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shapeways-logo-rgb-20141008Who gets the file? That is, without a doubt, one of the most important questions that any 3D designer for hire, or anyone creating something digitally for someone else really, needs to ask themselves. The fact is that, unless they work for a design firm of some kind, most freelance designers taking advantage of the new opportunities for creating 3D printable models online may not know exactly what questions to ask, and why they need to ask them. It is important for anyone working in a freelance environment to not allow themselves to be taken advantage of, or to not take advantage of their clients. Clarifying who will eventually get the resulting 3D files before any work is started is an extremely wise idea, regardless of the job.

Ever since Shapeways re-launched their Designer For Hire program, they have seen an influx of new designers hoping to find potential clients interested in having custom, 3D printable items designed for them. Whenever a large number of people new to the world of work for hire, or freelance work, come along it is probably a good idea to give them some pointers and information so they can protect themselves, and their clients. In a new blog post, Shapeways IP and general counsel Michael Weinberg details exactly why new clients and designers should be asking each other the question of who gets the 3D files once the job is done.

Designers for hire are now laid out similarly to products in the marketplace.

Designers for hire are now laid out similarly to products in the marketplace, making it easier for potential clients to find the right designer.

Weinberg’s first suggestion is a simple one, get a contract. While that may seem a little bit over the top for what may be a small job, it could end up saving both the designer and the client a lot of headaches down the road. While there is probably no need to involve a lawyer for most of the work being done with the Designer For Hire program, depending on the size of the job it may be a good idea. Alternatively, a standard design services agreement from AIGA, a large community of designers and advocates, is a good option if the job is relatively straightforward. Not only will this keep both designer and client on the same page, but it will also result in a written agreement that will make it easier to address any disputes that may arise from the job.

“The first question to address is who gets the files at the end of the job.  Many designers assume that they will keep the files for a model, while clients assume that they will get the files at the end of the job. This obviously creates the opportunity for misunderstanding.  Hashing this out at the beginning of a job can avoid lots of heartache at the end. When you are discussing files, make sure that you are specific. There is a big difference between getting an .stl file for a model and getting something with a bit more data like an .obj file,” said Weinberg on his blog post.

Don't get taken advantage of.

Don’t get taken advantage of.

The issue of who will get the copyright, if the work will even result in a copyright, is also pretty important for design jobs. It is important to understand how the client will be using the designed model and how many of the 3D model will eventually be produced. For instance, if the job is to create a one of a kind decorative object, then it may be worth stipulating in writing that only a single print of the model will be made. And if the design is for a consumer product that is intended to have multiple copies made over a long period of time, then it is important that both the designer and the client understand any limits that each other would want placed on the distribution of those models. That includes clarifying any issues of attribution or the potential of future compensation.

If all of this seems like it is just too much to worry about, especially if the jobs are small and relatively low profile, then it isn’t always necessary to sign contracts or copyright 3D models. But designers new to online marketplaces like Shapeways need to decide exactly what it is that they are doing, and what they expect from any potential jobs that they get. If their Shapeways Shop is just for fun or practice, then issues like this may not be worth worrying about. However if the designer is hoping to produce an income from designing through their Shapeways Shop, then it is important to address exactly how they will prevent being taken advantage of, and making sure that their rights are protected.

Regardless of what a designer is hoping to get from their experiences designing through Shapeways, it is still important to ask potential clients a few questions to make sure that nothing unexpected will come up. Shapeways has a blog post that should be the starting point, 8 Questions Your Client Doesn’t Know to Ask You, and after that make sure that you read Weinberg full post over on the Shapeways blog for even more insights. Doing design work for hire can be rewarding, both monetarily and in terms of the development of skills and gaining experience. But nothing takes the fun out of a new job like potential employers taking advantage of you, so it is always wise to at least take a few steps to protect yourself. Is this subject one you had thought about already? Discuss in the 3D File Ownership forum over at 3DPB.com.

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