How much of your website do you really own?

Tuesday 17th April 2018

A website is made up of many assembled components. We explore the legalities behind the ownership of these parts and help you determine which of them you own, and which you’re merely just renting.

If you’ve acquired the skills of a third-party website design and development agency, chances are that you know very little about how your shiny new website arrived into this world – or even how it’s still there, telling the world what your business does. And that’s okay – most of us don’t know the ins and outs of how our cars work, but at least we know we own it (assuming it’s fully paid for it that is).

So what about your website? In order for you determine what you actually own, let’s disassemble its individual parts and investigate them separately.

HTML, CSS, and Javascript – these are the elements of code that make up a large portion of your website. After your developer has finished work on the website, they should have assigned copyright to you via an Assignment of Copyright Notice. If you don’t have this document, or similar, then you don’t own the Intellectual Property behind the code – you’re licensing it.

Design – this is the overall look and feel – the colours, the arrangement and composition and the user interface. Again, after your designer has finished work on designing the website, they should have assigned copyright to you via an Assignment of Copyright Notice. If you don’t have this document, or similar, then you don’t own the design – you’re licensing it.

Copy – this is the text that’s visible to the end user. If you don’t have an Assignment of Copyright Notice to assign ownership of the copy to you then by law, the writer owns it and you’re licensing it.

Images/Photography – When a photographer takes a photograph, they automatically own the Intellectual Property to it. For you to own it, they need to supply you with an Assignment of Copyright Notice (in a commerical situations that is – don’t worry, wedding photos are very different). Things are a little more complicated when it comes to stock images, but generally the person or company that paid for the download has licensed it. Without re-assigning that license to you, it’s not yours.

You’re probably thinking, great – I have all of the relevant Assignment of Copyright documents and licences and therefore own my website! Well, we’re not finished yet. There are still a few more parts look at.

Web Server – this is where the website’s files are located. Unless you’ve bought and server and have direct access to it, you’re merely renting some or all of the space on it.

Web Server Platform – the web server platform is the software that enables the machine to be able to host website files. You have no chance of ever owning this.

Content Management System – popular forms of CMS are WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. Although these are open-course and free to download, the CMS is still owned by its creator and simply licensed to you. The same goes with paid CMS. You’re simply paying to use it and you’ll never own it.

Database Software – database software, such as MySQL an Oracle, store your website’s data in structured fields, tables and columns. Like the web server platform, you will never own the database software.

Source Code – this is code that is written in the language of the web server platform that contains the logic to connect to other software on the web server. Unless you have documentation to say you own it, it’s creator maintains the intellectual property.

You’re now probably thinking that you own a very small piece of the pie that is your website.  But don’t fear, the elements that you can and should own, are known collectively as “Finished Assembled Work”. Any reputable design and development agency should have provided you with an Assignment of Copyright Notice, granting ownership of the HTML, CSS, Javascript, Design, Copy and Imagery over to you. You should be able to save the finished assembled work and replicate the website again elsewhere, either by yourself or with the aid of a design/development agency.

Market Molecule hand over an Assignment of Copyright Notice whenever they complete work – carefully listing the items that are being transferred to your ownership.