Kathy Smith
Sr. Website Designer

Who Owns Your Web Site?

Recently a small retailer approached us about taking over her Web site hosting and improving the site. She had paid the designer to develop her site a year ago. Her hosting contract was up for renewal.

Much to her dismay, she discovered the Web site did not belong to her business. There it was on the contract: “The developer maintains the rights to the Web site’s design.”

She wanted out. She wanted a divorce from her Web site hosting and design company—but unfortunately she was locked into this relationship. Redesigning the site would cost too much. The retailer had learned a costly lesson.

This is not your usual and customary way that Web site ownership is handled. Usually the site belongs to you, the client. But it happens often enough that I thought it was worth a column.

Locked into a bad relationship

In another instance, a local membership organization paid a rather large amount for a software service that handles similar Web sites for clubs and organizations. In addition, they are locked into paying a monthly maintenance fee for three years.

The organization created their own site using the software, but they were disappointed to find that it didn’t really match their needs. It couldn’t be customized, and it didn’t have all the bells and whistles they needed.

They are looking for us or another Web site developer to help them iron out their problems, probably an expensive proposition. Can this marriage be saved? We don’t know yet.

Furthermore, because the organization is using proprietary software developed by this company, if they ever get the kinks worked out they will still have to use that company. If they move, more than likely they will lose their Web site. And then they’ll have the headache-y task of creating a new one.

This is not to say that the Web site company is unethical. They probably spent considerable time and expense developing the software. But it does present a problem for their clients.

“Free” sites

What about the sites you can create for free on some of the major search engines, who will host the sites for a few cents a day? I’ve always wondered about that, and I finally took a look. The design is yours to keep—but when you leave, the functionality stays. In other words, you can have the “picture” of your Web site—but you won’t be able to make it function, which is a major part of the expense in creating and maintaining a Web site.

Here is some excellent information from pbrainmedia.com:

“You need to protect your company’s ability to make changes to the site down the road. You should always think about — and ask prospective developers about — what will happen if you end your relationship with the developer in the future. If the developer creates the site with proprietary technology, you may find it difficult or impossible to make changes without using the original developer. More than a few businesses have learned this lesson the hard way and have had to create a new Web site from scratch after ending their relationship with a previous developer who refused to grant permission to the business to make changes to the code the developer owned.”

The rest of the article is at http://www.pbrainmedia.com/library/articles/webowner.shtml.

Talk to others

In the wild and woolly world of Web site development, it pays to talk to friends and associates who have needs similar to yours and are happy with their developer. Make sure to ask one essential question: Who owns your Web site?

By the way, most local Web site developers don’t have a problem with your leaving the relationship if it’s not a marriage made in heaven. It just hurts our pride a little.

Changing Web site companies requires willing cooperation between the new developer and the old developer, and all of us developers know that. There are domain names that need to be pointed in a new direction, sites and functionality moved to a new host, access granted, and so forth. It’s not the happiest of tasks, but we all—well, most of us—know that we need each other’s cooperation to get the transfer completed. We know that while we may lose a client today to another developer, the same developer may be losing a client to us next week.

So we help each other out. It’s not only the legal thing to do, it’s the smart thing.


about lakenetwork

Lakenetwork is a family-owned business providing website design and development for companies, professionals and organizations in the Cleveland, Ohio area and beyond. We specialize in providing the most cost-effective and appropriate solutions for clients’ online needs. We are located in Eastlake, Ohio.

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