So, I thought the days of this practice were long gone, but stories about this horror still surface from time to time. We at Washington Media Services thought it might be a good idea to make sure this practice is clear to all you readers so you’ll know what to look for, or ask, before signing a contract with a design firm. Spoilers: Washington Media Services does not participate in this practice.

What exactly is this practice? Holding a project hostage basically means that the client does not own their project when it’s finished. The design agency makes the client pay for their services, then demands another payment (or “ransom”) if the client wishes to have access to the raw files for any reason. As you can imagine, this practice causes more problems than anything else. It is stressful for the client on so many levels.

But, is it legal?

Sadly, yes, if it’s in the agency’s contract. If you sign a binding agreement that includes giving ownership of the project to the agency, then they can hold the project for whatever their release terms are. In some reports I’ve read, clients have stated they had to pay 50% of the design cost (after they already paid off the full design cost) to have the raw files released to them.

That is insane. We wanted to address this for anyone reading our posts, and especially for our current and prospective clients. Washington Media Services will NEVER hold a project hostage. Why? It’s simply not good for anyone. It isn’t a way to build or maintain a healthy working relationship with your clients. Washington Media Services believes that local businesses and organizations should thrive and we pride ourselves in doing everything we can to help you. Anytime we finish a project, and the project has been paid in full, the client owns the files. We will keep a copy of the files in our offices in case of technical difficulties, but we don’t believe in causing distress in our clients. If you partner with us to build a website, we will offer to purchase the domain and host your website, but you still own both.

So, what should you do? When you are looking for an agency, you should make sure to ask them what their policy is on ownership of projects. If the agency doesn’t explicitly say that the client will own the project, then I would say that this is not a partnership you want to jump into. Another thing you should do is read the contract and ask any questions you have (no such thing as a stupid question here). While it’s a good idea to know what you’re signing, anyway, asking questions is healthy and can give you an insight into how willing the agency is to communicate with you as a client. If you don’t get an answer you understand, or one that doesn’t completely answer your question, don’t hesitate to ask again or reform your question!

Remember that, at the end of the day, you’re hiring the design agency to create something for you. Make sure they won’t cause this unneeded headache for you.

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