In my time as a web designer and developer I have come across client after client distraught by their website dilemma. Many had run into disreputable contractors who were either holding their domain name or website hostage. These experiences were the catalyst for this blog. What you need to know is: Who Owns My Website?

To Begin

As stated in other posts, be sure your name or company name is associated with the registration, even if you have an administrator, and that your ownership of said domain is stated in any web design contract.

As for the website itself, be absolutely sure to state that you require ownership before the design process begins. Technically, only if you program your own site, or have a written agreement with a designer/developer, do you own all of the final product. Legally, whoever authors the content, designs the layout, codes the site, provides site images and creates the graphics, owns the website, unless otherwise stated in writing.

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When I do work for any client, I always require a contract. It is simple and straight forward with no small print. It itemizes what each side will provide. The contract states clearly that, upon final payment, sole ownership falls to the client of all design, copy, images, videos and other content, including coding and databases. In the case of a misunderstanding, or inability to work together (only happened to me once), the contract also states that I will be paid for time served and, when paid, any completed files will be returned to the client.

A completed website consists of an online file folder filled with all the content necessary to enable the site to be seen on the web. This folder includes your coded web pages, images, videos, audio files, scripts, etc. Even a WordPress site will be stored on your host server in a specific folder. More complex sites, including blogs, will be connected to a database, stored in another location on the same server.

As part of your contractual agreement, request in writing, a backup copy of your completed site, including database. To most small business owners the contents of the file will be gibberish. Regardless, in case of issues with your web contractor, you will have a copy of the site you paid for to pass on to another web contractor.

In web lingo, request in writing, the “finished and assembled work.” That includes the design, all coding (HTML, CSS, etc.), all scripting (Java, PHP, etc.), the text content and media files (images, video, audio, etc.), and your database, if applicable. Request your File Transfer Protocol “FTP” information, to access the site, or the user name and password for any Content Management System, such as WordPress. Be doubly sure that the contract states clearly that, “Upon completion of final, finished and assembled product (website), client’s final payment will transfer complete and sole ownership of entire product to client.”

Due Diligence

Leave no room for error. Go over your contract with your designer. I allow no handwritten alterations. Be sure the contract is clear and simple. Always pay with a traceable payment type, not cash. Keep in mind, if you withhold payment due to a dispute, any design work will not default ownership to you. Research and check references before you begin, to secure a reputable designer and avoid any legal hassles.

Do your due diligence. Google the designer’s name and read the reviews. Many companies have a negative review or two; you can’t keep everyone happy. But “believe” multiple negative reviews.

A few final items to think about:

  • Once the website is complete, who will maintain the site?
    • In other words, who will update, make changes, respond to comments and e-mails?
      Maintenance is not including in design or hosting costs. This separate agreement will involve additional fees. It is necessary to update your site regularly, to keep it “alive” in the search engines and you may be capable of updating yourself if you choose to take on the task.
  • Who is responsible for renewing hosting and domain names?
    • Regardless of whether you register your domain and hosting for one year or 20, there will come a time when renewal is necessary. Expired hosting could result in your website going down, no longer visible on the web. Expired domains can pose huge problems including losing your domain name indefinitely.

Have answers to these questions before your website is launched on the web. When you lay out your plan to secure a website, add these important items.

My goal is to educate, inform and protect small business owners from scams and misinformation. I hope you’ll check out my portfolio site,


One thought on “Who Owns My Website?

  1. Tilly says:

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