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If you hire a web developer to create your website, you will need to consider who owns the copyright to the site. Disagreements often arise if you want another party to finish the website or maintain it in the long term. This is because copyright law might interfere with your ability to do this. This article will explain what rights you have over your website and how to best protect your ownership of the site.

What is Copyright?

Copyright law automatically protects creative works. This means that you don’t need to register your copyright. The owner of copyright material has certain exclusive rights, including the right to:

  • reproduce;
  • publish; or
  • perform their work.

If someone uses your copyright-protected work without your permission, they may be breaching copyright. While an entire website itself does not receive copyright protection, the individual components of the website are protected. These different components might include:

  • source code;
  • articles;
  • blog posts;
  • photos;
  • logos;
  • illustrations;
  • charts;
  • graphical elements; and
  • other design elements.

Different parties can own each of these elements.

Who Owns Copyright?

Generally, the owner of the copyright will be the person who created the work. This creator is usually the person who first puts the work into material form.

For example, if you have an idea for a drawing, but someone else creates the illustration, they will be the owner of the copyright. This is because copyright law concerns material works, not merely ideas.

When there are multiple copyrightable elements within a single product, each of those elements will have their own copyright protection. In these circumstances, you will be the copyright owner of any content that you have produced for the website.

For example, you will be the copyright owner of any articles that you have written or designs that you have created.

However, the website developer is generally the copyright owner of anything they have created. This will likely be the source code. Source code the code that specifies the actions that a computer program will perform. The source code is what causes all of the images, content and design elements to be viewable on the website.

Can the Copyright Be Transferred to Me?

You can always transfer the ownership in copyrighted material if there is a formal agreement. In your contract with the developer, you should include a clause where all intellectual property in the website will be assigned to your business once you have completely paid them. Then, you and the developer will need to sign an assignment agreement to finalise the assignment. Alternatively, you could simply outline within the contract that your business will own any copyright created for the website.

The developer could also license their copyrights to your business. A licence will not change who owns the copyright, but it may permit you to use the work or material. A license can be granted through the initial contract with the developer. Here, the website developer agrees to grant your business with a licence to use their copyrighted material in the website.

Even if the website developer has not expressly granted a copyright licence to you, a licence could still be inferred from the circumstances.

For example, if you have commissioned a developer to create a website, you might still have permission to use the website’s code when operating your website.

Key Takeaways

Although you may not own all of the copyright for your website, you will likely be able to use the source code to run your website. To avoid a dispute with the website’s developer, you should always determine the ownership of the website’s copyright within a written agreement. Ensure that you have an assignment agreement or an express licensing agreement in place that allows you to use the content you have paid for. If you are unsure about whether you own the copyright in your website, get in touch with LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.


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