Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for some time. This is because I have been on maternity leave for the past 12 months. The office has changed during my absence, some people have left but lots have joined us and it is great to see so many new faces in the firm. The thing that hasn’t changed is clients getting themselves into a pickle because they didn’t get their house in order at the outset.
Take websites for example. I have lost count of the number of clients over the years that have phoned up in a panic because they have fallen out with their web developer who is now claiming ownership of their website. Unfortunately, people believe that because they paid for the website, they own it. This isn’t always the case.
Copyright and other intellectual property rights belong to the person that created them, unless that person is an employee acting in the course of their normal duties in which case they will belong to the employer. So, if your own employees have written the text on your website as part of their normal duties, you will automatically own the copyright in that text. However, if you used a professional agency to write the text, then the copyright in the text may be owned by the agency. Similarly, photographs and other images on a website are generally owned by the photographer or graphic design agency that created them.
It is the rights in the look and feel of the website that are usually are the source of the dispute. Unless otherwise agreed, these belong to the web developer or designer that created the website. Often this goes unnoticed for years…until the time that you want to change the website in some way and instruct a new developer/designer to do the job. The old developer/designer becomes aware of this and then starts to argue that the rights in the original website are theirs and you can’t change it without their permission. What they really mean is that you can’t change it unless you pay them a tidy sum of money!
There is an easy way to stop this problem arising. You need to make sure that all third parties involved in the creation of your website sign a formal agreement at the outset. This agreement should transfer all intellectual property rights of any kind that they may own in the website to you or your company. The fees you will pay to put such an agreement in place are tiny in comparison with the fees you will encounter if you get into a dispute over ownership in the future.