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Who owns my website, anyway?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

When you buy something from a vendor or company it’s yours automatically, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to a website, the answer isn’t always black and white. This is why it is very important at the beginning of your website design and development process for you and the company you’re working with to have this conversation.

Under U.S. copyright law, the creator of a work automatically holds the exclusive copyright to it. Therefore, the only way that copyright may be transferred to a customer is in a signed contract.

There are many pieces involved in a website both on the design and development side. You should take the website copy and photography into consideration as well. When you hire someone (an advertising agency, web firm etc…) to build your new website, first consider what you would like to be able to do with the site after it is launched. If you’re looking for a long-term partner and feel confident with the company you hired (hopefully!) you might feel very comfortable not having any administrator rights (full control) over your website. Generally speaking though, even if you feel comfortable with the company you hired, it is best to at least have the option to have full access to your site. You always want to protect yourself and you never know when you might want to work with someone else, or possibly have someone in-house that is able to make updates to not only copy and photos, but also the actual code or content management system of the site.

As an example, at the end of all of our website projects at Happy Medium, our clients have full rights to their website and own it outright. We often continue to work with them on periodic updates, but if they wanted to do those updates on their own they could. It’s their website. This is outlined in the language of our contract, and communicated at the beginning of relationships with new clients. Don’t be afraid to ask this question because it’s very important!

Often we’ll try to help a client with a project or an update to their website and they find out they actually don’t even have full access to their site. Then, their only option is to sometimes pay additional fees to be granted the access, or worse, it’s just not possible. They are stuck with the option to either keep the same, stagnant site (which is never good), or to pay to start over again. Consider your website an asset to your company like all others. Confirm your ownership and ask questions until you fully understand. Then, get it in writing. Good luck! 

Questions? Tweet me at @klstocking

--Katie

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