Copyright and websites: What you don’t know can bite you

Websites have interesting copyright issues. Many people mistakenly believe that once they have paid for a website, they own it. Be sure to understand your rights as a website owner, and the rights owned by the website developer, photographer, videographer, the SEO company or the marketer that you hire.

If your website is on a site builder like WIX, OtherPeople’s Pixels, Blogger or WordPress.com, that company owns the copyrights for the design of your site, the plugins and other functional features, and all coding behind the site. They can terminate or remove your site from their server at any time without providing a reason.

If you purchase or download a template/theme/design for a website, the original developer of the template owns the copyright. You are simply purchasing a license to use their design. Check to see the conditions of use.

If you purchase stock photos for your site, you are purchasing only a license for use. You do not own the copyright to the photos. Check the licensing agreements for the terms of use. For example, you may be able to use the photos for a website but not for printed material like advertising.

You need a logo that can be sized up or down, used on websites and in print. If you have a logo designed for you, the designer owns the copyright to the logo. Before hiring a logo designer, check the cost of obtaining the original vector image or at least a variety of high-resolution images for use in different situations.

If your website designer/developer took the photos for your site, he or she owns the copyright to the photos. They cannot be used by you for print media, business cards or any other purpose, without the designer’s permission. They cannot be used by a different designer on another site without the previous designer’s permission.

If you have a custom site built, the developer/designer owns the copyright to the site design. If another developer, SEO expert or marketing person subsequently takes over the site and adds content or additional features to the site, they cannot change or replace the designer’s name in the footer.

If you have a custom site built, the developer/designer also owns the moral rights to the site. This means they can protect the aesthetics of their design by objecting to any changes you make to it. If you change images in a slider, for example, the new images must match the look and feel of the previous slides, and not affect the integrity of the design.

If you have a custom site built, neither the design nor the coding can be used on another site without the original designer’s permission. People with WordPress sites need to understand they can change the content, but not the design.

If you have a custom site built, the developer/programmer also owns the rights to the style sheets and other code that affects the site functionality. You cannot use their code on another site.

Because the site designer/developer owns the copyright to the site, designers can make as many sites as they like using the same design and coding. Be sure to check with your developer if your design will be original and used only for your own site.

Resources

Copyright issues in web design
http://mincovlaw.com/blog-post/copyright_issues_in_web_design

When a website design is copied
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/12/18/my-website-design-was-stolen-now-what/

How to pursue website copyright infringement
http://www.sitepoint.com/theft-webmasters-recourse/