Who Owns My Website?

I paid a professional web designer to create my site, of course I own it!

This is probably the belief that most every web site client holds. It makes perfect common sense … you paid someone to develop a web site for you. Why then would you not own what you paid for? This is one of those instances where common sense doesn’t apply. It’s not like going into a store and purchasing a pair of shoes. Unless the contract you signed specifically states that you own the web site, you don’t.

How Can I Not Own Something I Paid For?

Copyright law states that the creator of the design and content on a web site automatically becomes the legal owner of said design or content the moment it’s designed or written. Nobody has to do anything special to make this happen, it just does. What this means is that your web designer owns the design they created for your web site. You do not. You own the text content and any images you provided to the website designer for inclusion on your site and that is only if you yourself wrote the content, took the photographs or created the design and had your designer develop your website using your graphic design. If you got the photos from say a stock photography web site, even if you purchased them, they are not yours. You purchased a license to use them.

Permissions and Licensing

It’s imperative that whatever content you provide to your designer for your web site must be legally owned by you … OR … if you did not create it yourself, you must provide proof that you purchased it and that you have permission to use it in the way it’s being used on your web site. Purchasing a license to use the materials does not give you free reign to use it in any way you want either. Read the licensing agreements before you buy. These agreements are usually very specific as to how the images can be used.

In most cases, what you actually have when your web site is completed, is a license to use it. Now, that’s not set in stone either. Some web designers will automatically turn ownership over to you when your site goes live, others will do so if you pay a purchase fee. There are a number of perfectly legal ways to handle this and it’s generally at the designer’s discretion as to which way they deal with it.