Edinburgh Web Development

Do you own your website?

The answer might surprise you

by Iain Wilson

3 May 2013
Web contract

Does everything on your website belong to you?  It may do, but the chances are that if your website was built for you by a web development company, only parts of it are yours.

A website can be made up of quite a few different things:

  • The HTML and CSS code that provide the structure and presentation
  • The actual content - text and images
  • Software - Javascript and perhaps some server software

For each of these areas, there are normal case ownership conditions, but of course each case can be different you should always consult a qualified legal expert if you have any ownership issues at all.  

Let's have a look at the areas:

HTML & CSS

This will have been put together by your web company to effectively build the website.  They may have put together visual drafts or blueprints first to show you what it will look like.  Normally, the web company will own the HTML and CSS coding.  

If you wanted to move your website elsewhere, this could be a problem.  Some companies wouldn't let you.  Others don't care, but if you want to do it you must get permission first.

Content

If it's your content, you will probably own it.  But there are exceptions.  If the content was written for you by someone else, you must make sure they have transferred ownership to you.  

If you are using photographs taken for you by a photographer, they may well own the photos.  

If you are using stock image photography you normally have the right to use the image but you don't own it.  Make sure you are not using the photos in situations where you are not licensed.

Software

Software written for you by the web company will probably still belong to them.  You may have a license to use it, but it will likely remain their property.  

On rare occassions you may really need to own the software, and in these situations software companies might be willing to give you ownership.  But price immediately becomes an issue because they won't be able to use it or sell it again themselves.  So prices can become inflated.

In some cases, it's unrealistic for companies to give you ownership.  Let's say the software is being used by many other customers eg ecommerce, content management.  It's not practical to transfer ownership because those other customers need to keep using the software.

Open Source software is very popular at the moment and you may think that no-one owns it, but beware, many companies add plugins and additional sofware to these packages, and they own it, not you.

Summary

So, be careful.  You may not own what you think.  Ownership can be extremely complicated and this article barely scratches the surface

Always get professional legal advice if you have any ownership issues or concerns and before you do anything.

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