When hiring a web developer to create your website, you need clear unambiguous language in your employment agreement that you hold the intellectual property rights for the material on your site. Leaving the legal status of the content and design of your site is highly inadvisable, as it can result in your content being duplicated by a competitor or used unscrupulously by someone out to ruin your business.
Intellectual property laws determine the ownership of a wide variety of creative work, such as books, movies, music, logos, inventions, etc. that are protected by copyright, trademark or patent. Copyright is very important to web development work, because many of the parts of websites fall under copyright protection. When you hire a web developer to build your site, you need a solid agreement on the ownership of the content of your site and how permission is granted for others to use the content.
In general, the copyrightable material of a website include its text, photographs, graphic designs, artwork. Technology developed for your site, such as programs specific to your site and databases used by your company are also typically copyrightable material.
Databases are an important and confidential part of a company’s intellectual property, and if they’re not protected under copyright, others can take and make use of them. Also, the access of personal data by customers by outside parties may anger customers if they become aware of it. That’s just one reason why securing the intellectual property of your online presence is important.
What is a copyright?
When you own the copyright to something, it essentially means that other parties are not allowed to reproduce, modify, distribute or sell the copyrighted material without your consent. Permission to use copyrighted material is known as license. When you license content, you do not transmit ownership, you merely allow another party the legal right to use the material in narrowly defined circumstances. Buying the copyright would give a buyer full legal rights to the work.
Typically the creator of a work is considered to be its copyright holder, but when an employee creates a work for an employer, the work is likely to be considered a “work for hire,” giving the employer the rights to the material. Many businesses outsource web work to independent contractors, however. Using independent contractors is often the only option for small businesses, who may not have the resources to hire a web developer as an employee, and who may not need a full-time web developer. Having a work created by contractors may put it in a grey area with regard to copyright, making it essential that you have agreements clearly spelling out ownership of copyright.
There are some cases however, in which a creative work cannot be changed into a work for hire. In those cases it is necessary to have a written and signed copyright assignment from the creator of the work. While some aspects of web development may automatically fall to your ownership under the law, having your contractor assign all copyright via written agreement is the easiest way to ward of potential problems later.
In short, in order for your business to obtain copyright to materials created by a web developer for your site you’ll need to either hire the developer as an employee or have him or her assign copyright to you or your business.
Occasionally, you may work with a web developer who may not want to assign copyright ownership of certain aspects of your web site to you, as they may not want to transfer copyright of technology they’ve designed for your site such as a content management system or a search engine or shopping cart function.
In cases like these, you’ll need to obtain license from the web developer to use the copyrighted material, as without license, you could have difficulty in editing content or making changes to the technology to fit the needs of your website and business.
When making a deal for a license agreement with a developer, you’ll need to protect your company’s ability to make changes to your website in the future. Many businesses have had to start new websites from scratch after having a falling out or other parting of the ways with a web developer when they needed to make changes to the site. Your license agreement needs to give your company the ability to make changes to code that your web developer created for your business web site.
Also, your license agreement may want to restrict who the web developer can offer the technology he or she developed for your company. By keeping the technology out of the hands of your competitors, you can help maintain any competitive edge it gives your online business.
When deciding copyright and license agreements, remember that the more important the content or technology used on your site is, the more vital it is that you get ownership or have a strict license agreement regarding its use.