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Website code as intellectual property

Author: Ben Jeffery

If you decide to use our web design services, we'll ask you to sign our terms and conditions. This often leads to questions about intellectual property, who owns what, and how this affects you. Other suppliers may handle this in different ways, but I just wanted to explain how our agreement works.

Who owns the intellectual property?

In terms of the site code, we remain the author and owner of intellectual property. This is not the same as owning your website, and we don't take any ownership of any design, content or ideas that you provide.

What we own is the specific lines of code that we've written to apply your requirements, and any designs we've produced. There is a simple reason for this. When we develop a new website, we'll probably use small elements of code that we've used in previous projects. For example, if we've already developed a contact form or some similar small feature, we're going to use and adapt that code rather than starting from scratch. It saves our time and your money. If we give you ownership of our code, we can't do this.

The way we write and organise our code is in a sense the main asset of our company, and if we gave up intellectual property for every project neither you nor we would benefit from that cumulative experience.

It's also worth knowing that by law all code, design and similar services are owned by the author. This is protected in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, so even if it's not mentioned in a contract or you haven't agreed any terms, your designer or developer still owns intellectual property by default.

How does this affect me?

It's important for us to own our code, but we don't believe this restricts you. You can still change to a new supplier to maintain your website in the future. You can still adapt and change the website yourself. And because we use web standards and open source technology, it's relatively easy for anyone with the right skills to maintain your website. In other words, you are not giving up control of your website or your independence from us.

What you can't do is make copies of your website, or sell part or all of our code to someone else. For example, you wouldn't be able to buy one website from us and then make 10 copies without paying us. There is no restriction on your ability to sell the original website to someone else, for example when transferring business ownership.

The legalese version of this is an 'irrevocable and perpetual' licence to use the code we provide, something which gives you freedom to change suppliers, update your website or transfer ownership while maintaining our IP rights.

What if I want to own the intellectual property?

Unfortunately you'd have to use someone else. We can't compromise on the principle of owning our code, and you're unlikely to find anyone who will unless you employ a developer directly. However, as I've explained you don't need to own the intellectual property to maintain your control and independence.

If you'd like to see a sample copy of our terms and conditions, get in touch.