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Who owns the design of a web

Original designer want to charge a fee prior to transfer



7:08 pm on Jan 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Hope I'm asking this in the correct forum.

I was asked the following by a person I know who works for a Firm that payed about $15,000 to a Graphic Company to design their website. I don't know the answer and hopefully someone here can help me out.

The Firm provided the Graphic Company with all the copy and graphics that are in the site. Now the Firm is working with new designer. The original Graphic Company is not willing to transfer the site until they are paid a significant fee. They say they own design.

Doesn't the Firm that paid all that money own the design?

Thank you.


7:23 pm on Jan 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hi team, welcome to webmasterworld.

Doesn't the Firm that paid all that money own the design?

The answer is maybe. They really need to review the contract or agreement they have with the graphics company to determine this. It's not unheard of for a graphics firm to retain the copyright on their work, but that should have been spelled out in the agreement along with what happens in the situation you described.

Hope that helps.


Corey Bryant

9:16 pm on Jan 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

As the other poster said, a review of the contract needs to be done. Usually a good designer will send all the files over once the price has been paid.

I know that is what we do with our development work. I tell the client he / she might not know what it is - but will appreciate it if ever needed



9:32 pm on Jan 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I don't know yet what is in the contract and I'm certainly curious to find out as soon as they get a chance to review it.

It seems to me this is something that should be fully explained up front by the web designer! After all, a fiduciary relationship is involved. It is ethical if it's only placed in the contract and not fully explained to the client, who paid $15,000? I know it's buyer beware but, imho, something like this should not take a client by surprise.


9:40 pm on Jan 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The person signing the contract should have read and understood the whole contract.

I do feel for you. But you shouldn't sign anything you don't read and understand.

Odds are, if the design company is standing strong the contract is likely in their favor. You may very well be stuck, but definately try to negotiate on the fee even if you are.



9:55 pm on Jan 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I do feel for you. But you shouldn't sign anything you don't read and understand.

I'm pursuing the line of questioning out of my own curiosity. I am not involved at all except that a relative who works for the firm called and asked if I knew anything about this. Prior to all of your helpful replies, I did not. I've shared what I've learned here.

btw, am I or am I NOT allowed to use a screen name that is the same as the name of my website? I've seen several that do in the short time I've been participating here. I thought I wasn't, so signed up with another name. But I use several browsers, obviously haven't signed out on some of them and haven't taken notice when I post. I thought I'd fixed it but obviously haven't.


10:25 pm on Jan 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member leosghost is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

btw, am I or am I NOT allowed to use a screen name that is the same as the name of my website?

It varies ..used to be more strict ( with some exceptions such as EFV that I can think of offhand )..now seems less so ..best is to sticky Brett and ask direct if your old nick is OK ..before you start really confusing your self and others ;)


10:30 am on Jan 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I recently got into this in a minor way (client and values were much lower).

Basically it seems if copyright ownership of the design is not stipulated in any way, then it remains copyright of the designer/firm that designed it. Some design firms happily sign over copyright to the client via the contract, some retain copyright in the cotract, and some don't mention it.

This is the grey area as if it isn't mentioned the client often assuems it belongs to them, but like taking a picture the design copyright stays with the designer.

I have begun including a copyright statement in my contracts now as it makes it clear. As someone earlier posted although the client might not understand it, it should be in there.

- spacerace -


10:50 am on Jan 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I don't know beans about the law here but I would assume that in many contracts there would be some differentiation between "ownership" and "license" to use. The example of photography was used -- typically when photography is obtained (such as in a stock house) the right of ownership is never transfered, but a limited license for use is extended. In this case, I would assume that $15,000 obtained some kind of license to use the graphics in the website, and it would seem to me that this is a more relevant question as to exactly what the terms of the license are than ownership.

I believe ownership implies the full and complete rights to control the work -- I would think that rights to ownership would be quite often retained by designers to prevent things like their designs being turned into stock templates for sale, etc. and to help protect their ability to use aspects or echoes of the design in other works without being under constant threat of copyright infringment.


11:14 am on Jan 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

A transfer fee is almost certainly out of the question.

It's one thing to charge a fee if the previous designer has been asked for source files not already supplied, but quite another to ask for a fee to allow you to use another designer.

Consider what such a fee is for. The customer must already have a license to use the content granted by the client, either implied or explicitly detailed within their contract or the designer would have raised an objection in the past years of having the design shown on the site.

The designer has already granted the license, so I presume he wants to charge a fee for the license to be terminated and the copyright to be transferred. I feel the customer has a strong case to argue that the client is terminating the license without any reasonable cause, and would suggest that the customer contact a lawyer to discover if it is legal for the designer to terminate the license to display the design on the basis of unrelated financial arrangements of the customer.

The whole thing smells strongly of the designer wanting to stop the customer going to a new designer, and make it hurt if he insists on it. If I were the customer I would continue to employ the new designer and wait to see if the old designer can persuade his lawyer that he's got the grounds to start an action against the me. I'd not expect to hear anything further, not in the UK anyway.


1:59 pm on Jan 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

The situation I was faced with was that upon taking ownership of a website for a client, I removed the previous design companies name from the bottom. I did not put my own up since it was not my work, and really only did it at the request of the client.

The previous designer sent me an email stating that it was illegal to remove his name from the bottom of the site unless I replaced the entire site with my own design!

I'm still not 100% sure on this, but replaced his name anyway. Hopefully the client will authorise a re-design of the site.

My point is that with many small firms any contract in place rarely goes into such depth, and therefore can leave someone exposed. I agree about ownership and use however. I feel the client, having bought the website, is free to do what they like with it within the context of that scenario. If they take that website design and make a brochure out of it, that is a change of use ....

It's a huge subject!

- spacerace -


2:22 pm on Jan 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Imho, would be unethical if a web designer doesn't fully and forthrightly explain the implications of the copyright to his or her clients before they sign a contract. Do you agree?


2:27 pm on Jan 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Here's the end of the story as far as my original question is concerned.

The web design company has withdrawn their request for the $15,000 fee to transfer the site to another designer. Instead, they are charging $500.

Evidently, there was no copyright information included in the contract.


2:44 pm on Jan 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I would agree it was unethical if it was deliberately (or conveniently) withheld, and then used to benefit the web designer at a later date - such as demanding copyright compensation.

It is not declared in many situations simply because it was never thought of. My previous contracts did not include a copyright ownership declaration for example. Not because I was being unethical but simply because it had never occurred to me. As far as I was concerned it was the clients work as they had paid for it. I now see the need for a statement of copyright concerning anything I produce for a client. This protects both them and me and removes any confusion.

- spacerace -


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