Why keep ownership of your work?

Ownership is one of the most fundamental questions that makers must answer.  You will hear it discussed wherever makers and freelancers gather. You could even make the case that whether or not you are a maker comes down to how much ownership you’re willing to maintain.

For our conversation, a willingness to retain almost no ownership of your work is by definition a freelance position. You have to be willing to see your work become the property of someone else’s to do with as they please without regard to how their actions may affect your reputation.

To be fair, most freelance opportunities also come with directions about how the work will be completed and within what timeframe. The term of art that is most often used is “work for hire.” It means that you don’t have any claim on your work once the transaction is completed and you have been paid.

For example, you can look at the gigs that are advertised on UpWork.com. They talk about the work that is to be done and the timeframe for doing the work. There is little talk about what happens after the work is complete.

On the other hand, retaining as much ownership as possible is a fundamental concern for makers. Just to reiterate the fundamental difference between freelancers and makers is ownership. Makers view their work as assets from which to build equity.  

Makers who maintain ownership also retain the right to make improvements to their assets. They can bundle their assets with other assets they own to produce services that can generate new revenue opportunities that were never anticipated when the work was initially completed.

If asked randomly, most freelancers will say that the main reason that they wanted to become a freelancer is to retain of control their creative process. This is impossible to do when you don’t have control over when the process is complete because you don’t have ownership.

Full discloser, I am not a lawyer. Any suggestions made on this blog are made simply for conversational purposes. For the sake of conservation, you may want to consider licensing your work for specific timeframes rather than outright selling your work.

As you know, this is what you do when you take your work and turn it into a subscription service. You allow your members to have access to your assets for predefined purposes and a predefined timeframe.

You have the right to improve those assets that are included in your subscription service as you see fit, as many times as you see fit, for as long as you see fit. Subscription services allow you to build equity as time goes on much like compounded interest.

In the end, you don’t have a business if you can’t build assets that you can use to build equity.  If you are not building equity then you are simply working for a paycheck without benefits. Now there are some who are okay with that. However, they can’t call themselves makers. And they aren’t in my humble opinion maximizing their economic potential.

Zachary Alexander