View Full Version : Handing over source files for a Commission discussion

12-10-2010, 12:55 AM
I have been working on a requested commission (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?12746-Map-for-a-new-Campaign-TAKEN) and the question came up regarding source files. I use Gimp so that would be the .xcf which includes all the layers etc. I guess Photoshop equivalent is the .psd file.

I talked to a couple of you already but my client had never really thought about this as being any sort of issue. He hadn't thought about them as ultimate proof of authorship so we were both curious to hear what the rest of the community had to say.

The reason the request was made for the source file is so the map could be updated to reflect changes in the world as they campaign in it for the next couple years.

So, for the record, how is this handled?

Hopefully, that made sense.

PS. I am learning here as well because had I thought about it beforehand we would have already discussed this.

12-10-2010, 02:28 AM
I almost never hand over the source files for anything, the source files are my property, the resulting jpg/pdf/flattened image etc is what I'm selling. In theory sourcefiles also hold information about how you do your magic. In addition to that the work also consists of using different brushes, textures etc - some of those could be brushes you bought from others and if so are not legal to share with others.

A compromise could be delivering a unmarked map as well, as it probably will be names and stuff that might change. If there suddenly appears a rift through the continent I'm guessing the client would want an edited map for that anyway.

12-10-2010, 02:58 AM
I never give my originals away and free updates have to be limited to just labels and icons - moving terrain around or drawing new things by hand (even if you use masks) is a major pain after you've started doing the finish work.

12-10-2010, 08:00 AM
I agree. If you have any hesitancy "at all" about handing over the source files, then don't. There a quite a number of ways around this issue as noted above such as an unlabeled map with layers flattened. You could even do a PDF document with layers if you know how. If the OP wants anything more than minor edits for location names or political borders, then he needs to have you update with those. As an alternate, if the OP has some world shattering changes(half the continent sinks) in store, extra pay for extra work either at the time needed or up front would be required.

12-10-2010, 08:25 AM
The usual solution in the business I am in is to get them to sign an NDA - a non disclosure agreement. That prevents them from disclosing and disseminating your property which is the IP (intellectual property) which is the source files. On the other hand I usually don't care a jot and just give them the whole kaboodle. But then most of what I do involves tools I have written so its of limited use to them anyway. But when writing code I don't do open source and keep all source files well locked up. I have been requested the source files numerous times for ViewingDale even to the point of trying to do bug hunting for some guys problem which I could not replicate until I worked out he was using a different OS and was trying to port the damn thing over. So yeah, if you care about it and have reservations about it then don't. Your not under obligation to supply more than was agreed.

Which brings up a secondary point, be careful about what you are agreeing to supply at the outset. Make sure your contract target is well defined and ensure that they agree to the final before billing them the final amount for the work. Any extras after that point are at your discretion - you have fulfilled your contractual obligation.

I think people should consider these issues before setting a price too. Sometimes they set the price for the work to do in making the image but there is more involved in making your customer happy and satisfied that he has the required legal protection for the work. That, for some awkward customers, can be more effort than the making of the map. You can usually spot these people from the request they initially submit. The more legally / commercially unrealistic it is the more you want to walk from it. People who have clear and realistic expectations about what they are getting and what they are not are the best to work for. Those are the people who you stick with and are usually the people that get projects completed and are generally successful.

EDIT - Ohh this just popped up on the radar so thought id share:

12-10-2010, 11:12 AM
Great link. Some customers are not worth the money you get from them.

If it's a work for hire gig I have no problem handing over the source file...but won't necessarily keep *everything* editable. Of course I'm fairly new at this so maybe I'm being naive about it.

12-10-2010, 11:40 AM
I think it's important to know why the client is asking for the source files. If they are a company and they're going to alter the image down the line and still present it as your work then I'd be very cautious - a lot of damage can be done to a file by tweaking the layers and you don't necessarily want your name on that. I've had a few images I've done turn up looking very different from the final image I supplied. However if it's for a private client who wants to edit the map down the line for their home game, then it's a very different scenario. Those kind of commissions are mostly done on good nature so it's worth talking to the client to find out what they need the files for, and then seeing how much of a pain it is to create a layered file that makes that goal easy to achieve. There's rarely if ever a good reason to give a client the full file without any flattening. However there might be some value in providing a file with a base land/sea layer, a forest layer and a labels layer. That's still a long way from the full file, but should be more useful.

I've only rarely given out the source files, and always with a clear statement from the client of how they'll be used.

12-10-2010, 02:42 PM
nice link redrobes - not that I think this of Jax's customer, but there are some bad seeds out there - have had one just a month ago and it sucks.

12-10-2010, 08:39 PM
Nice link on monster customers, eek.
As an Owner/Operator of my own service oriented business I have had a few of those. One who is infamous to my friends and family (six calls during the Superbowl) but that's another story. This is certainly not the case with my customer. We are both reasonable people and want the best solution for all parties. I wasn't expecting to hand out everything so I was caught on my heels just a little. A good lesson on being clear at the beginning I think. :)

It is nice to hear some of the best practices regarding this because it can be a touchy subject that I can see might get out of hand. Like tilt said, when you hand out all your layers and whatnot you are handing out secrets to how you do things that may have taken you a long time to discover. An interesting point as well that if someone makes a few tweaks to a layer and posts it on the Internet it might not be the best representation of your work. Hopefully, there would be a note that it's been modified but you know how the net can be.

I think this is a case where my user can really benefit from having the layers (so they can modify over time as events unfold). I think that simplifying the layers and passing that on is a good solution. As artist I will have my original work and the customer will have everything they need. I can flatten my mountains from 3 layers into 1, etc and it will be an easy thing for them to change when necessary.

12-11-2010, 02:30 AM
Let's see, Superbowl's on a Sunday, so you get to charge time and a half, right?

Defining the nature of the deliverables is definitely something that should be in the original agreement. If a client wants to modify the agreement to include handing over source files, that should be an additional fee. That will compensate you for possibly revealing confidential techniques (consider how much you'd want to be paid to teach a private lesson) and for potential lost income on revisions.

On the other hand, there are times when you don't want to be bothered making revisions later on—if the original job did not pay well enough, for instance, or you were working for barter. In that case, I should think that a layered Photoshop file ready for minor revisions would be something you should give away. I did some work in exchange for a cut of music a while back (the only map commission I've yet taken), and since it would be difficult to work out a fair exchange for revisions, I gave the client a PSD that included the base map, a layer of roads, a layer of icons, and a layer of labels. That way, if he wants to change something it's fairly easy for him to do so without having to contact me about it. My long-term commitment to that project is merely archival in case he has a data failure (which actually occurred recently, as it happens).

12-11-2010, 03:37 AM
I completely agree with everything said so far... Turning over source files isgenerally a bad idea. However, to play devil's advocate, if the customer is an rpg gamer and wants the originals in order to update them as changes occur throughout the campaign, I can understand the desire. Some types of changes would be extremely difficult and/or time consuming to make to a flattened image.

If you do decide to give over the originals just be sure to cover yourself (NDA, your name removed from product, no commercial brushes, etc). An increased fee would certainly be in order as well if source files weren't included in the original bid.

12-11-2010, 05:12 AM
I usually treat this issue with a NDA and a larger fee as for just the simple result.

12-11-2010, 08:59 AM
For those of us who are not lawyers is there a simple NDA contract somewhere out here that might be used by your typical artist or is it something one must go see a lawyer for?

12-11-2010, 09:30 AM
I think we have one bloodsuc.......er...... I mean Lawyer around here somewhere. ;) Not sure about pro-bono work or type of law and stuff, but........

12-11-2010, 11:36 AM
There is a book called Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers by Tad Crawford and Eva Doman Bruck that contains a number of boilerplate contracts that might be of interest to you. There is usually no need to consult a lawyer for simple contracts unless you need something absolutely bulletproof. A court will usually evaluate a contract the way a reasonable person would and consider intent in drafting to decide whether or not there's been a breach.

Although I wonder at the necessity of a NDA to protect techniques. Are you really doing something so amazing and revolutionary that disclosing it will hurt your business? The only reason to force a client not to disclose your source file is because it contains something that makes hiring you far better than hiring anybody else.

12-11-2010, 11:47 AM
I've certainly come up with some useful techniques during my learning curve but I can't say I've come up with anything I wouldn't mind sharing with people...and that's letting someone watch over my shoulder, not trying to figure out what I've done using an unflattened source file. I wouldn't ever go the NDA route for my own stuff. It seems a safe assumption to me that anyone that would pay me to make a map wouldn't want the source file out on the Internet any more than I would...to protect the IP they've purchased if nothing else. Then again, if they want to release it I guess that's okay with me, since they paid for it.

12-11-2010, 02:31 PM
I don't know if an NDA is really the proper thing to be referring to here. This is not an issue of disclosure, which is usually tied to proprietary/trade secrets, unique processes, or advance knowledge (i.e. pre-release of a product).

What you are speaking about (imoo) is providing the source files along with a limited use license, while still maintaining copyright yourself of the original work. You might include in the limited use license what the source files can an can't be used for, such as:
- ok to modify the map for specified purposes
- not ok to redistribute the source or any pieces/components of the map in any fashion
- not ok to create derivative works made from the source files

Just my 2 bits.

I did run into something similar where I had a commission without a contract, and the purchaser had though they could give the map to another person later to move things around and add stuff. In my opinion that is creating a derivative work, something I wasn't prepared to let him do. We ended up discussions options and then drafting a usage agreement up after the fact, but it could have been ugly.

On the flip some, some people never require contracts and have never had problems.

-Rob A>

12-12-2010, 02:05 AM
I think RobA is on the right track. If it was software code being transfered I can see it needing a NDA. In the case of one of my maps, I'm doing most of the drawing by my hand, so it's not like anyone can really copy that. If they can then they probably don't need me in the first place. The techniques are pretty much what anyone could learn with enough practice.

I can see protecting oneself from having your work sliced into brushes and so on which could then be given away or worse, sold. If it was sold, you would need to have proof that you owned control of it and were deserving of compensation. If you had given up your source files it seems you could have a rough time proving that. Of course, if you flatten out some of the layers you would still have the obvious original work. It does seem however that most clients do not need or want the actual source files. That might be different for a company logo as opposed to a map image. Always best to have the deliverables nailed down before you start working obviously.