Freelancing and licensing your work

Our last stop in legal matters will be licensing of your work to clients.

Do you give clients unlimited license to do whatever they want with your work?

Can they resell it or just use it on other marketing material for their business?

Do they need to come back to you for edits? Do you give them the source files?

Limited Usage

One common thing that many designers and developers do is provide limited usage rights that are specifically spelled out in the contract. So you design a brochure and allow the client to use the brochure but if they want to use the same creative material in a banner they can’t without coming back to you.

I get why this is common practice. You don’t want people to pay you $2000 for a brochure and then use that to rebrand their whole business and all creative material with their ‘cousin’. That rebranding project would be in the $15 – $20k range.

And you want the extra money.

I like money to so I get it.

I just don’t do it.

I feel that if the only reason a client would come back to you is because of the license deal you have on the creative material you’ve done something seriously wrong in your customer service. You’ve trapped them into your services not won them over as awesome partners.

I want to work with people that love me that I also think are awesome not ‘trapped’ clients.

What I do

My only limitation on my UI and development work is resale. If I’m building you a custom API integration and you decide a few weeks later that you can go sell it for real money as a turnkey solution to others I think that I deserve a cut of that.

I don’t care if you want to use my work on all 10 of your sites.

The code or UI work goes with your business if you sell it.

I don’t lock you in by forcing you to stick with me with a crappy license agreement. I want to figure out what’s best for you and then let you do it.


The reality is that for most of the businesses we work with enforcing the license agreement would mean suing them or sending a threatening letter from a lawyer. Sure small claims court may work but really is it worth it?

I charge $150/hour so if I’m going to drop a day of work to show up to small claims court I better be fighting for $5k or more. Even if you win a judgment you may not get paid.

You’d still have to enforce it on the customer and that would take more time.

Really how much is that license worth to you?

If the company is big enough to really make it worth while do you actually have the funds to mount a legal campaign against them? Can you afford a bunch of lawyer time for the case?

I can’t either.

If you’re working in WordPress (like I am) then all your code is GPL by default so you can’t stop them from going around and doing anything they want with it. Yes that means that though I ask a client not to resell my work as a turnkey solution I have no legal recourse to stop them. It’s GPL code.

The comments degrading this in to a GPL debate are just going to be deleted. Sanity only!

I am really just asking them to be nice to me.

Even if you have a war chest with which to fight a court battle, is that really the best use of your time? It’s never going to be the best use of my time. All a court battle is going to do for me is create more stress and get me thinking about work I don’t want to be doing.

It’s going to pull my focus away from the real awesome stuff I have on my plate.


So do you put the license information in your contract? Sure why not. I don’t think it can hurt I just think that it’s mostly useless long term.

Take away

If you’re using a license agreement to lock in a client you suck. You being freaking awesome and serving the client begging you to help them come up with a new project so they can work with you.

It’s unlikely that you even have the cash to fight a legal battle and is it really the best use of your time?

So leave it in your contract just be realistic with yourself about what you can do with clients to enforce it and make sure that your stellar service is what keeps clients coming back not a line in a contract.

Please remember that I am not a lawyer, nor am I familiar with contract laws in all parts of the world, this is what I have learned through my experiences running my business. If you are seeking legal advice please do so through a lawyer in your area.

photo credit: NobMouse via photopin cc

%d bloggers like this: