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Who owns my website?

Jan 26, 2016 | Blog, Website Design

Who owns my website?

You meet the website design company, you share your brief, they provide the proposal, you accept it, they proceed to build one that is tailored exactly to your requirements and provide you with administrator access – and, you pay for it. The answer to the question ‘ who owns my website ?’ is as clear as day – it’s you, right? Strangely, it’s not that simple with all website providers.

As you know, a website is the sum of many constituent parts – so the question who owns my website needs to be broken down. Here’s a brief summary of some of those elements and who owns what:

  • Your domain name – Perhaps surprisingly, you don’t actually own this. You rent it, you have exclusive rights to it, but you don’t completely own it. This is similar to a phone number. It is your property though, even if it’s registered (often for ease) by your website company.
  • The visual design – like with a logo design, if you’ve commissioned it, this should be your item that’s then owned. Some (naughty, in our view) agencies may charge a further fee if you wanted to move your designed website away from them. If your website is merely a theme amended to work for your business, you probably don’t own a lot in terms of the look and feel.
  • The html, style sheets and source code – With us, and (in our view) any ethical web agency, like with the design, if you’ve commissioned this, we view it that it’s your website, your code, and yours to take elsewhere if you so wish.
  • The content (text, images, video etc.) – If you created the content, you definitely own this. If you took the pictures, you own these two. You shouldn’t use someone else’s pictures unless they’re properly sourced from an image website – then you own the rights to use it, if not owning the pictures itself.
  • An open source content management system (CMS) – let’s say your website is built on WordPress, as many of the ones we design are: you don’t own that platform. We like WordPress because it’s ‘open source’, meaning the whole world of website developers can play with it and make any essential changes. It’s what keeps it up-to-date.
  • A company-owned CMS, or web builder software (e.g. Weebly, Wix or 1and1) – You don’t own this, and often this is where people can encounter problems, because you can’t move it either. Your hands are tied to using their systems and hosting it on their servers too, probably. We have our own simple CMS system for building websites, but it’s coding that works on any server and we can (and have) pushed one of these sites live elsewhere. It doesn’t enable all the same CMS functionality as you’d get if it was entirely hosted with us, but, nevertheless, it works as a standalone website that you can fully own and take elsewhere.
  • The web server, database or browser – you don’t own these.

For more information on those ownership details, this useful blog post lays down the law and gives more detail as to what’s what.

When you study that article, it does begin to make sense – there are services, such as your domain and web hosting, which you are paying for periodically and do not own outright – instead you are paying for a licence – renting, if you like. However, there are a few aspects of your website that you could or should own, and it would be prudent to clarify this with the company that builds and designs your website. Heck, even we don’t own the whole of our website it seems – but we do control the rights to most of it!

With Nettl of Gloucester, being one of those website design companies, we want to provide a little more transparency on where we stand – because, although by law you may not own everything, we want to give you as much control possible over the website you pay for.

In short, if you’ve paid us for your website design and build, it’s your website. No problem.

It’s why we use WordPress for the majority of our websites, because it’s the most common and portable platform out there, so it’s all yours to do what you want, whenever you want to do it. You shouldn’t have to contact your website design company every time you want a small amend made; WordPress has simplified the process of maintaining a website with its user-friendly platform, and we give you an hour of free training so you can take control and make those changes yourself – and, in addition to the training, there are thousands-upon-thousands of online resources to help you. You will have unfettered access to the areas of your website that allow you to update content – whether that’s adding or removing text, creating a blog post, updating an event calendar, and so on.

Here are a few examples of some website-related scenarios, and how we would respond:

  • If you want us to build a website but not host it, we’ll either package it up and provide it to you, or we’ll upload the finished site to a server of your choice (exceptions or small extra costs may apply).
  • If you want a full backup of the site and database, or a plugin installed to clone or copy the site, no problem.
    If the website was working when we hand it over, but you accidentally break it and want us to fix it, we’ll probably charge you on our standard hourly rate.
  • If we provide your website hosting (on our Amazon EC2 cloud servers), we’ll have multiple back-up points in the cloud, so chances are we can instantly restore it to one of those, slap your wrists and say ‘don’t do it again!’.
  • If the website is hosted elsewhere and it breaks (either because you break it, or if it’s the result a server problem), it would not be our responsibility to fix it. But even then (especially if you’ve been nice and fair to us through the process!), we’ll probably still have feelings for our old baby and have a look to see if we can help it get back on the right tracks. You will then be quoted at our standard hourly rate to fix it.

There may be an exception to the rule, in our case, if we have designed a complex and bespoke element for your website. In this instance, we usually take one of two approaches:
1) Give you complete ownership for this specific element that caters to your specific audience, employees or other stakeholders.
2) We may see the merit of this element for future websites we build. In this case, we can keep it exclusive to you for (at a sensible price), or we’ll charge you a little bit less if you’re happy for us to modify it for use on other websites we build.

To summarise this article, it is highly unlikely that you will ever own your website in its entirety – as there are always third-parties involved – but you can ensure that you own as much of it as possible. Make sure you scan the terms of agreement so you have a clear picture of who owns or controls the rights to certain aspects of the website, and what the responsibilities are if certain, unforeseen events occur.

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