do whatever they please with it, and that i can put it in my portfolio but give them credit.

I am doing branding, logo, packaging and a product for this client. She feels that she has done so much of the leg work on the product design already, that its more of a collaboration and she should be sharing the credit… uh- huh.

  1. how do I politely tell her she’s not a designer?
  2. if I just suck it up and put some small amendment that on part, how should i phrase it so I dont screw myself over if I do more work for her in the future?


If it’s the kind of design that can be copyrighted, copyright automatically accrues to whoever did the work (whether the copyright is officially registered or not). Your client owns the copyright to all the ‘legwork’ she has done and no more, you own the copyright to the work you have done. Unless you both agree a contract acknowledging transfer of those rights, you continue to own them.

If it’s the kind of design that can be registered (design patent in the US), there is no automatic right of ownership. Either you or the client can take out a design patent, though it’s only really of value to the person or company who is selling the product (ie the client). You don’t need a design patent to advertise that you designed something.

If it’s the kind of design that could be granted a utility patent, it has to be registered in the name of the inventor (not the owner). In many countries it is a criminal offence not to file under the inventor’s name.

I have a line in my contract which says “The transfer of rights, knowledge and intellectual property shall pass into the unrestricted ownership of the client, with the right of exclusive use, upon payment of the fee specified in the contract.” I’ve never had a client that argued with that clause. I also have one which says “The consultant shall be permitted to publicise and claim credit for designs or inventions included in the deliverables, provided the subject of such claims is public knowledge and inasmuch as the claims are true.” I had one client who didn’t want it known that I did the work (I was working in-house when they had a busy period); I wasn’t very happy because it’s a good project that I can never take credit for, but in the end it was me that made the choice to do the work and get paid for it.

I don’t see why you need to amend any part of a contract, unless the contract states that you are the sole designer/creator (which would be strange anyway). Just state that the client owns all the rights when you get paid the amount you have agreed. If the client wants to take credit for some part of the design, why worry? Those who understand design will easily see from your sketches, models etc what you had responsibility for, and when you’re pitching to other clients in future you don’t have to give credit where it isn’t due. Though actually you can turn it into quite a positive if you give credit to others - it shows you’re able to work as a team, assimilate other points of view, and basically be trusted. Yes, it can be tough to accept that someone wants to take credit for your ideas, but in a few years when you have a portfolio of successful products, people won’t be asking exactly what your involvement in each one was.

From what I understand with Intellectual Properties laws the freelance designer owns the design (not the company they’re working for), and if working in-house then the company owns the design. A contract will change everything though.

As you say, you own the design until she pays for it… tell her to pay promptly and it won’t be an issue. :wink:

I have a general clause that states:

Phases will be billed at completion payment due within 60 days of billing.
All art work generated will be the sole property of the client. Michael DiTullo will retain the right to use art work and finished product in portfolio and promotional materials once the project is made public by client or after 4 years from completion.

thanks for your help everyone! we came to an agreement.

If the problem ever arises again, you can do what I do for my cat and get a squirt gun. When the client starts to get designer tendencies you squirt 'em with an added, “NO! Bad!”.

Would this client hire an expert in any other field, such as an electrician or a lawyer, and then tell them what to do?