Lets say you had your manufacturer turnkey your product (artwork, sourcing, production, etc...) or even had a freelance designer a killer artwork for a label, or even to screen print on the packaging. You might be thinking that you want to change something in the artwork later, or take elements off the artwork.
So, you ask the designer for the raw native files e.g., Illustrator, Photoshop, or any program that the artwork was built with and fully editable. The designer says, "Nope."
But, you hired the designer to create that stunning artwork for you! So, you're thinking that you own the artwork.
Actually, that is a misconception. The artwork under US Copyright law, says that the designer automatically owns all rights to the work they produce. Even when your having someone do it for you.
There is one exception however. And, this exception is that if the freelancer graphic designer, or if you have a designer hired full-time, the artwork they create is yours. Unless, stated by the freelancer's contract that all artwork they create, is theirs.
How does the copyright system work?
According to AIGA, the professional association for design,
"copyright is the exclusive right to control reproduction and commercial exploitation of your creative work.”
The copyright encapsulates some other rights such as:
1. Rights to display the work
2. Rights to reproduce
3. Rights to make adaptations (Modify artwork/manipulate)
Graphic designers are usually okay for the first two points. However, the 3rd point, is hefty for most graphic designers. Which is why most won't hand over the native files freely.
If you're looking to have the native file under your possession, you can expect to pay a graphic designer a fee to release the native files to you.