My sensations, they are clashing.
December 5, 2011 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Am I obligated to share a design that I feel is very much mine?

It's a bit complicated, so I'm just going to launch right into it. Thanks for coming - here we go!

So I spent the last academic year at a university that I no longer attend for financial reasons. I might make it back some day, and I'd really like to, but chances of that are looking slim to none.

During my time there I was a member of the school's club cycling team, and as cycle racing was something I had been doing for quite a while up to that point, I offered to help out in various capacities. This involved re-designing the team's "kit," which is the stuff you wear that bears the team's name, colors, and sponsors and so on.

At the beginning of this process, an art major friend (from the team) and I spent some time together over the course of a week or two sorting out what direction we wanted things to go. After that the effort was largely mine, as was the plan. We took a decidedly more "artistic" approach last year, and by that I mean that the kit referenced a moderately well-known artist's techniques. This was tricky, as translating those design elements to something that you wear while keeping things palatable was not easy. That, combined with securing sponsor logos (many of which needed from-scratch reconstruction in the design software to be used correctly) and other related wrenches-in-gears made things very difficult. I ended up taking this project home with me during winter break and finished about a week before Christmas.

Long story a little bit shorter, it was an assload of work and the stress was biblical. This isn't a complaint on my part, it's just a fact, and I more or less accepted that that would be the case when I offered to do the kit. At the end of the day, I feel the work is wholly mine, with deserved recognition to my friend for his occasional input.

Begin academic year 2011-2012. The team back at school have been working on a new kit design all semester and are apparently having a tough time of it. I've withheld my input since I'm not there and don't feel right dictating things that affect them more than me.

Yesterday, they began asking via email, facebook and text messages for the design files from last year's kit. I haven't responded to anything yet. Their plan is to modify the design beyond its original scope, that is, the design language of the referenced artist. This doesn't sit well with me at all. I'm incredibly proud of the work I did, and I feel that by sending them the files I'd be throwing all of that effort to the wolves. I don't know if they're just stumped and looking for a handout or if they're coming from another perspective. I'm not, however, looking to hold anything over their heads simply for the sake of doing so.

Am I wrong for how uncomfortable this idea makes me? Am I obligated to send them these files? My gut says no, my heart says "well, maybe," and my brain's at a total loss.

What do your organs say? I appreciate anything you have to offer!
posted by Chutzler to Human Relations (18 answers total)
Something that might not come across as clear is that I was more than the guy with the software - the majority of the kit's final design was largely determined by me as well.
posted by Chutzler at 9:17 AM on December 5, 2011

Send them the files. Tell them that if they change anything from your original designs, to please not credit you for the final result so that however much they mangle it, said mangling won't reflect badly on you.

I get the sense this is a matter of principle for you, and I get that, but unless they're planning to do something overly hurtful with the designs I'm not sure it's really worth holding out on this issue.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:27 AM on December 5, 2011

I am a strong believer in sharing and I personally release all my software/tutorials under permissive license (creative commons, or MIT license for software). That being said, assuming your description is accurate, I would completely support your decision to keep this work yours and to let them know that you are not willing to share your work beyond what was done already.

Then again: what exactly do you have to lose if you give them a copy of these files? If the answer is nothing, and if you are not going to make use of this material (other to build your portfolio), then it may seem a bit petty not too share...
posted by aroberge at 9:28 AM on December 5, 2011

You were the designer for 2010-2011. What they do for 2011-2012 isn't really your concern. You're not even at the school any more. The sole question is, will you help them make it easier to do their project this year, and since you're probably a nice human being at heart, and these people were/are your friends, your answer should be yes. Send them the files, make sure they don't credit you as the designer for this year, and walk away from it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:30 AM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

What's not clear from your story is whether your design was ever actually used by the team. I'm assuming it was not, but can you clarify that?

Regardless, it's your work, your intellectual property. They didn't employ you to do it and it sounds like they didn't formally contract with you to do it. So it's yours, you own it.

That's important because it means you'd be on solid ground, at least legally, to decide to keep it and not help them out. But why do that?

If you feel strongly that the work is finished, and should be used as it stands or not at all, you should tell them that — you'd be happy to share the files on the condition that they be used as they teams kit as they are, and not modified without your permission.

On the other hand, what aroberge said — you're not going to get any use out of the work yourself, so why not let them benefit from it without putting restrictions on it.?
posted by beagle at 9:31 AM on December 5, 2011

This is for a club at a school you no longer go to? Let it go.
posted by mkultra at 9:32 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't think you're wrong for feeling uncomfortable -- your feelings are your feelings. However, maybe you should consider that unless you have taken out some kind of license on your work (something like Creative Commons), you have no real legal say in what happens to it. By agreeing to help them with this project and not putting it under license, (unfortunately) you've effectively signed everything away and there's little you can do besides dig in your heels and pout.

So, as for that part: I don't think you should feel obligated to give them the files, but I do think you should consider it. Do you think they'll be able to get hold of them another way? What's to stop them copying the designs by eye? If they're that desparate, they might try and wing it anyway.

I think you should give them the files for no other reason than it's a nice thing to do, and next time you do something like this, license it.
posted by fight or flight at 9:33 AM on December 5, 2011

Beagle, we did use the design last year (to much fanfare!).

Thanks for the input everyone!
posted by Chutzler at 9:33 AM on December 5, 2011

Not giving the files is just going to lead to drama, and what you should be doing is moving on.
posted by smackfu at 9:33 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Remember that you are blessed with talent. This is not the only great design you will ever have and not the only project you'll ever work really hard on. Share it. Just let it go and be proud of the great work you did the year before. As a professional, you'll sometimes face projects where your ideas get diluted/distorted through the process, and learning to deal with it and harness that energy into more creative ideas will be valuable to you.
posted by mochapickle at 9:35 AM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't think you are absolutely obligated to share the files, but I think for a variety of reasons it is selfish of you to withhold them. Although you've mentioned many times that the design was primarily your own work, it's clear that at least some other people worked on it, and as a project for the team's identity there is at least some kind of ownership that everyone in the group feels about the design. Plus the core concept of the design is that of copying the style of a well-known artist, so obviously you understand the importance of being able to base designs on the work of others. It sounds like they want to use your design as a starting point to go in their own artistic direction, and I can't see any reason why it would be in anyone's best interest to prevent that, even if you don't end up personally liking their new design. You can both be proud of the work you did as part of the group and let the new people in charge of the design go in their own direction based on it without feeling like you need to exert control over the ways your work is modified.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:39 AM on December 5, 2011

Are these your friends? Are you interested in staying friends? I'd just give them the files. Yes you will be helping them out in a big way for sure. It's hard to do after you've worked so hard on something that was essentially a project of love, but there are SO many times that you have to just let go, especially when you're volunteering to design work for a group/organization. Every year I work on a volunteer yearbook for my kids school and yes, we hope that the lead person will give over the files because it's so much easier than reinventing the wheel.
posted by biscuits at 9:46 AM on December 5, 2011

Without considering obligations, you made the design for the team. Other than your portfolio does it have any other use to you? Given that you made the team, why wouldn't you want the team to have the files and use the design?
posted by maurreen at 9:47 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Legally you can do whatever you want, but it would be really douche-y to not give them the files and maintaining good relationships with college acquaintances will pay dividends down the road that you can't predict right now. You never know when one of these guys will need to hire you or know someone who does, and you don't want to be the guy that was a prima-donna.
posted by empath at 9:55 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I happily left any number of t-shirt and jersey designs with their respective clubs when I graduated. I was the guy who knew enough photoshop and illustrator to make it happen. Why force someone else to recreate the Powerbar logo because the rep couldn't be bothered to send it?

Even if they are going in a completely different direction with a jersey design, it is massively easier to start with the illustrator files that you ended up sending of to LG or whatever. You already figured out the right Pantone colors that matched, you have found (or rebuilt) the school and sponsor logos... You have the right codes for fabric type and what chamois to use- all the block and tackle that you have to get out of the way before you can do the fun, artistic bit.

You will either be remembered as the awesome guy who saved the new design person a huge amount of work and allowed them to actually do their schoolwork, or as the guy that made things way more difficult than they needed to be. Design work is all about connections- you want the new jersey designer to be your friend!
posted by rockindata at 9:57 AM on December 5, 2011

I presume that part of the assumption was that the work done for the previous year's design would be passed on to the term to serve as a starting point for the following year's design. I would argue differently if you were an independent designer contracted for this project, but you did this as a member of the team, and you aren't the sole owner of the design.

Legally speaking, sure, you don't have to send it to them, but the social and professional expectations of a reasonable person would be in line with the team member who was involved in the design to help the team out by giving them last year's raw material for next year's design.
posted by deanc at 10:00 AM on December 5, 2011

I'm used to coming at this from the perspective of a work-for-hire designer (which is what nearly all professionals are, unless they're "artists" which is a whole other ballgame), where there's no question that ownership of the design once I've done it isn't mine.

The actual ownership of your design work here is pretty murky. I'm assuming there's no written contract, you were unpaid, it probably wasn't discussed ahead of time who would wind up with the rights; if it came down to that it'd probably boil down to who had the better lawyer. And this situation is low-stakes enough that it will never come down to that anyway. So set that aside, it's a red herring, trying to figure out whether you're technically "right" to withhold the work won't get you anywhere.

Now for the emotional side. Even as a professional, even when the client has clear ownership of the product, it can be painful to hand off your work to the people who you know are just going to screw it up. (And they do. Oh man do they ever.) So I can certainly empathize with how you're feeling here.

But they're going to do a new design for the new year. It won't be your work anymore. Your work still exists, but it won't be on their kit -- no matter what you choose to do with the files. So your (perfectly justifiable and correct) emotional attachment to your design is also a red herring.

The only effect your decision here will have is to make it easier for them (at the very least you could save them the time of having to rebuild the sponsor logos, for example), or to make it more difficult for them. Making it easier for them may benefit you in the long run (in terms of networking and social karma). Making it more difficult for them can only harm you (in terms of them thinking you're a dick for making their lives more difficult).

So make it easier for them. Give them the files.
posted by ook at 10:07 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much, everyone. I really do appreciate everything everyone said - the perspective was a great help!

I'll be sending the files along later today. You guys are the real deal!
posted by Chutzler at 10:10 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

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