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February 14th 2002 | Scott Manning



SWF files, FLA files, and Copyrights

Who owns the Flash file that you have created? Is it the customer or you? Scott Manning discusses this.

An all too familiar story
I hired a photographer to take a series of pictures for me because I needed some professional shots of birds. I was satisfied with the final pictures and paid him for his work.

Simple enough? Sure was, until later in the year when I wanted to make some changes to the photographs.

I needed them printed on specific paper, with some fancy tinting effects. In order to do this, I found out that I needed the negatives. Immediately I called the photographer and asked him for them.

He was vague and said that he would get back to me. He then went to several message boards on the Internet asking other photographers what he should do. They gave him advice ranging from, “Make sure you get a bunch of money for them!” to “Don’t give them to him!”

Time went by with the photographer beating around the bush and I got so frustrated that I told him to forget it and hired a new photographer to retake the pictures.

Although this story may sound strange it happens everyday, but not in the Photography world. There are standards already established within the field of photography for selling pictures, negatives, and copyrights to them. This scenario currently belongs to the Flash world and it’s about time to set some standards regarding SWF files (the equivalent to the pictures in the photography analogy) and FLA files (AKA: the negatives).

Without these standards, Flash developers and clients will continue to find themselves in awkward, and occasionally volatile situations.

Avoid a bad situation from the start
The biggest mistake that any designer can make is not having a contract before they begin work on a project. Although this article is not about contracts, they do play a big role in our discussion on clients and FLA files.

Not having a contract leaves everything open for debate. When it comes down to legal problems, without a contract, the dispute quickly turns into a “he said” – “she said” confrontation. So from the very beginning, you need to discuss three things with your client: SWF files, FLA files, and copyrights. Doing this will not only protect you legally, but it will also keep you from establishing faulty relations with your clients.

SWF is to a photograph, as FLA is to a negative
It is always good to use an analogy in explaining these file types to clients. You have to remember that not everyone knows what we’re talking about, and just because they nod and say “uh-huh” as you spout terms like SWF, FLA, and even Flash as you discuss their website of the future does not mean they understand what these are. I have found that the photograph/negative analogy works best in giving clients a clear mental picture of the differences between these file types. Other examples are PSD files and JPEG files, though – again – this could be just as confusing for non-computer geeks. Another word picture on my favorites list is to compare these files to a World Document verses a printed document in which you can make changes to a Word Document saved on a computer, but generally not to a printed copies.

The key is to find a parallel that they are familiar with and that will hit close to home. After the client understands these file types, you will need to discuss the…

- Who owns the SWF files?
- Who owns the FLA files?
- What can they be used for?

This is all defined in the copyright. Before you start your project, you need to have an agreement with the client on those three points.

At, we usually make it very simple: the client owns the SWF files and may use them as he pleases. If they want to own the FLA files as well, then they will need to buy them at an additional cost.

Other companies are stricter, and with due cause. In some cases the client owns the SWF files, but is only allowed to use them for a specified site. If they want to use them for something else, they must pay an additional fee derived on a case-by-case basis.

Whatever you and your client decide to do, it is most effective to establish an agreement before the project is begun. This will prevent headaches for both of you, and the consistency will make the Flash world a better place for all of us.

Scott Manning, the founder and core Web Developer of the team, writes from his home in Philadelphia.


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