The Complete Guide to Who Actually Owns Your Website

A deeper look into website ownership and rights, and how we do it at Softshell

Believe it or not, one of the most common questions we hear from businesses is this:

"Who owns my website?"

The short answer: It's a bit more complicated than it seems.

Not the most helpful answer, so to better understand this let's take a few steps back and break down commonly used terminologies.

First things first

Why is it important to fully understand the ownership terms of your website?

Let's say you run a business and decided to hire a web designer or a small agency to have your website built. You are then charged a reasonable-but-not-insignificant amount for it upon handover. It's a customer-facing business asset that contains all your branding which you pay for using company funds. Therefore it's just fair that you woulexpect ownership of the entire finished project and the right to do whatever you want with it.

Unfortunately that's not really the case.

Fortunately it doesn't necessarily mean you need full ownership of your business website. However as someone who made a significant amount of investment on it, you should know the full extent of your rights and responsibilities to be protected legally. That is why it's important to be aware of what you actually own, what you should have control over, and what is being licensed to you.

Defining Ownership and Control

The most important thing to remember here is that a website is made up of different interdependent components. Unless you enter into a very specific engagement with your web designer or a digital agency, standard rules on each of these components would apply. Let's break it down into specifics:

Web server — You will never own this. In rare cases a client will prefer to host their site locally. But most of the time this will always be done through a third-party web host. In our case, we host all our websites using Amazon Web Server.

Domain name — You buy it, but you don't own it. You basically lease it: You register your own domain name through a domain registrar, who then gives you exclusive rights to use the name for your website as long as you keep renewing it.

Content Management System — You don't own this, but you should have control over this. As with any software in the market, this is owned by a company and is licensed to you. We at Softshell built our own content management system so we have complete control of the backend.

Source code — You don't own this. Unless you wrote it yourself, this is owned by your provider and is licensed to you. You may end up owning the code if you employed a web developer or a digital agency to build you a custom website on a 'work for hire' basis' — make sure that the terms around the code are clearly stated on your contract before commencing any work, just to be safe.

Design and visuals — You should own this. Originally the designs are owned by the author who is your web designer, but they should be able to transfer the ownership to you at some point. This should be stated clearly on your contract, to be transferred either upon project completion or when you would like to move to another provider.

Content — You own this if you are the author. Typically the content is licensed to you unless you created it yourself or there is clear transfer of ownership upon project completion. This covers everything from text, photography and video, typography among others.

Our Terms at Softshell

Exclusive license. We at Softshell exercise an exclusive license to all our website projects, which means as our client you are granted license to use the intellectual property to our proprietary web platform. This also means you own the final work on the site and we keep the rights to the source code, and signing up with us means you agree to this arrangement.

There is nothing to be scared of when dealing with proprietary platforms (at least with us) as long as you do your homework and read through the fine print. It's not a marketing ploy: Much like you use Netflix or Spotify, you pay a monthly subscription fee to use our platform. Technically you will own the final works on visual design, content and all the data on your site so in the unfortunate instance that you want to take your website somewhere else, you can take these things with you. Even if you don't own all aspects of your website, our terms will provide you with flexibility and make it easy for you to move your business to another provider.

We want to make managing your website easy for you. If you're interested in rebuilding your website minus the hefty cost, just send us a message and we're here to help.