February 13, 2016

Who Owns the Copyright to Your Website?

It’s funny (or sad) that a lot of clients I work with don’t know who actually owns their most valuable intellectual property. Things like their wesbite, logo, graphics, website copy, photography, etc.

Most clients are smart enough to make sure they get an “assignment of copyright” in their agreement with their vendor.

Where they might go wrong is that they don’t make sure that their web developer has a ‘work for hire’ agreement with their employees and freelancers. That means they may not be fully protected against a claim of copyright by the freelancer or employee.

So much for that logo and brand that you’ve invested in! Be prepared to go out of pocket when your new ‘partner’ surfaces.

By default, the person that creates the work automatically has ownership of the copyright.

Normally, the stuff created by an employee in their normal course of employment is owned by the company, but why not have the added protection of a signed agreement? We do.

Additionally, your web developer’s employees may have created stuff in the past, or in their time off, where they own the copyright. What happens if they incorporate that copyrighted work into something they are doing for you?

If they work for e9digital, then they have signed an agreement where they have licensed that copyrighted work in perpetuity to the company.

Now that we’ve taken care of the employees, let’s make sure that our freelancers are covered in the same way. Most freelancers aren’t covered by a blanket agreement, so a new one should be issued each time they are engaged by the company.

With regards to a ‘work for hire’ agreement, there are four important things to remember:

  1. The work must come within one of the nine limited categories, namely (1) a contribution to a collective work, (2) a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, (3) a translation, (4) a supplementary work, (5) a compilation, (6) an instructional text, (7) a test, (8) answer material for a test, (9) an atlas;
  2. The work must be specially ordered or commissioned.
  3. The agreement must state it’s a ‘work for hire.’
  4. The agreement must be executed prior to work starting.

I’m not sure if a website is classified as a “collective work” or as an “other audiovisual work,” and to prevent lawyers from trying to parse that in their favor, we make sure our freelancers assign us the copyright on any work they do for us.

Ok, so who owns your website?