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Who Owns A Website?
Road King 48

 4:40 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

In 2006 I did a redesign for a client and it is still being used today. We did not have a contract that set out ownership of the work. My question is who owns the website? I would assume it would be me since I did all of the design and coding. If anyone has any thoughts or if this topic is covered elsewhere I'd be grateful to be pointed in the right direction.



 5:08 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

Well, IANAL but 2 issues scream out at me:
1) no contract
2) redesign "for a client"
To me, that sounds pretty strongly like the client is the owner.

Road King 48

 5:21 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

I did the original site as well. Not sure if that makes a difference.


 7:09 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

IANAL either, but if nothing else, there might be a statute of limitations on this ... sounds like 5 years has elapsed. Might be too late to do anything.


 7:52 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

You're being a bit vague on a few questions.

You mean 'own the website' as in who is the owner of the domain? or the design?

if your client registered the domain, then I don't know why you would have any claim to that.

As for the design, maybe. But ifyou got paid for the design, I don't see why you would have any rights to it. You did the work, got paid, move on.

I suspect there's a bit more to the story than what's being told. But if the idea is basically you did some work for a client and now have a falling out, I think the basic starting point is that you don't 'own' any part of the website.


 8:26 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

IANAL but if you were contracted to do the work, and there is nothing in the contract (which doesn't even exist anyway), then it is Work for Hire. You don't own it.


 8:59 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

It sounds like you're making an outrageous assumption. But the law may actually be on your side. read:

A "work made for hire" is— (1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or (2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. (17 U.S.C. § 101)

<snip> ... On the other hand, if the work is created by an independent contractor or freelancer, the work may be considered a work for hire only if all of the following conditions are met:
* the work must come within one of the nine limited categories of works listed in the definition above, namely (1) a contribution to a collective work, (2) a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, (3) a translation, (4) a supplementary work, (5) a compilation, (6) an instructional text, (7) a test, (8) answer material for a test, (9) an atlas;
* the work must be specially ordered or commissioned;
* there must be a written agreement between the parties specifying that the work is a work made for hire.

source: [en.wikipedia.org...]

Not being an employee, and without a written contract between the parties, the work can not be considered WFH.

It's a stretch. I sincerely doubt it'd hold up to a lawyer's scrutiny. IANAL.

Putting the same argument in another context sounds silly. I paid someone to fix my car a few months ago. We didn't have a contract. Do they own my car? LOL

Road King 48

 9:54 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks everyone. I'm not an employee of the company. I continue to work and have worked as a contractor for a nonprofit that has changed leadership and fear that the day is coming when we will have to address ownership of the website. They own the domain name.


 10:32 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

Road, did they pay you for making the website?


 11:17 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

If they paid you for your work, they purchased it and therefore own it.


 11:21 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

I paid someone to fix my car a few months ago. We didn't have a contract. Do they own my car? LOL

No, but until you finished paying for the repair they did have a Mechanic's Lien on your car. That means they could have held it hostage until you paid up. ("Mechanic" here means any manual worker; it's just linguistic coincidence that today it's most likely to be applied to people who fix cars. The same legal principle would apply to people who fix computers, though.)


 5:53 am on Nov 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

I really suggest you talk to a lawyer, because some of the opinions here are likely to be highly misleading and inaccurate.


 1:11 pm on Nov 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

You haven't said where you live. This is an international forum and advice given may refer to the law of a different country to yours.

For example, while I am not a lawyer and cannot give definitive advice I do know that the details of httpwebwitch's quotes do not apply where I live.


 2:17 pm on Nov 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

As piatkow pointed out - it depends on the country. For example where I live you automatically have the copyright on any work you create (design, text), if the work exceeds a certain threshold of originality. And the copyright itself can not be transfered - only licenses for use can be granted.

So here the question would not be "who owns the design" but only if it meets a certain threshold of originality and if there was some agreement about the usage at the time of creation - for example a court could conclude from the circumstances that an unlimited license for usage has been granted.

In other countries copyrights can be transfered and there is no threshold for originality. In some countries the transfer requires a written contract in others not. So depending on where you live, and where the client lives the answer to your question differs.


 2:31 pm on Nov 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

>> httpwebwitch's quotes do not apply where I live

LOL they don't apply where I live either. (Canada)

So, Road King 48, if it's established that the NFP who contracted you owns the website you built, is that a problem for you?

What did you hope to gain by asserting a claim of ownership?

One little nugget of law I do know is the difference between ownership, copyright, and authorship. Even if they are the owner and copyright holder, you retain "authorship" of the work, and that includes a few rights, like integrity & anonymity.

- you are allowed to show it in your portfolio as an example of your work, and they can not assert that you didn't create it (authorship)
- they can not cite authorship to another person (like plagiarism)
- they ARE allowed to do whatever they want with the site (ownership)
- if the integrity of the work is spoiled, you have the right to anonymity, ie if they do something horrid to it, you have the right to say "I didn't do that"


 9:47 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

Its not that simple, a website is a collection of services, registrations, information assets, licences,copyrighted material...

What are you trying to achieve? If you are trying to exploit any IPR on the design or coding you would first need to determine if any exists.

Road King 48

 9:50 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks aspdaddy. Today I met with them and gave them access to the files. Decided it was such a gray area and didn't feel it was worth fighting for.


 7:58 am on Mar 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

Just be sure that you stipulate that the product and any and all rights of and to the product,including but not limited to the copyright is yours and further that,(designers name)shall have no ownership rights or any right to distribute by any means said work in its entirety or parts there of ,without your expressed weitten permission.
A lawyer can put it in legaleeze but this will stand in most courts..
As an employee you have no rights,you are a slave.

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