Who owns the die for this print job?

Answered by Suzanne Morgan, founder, Print Buyers Online.com

I have a situation with a supplier with whom I am no longer working. This supplier printed an audio cassette pouch for my company that required them to outsource diecutting and gluing. As I requested, on the estimate they indicated that the one-time die charge was $415. We supplied them with a sample of the audio pouch, but my contact indicated that she needed a draw up of the dielines to have the die made. I had that done and emailed it to her, and we proceeded with the job as planned. They have printed the job twice for my company, but unfortunately, we have to terminate business with them since their business practices do not mesh with what we expect from our suppliers.

I sent my contact two emails, two faxed letters, and left 3 voice messages requesting that they send the die to a specific location by a set date. When she finally responded, it was by fax, indicating that the one-time fee on the estimate is a "rental charge" and that they don't sell the dies. She stated that I should check my original estimate for verification.

I looked at my copy of the original estimate, as well as the estimate for the second purchase of the job. I also obtained a copy of the first invoice on which we were billed the $415 one-time charge, as well as a copy of my Purchase Order that lists the $415 as a "one-time die charge." Her estimates and the invoice list the charge the same way: "one time die charge." No where on the estimate or invoice does it state "rental" or "lease." When I finally was able to speak with her, I confirmed that there is no paperwork to indicate to me that the charge is a "rental" or "lease," and that my company owns the die and we want it back. She flat out refuses. My comment was that if it was truly a rental charge, then it needed to be indicated as just that, and I should have a charge with each order. If the charge was going to be $415 each time, I would never have awarded her company the job in the first place. If the die was an existing die at the diecutter, why were we charged the fee and why did they need the die lines to create the die in the first place?

Now we will be moving the work to another supplier and we have to pay for yet another die. I have never in my five year career as a print buyer heard of a 'rental' charge for a die that I had to have custom made. I have transferred multiple dies to/from various companies within that time and only paid shipping and/or die repair charges. I have brought this scenario to the attention of my supervisor, and to several print reps, print buyers, and graphics supervisors that have been in the business from 5 to 25 years. NO ONE has ever heard of a 'rental' charge for a custom die.

I am planning on writing a formal letter to once again request the return of the die, as well as to indicate that if they do not return the die, my company will issue them an invoice for the cost of the new die. But before I do that, I wanted to get your advice.


This is a very interesting story. While I frankly think this supplier is cutting his nose off to spike his face, I think I may also know where they are coming from.

The language of "rental" or "lease" on their part is very confusing and inaccurate. However, I believe they are refusing to send you the die because the printing industry has had a trade custom that stated that whatever materials a supplier uses to create a print job -- they own -- including film, dies, etc. Even if they charge you for the film, die, etc. in a separate line item, it doesn't mean that you own those materials. You own the printed product. This has been a very standard practice with printers for decades. HOWEVER, most print buyers don't know about these standards (created by printers, of course) and are very confused specifically about this one standard. THEN, the trade customs -- as an industry-wide practice -- were ruled void a few years back because not enough of the industry was following the same exact practices (You experienced this as other printers readily gave you the dies). Did the print supplier ever give you a set of their own "trade customs" at the start of this relationship or project? If so, they may have a standard that indicates how they treat the ownership of preparatory materials.

It seems to me that the confusion of this whole thing is that both of you were thinking different things. They thought of the die as a one-time charge, but they would still own the die (it may have cost more than that to produce). You thought that the one-time charge meant that you got to keep the die.

Unfortunately, you do not have a very clear case because as I understand it, your estimate and purchase order do not say that the cost includes your "ownership of the die". I know this is not what you want to hear. And I'm sorry about this situation (this problem actually happens often in our business). Yes, it's possible to put increasing pressure on this printer. And while I think they are making a mistake by winning the battle, but losing the war, so to speak -- they have a stronger case than you do.

If you want another opinion, call your local Printing Industry of America and ask them. But I predict that they'll tell you the same thing.

Consider this a lesson learned. Now you know that if you expect to own part of the materials that go into making a job, that you should clearly state in your bid sheet and purchase order that the price includes ownership of those materials.

It may be a bit uncomfortable to do so at this point, but I would go back to this supplier and ask them what they would charge for you to take ownership.

Best wishes,
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