Who Owns Your Website?

20th October 2011

I get a lot of new clients come to me in a state of shock and panic because they realise they’ve paid money for a website they simply don’t own. They don’t own the domain names, they don’t own the code, they don’t own the graphics, they don’t own the copy. In their eyes they’ve got squat and it’s usually at a point where they’ve either fallen out with their designer or they’ve ceased trading. Many people wrongly assume that once they’ve paid for their website, they own it. So how do you protect yourself, your company and your brand?

All web designers and web design companies will act slightly differently on this matter and the only way to ensure protection for yourself is to make sure you have a written set of terms and conditions and a full written quote before work is carried out and any money is paid over. In my experience the following points come up most frequently after the event, so make sure you have clarification either within these documents or accompanying everything in writing:

  1. Domain name. Regardless of who carries out and administrates registration of the domain, who actually owns it? It’s great if your web design company is willing to do this for you but make sure it will be in your name, not theirs. Even if they’re offering a free domain as an incentive, it should be yours as soon as you’ve paid them the final balance of your agreed amount. I would also highly recommend that you find out where it is registered and get hold of any account login details for your future protection.
  2. Hosting. Find out where the website will be hosted and if you will have control to move the website away if it is on their servers or a shared hosting account they have set up. You also need to know whether you will have your own login details, whether the hosting account will continue to run regardless of whether your web designer is still trading, and exactly what the renewal costs are.
  3. Copyright on code, databases and graphics. Whilst your web designer will most likely own the copyright on any code and graphics they produce for you, once you’ve paid the final balance of any monies owed to them you should ideally have a license to use their work for the purpose intended for as long as you like. This will not permit you to reproduce and distribute any part of their work of course, unless this was previously agreed, but you should always be able to make use of it. Finally, check that there are no clauses stopping you from moving the site between hosting providers or making future updates, and if so what the terms are. You should also check where graphics have come from, whether they been created solely for you or were royalty free stock images brought in for use on your site, in which case your web designer will not own any copyright on these parts.

If you are ever in any doubt, make sure you voice your concerns. That doesn’t mean to say you should go in being overly suspicious and accusing, but you do have a right to know exactly what you’re paying for. Find a web designer or web design company who are transparent about their terms and conditions and most of these issues can be avoided.


  • John Kinniry

    8th February 2012 at 11:33 pm


    Great post!!

    I engaged a website developer to design my website and obtain a domain name. During the design process I explained to them exactly how I wanted the site to look and supplied all of the images (I got them from bigstockphotos) and text to them. They altered the colour of the images slightly and added them to the website.

    After dealing with them for a few months I decided to take my site away from them as their support was severely lacking and the server which they hosted my site on kept going down.

    I then realised that the domain name was registered under their details. I contacted them and they eventually (after weeks of phone calls) transferred it to me. They also provide me with the details to enable my new developer to access the site and transfer the files.

    After many months with my new developer, the original developer of the site suddenly emailed me and asked me to stop infringing on their copyright – the design, code and images of the website belonged to them.

    I did not enter into a contract with them – the only correspondence I have with them is their invoice, and lots of emails related to my directions during the design process.

    Where do you think I stand?



    • Jo

      9th February 2012 at 3:31 pm

      Hi John,

      It’s difficult because it sounds as though they haven’t supplied you with any terms and conditions with information about licensing their work etc. When things get this tricky I’d always advise you get some proper legal advice.



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