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Do I Own the Copyright in my Website?

A client asked me recently whether she owned the copyright in her business’s website.  She was surprised when I answered: “not necessarily”.  I explained to her that it’s not as clear cut as you might imagine.  If you are the author or creator of the materials on the website the (text, photos, software and so on) then the answer would be yes. 

Problems arise though if you have engaged a third party such as a web designer to develop your website or a photographer to take the photos for you.  Usually the copyright won’t automatically belong to you in such cases, and you will need to ask that third party to agree to formally transfer the copyright (called an assignment). 

Special consideration also needs to be given to any employees who may have created the website materials.  Usually an employer will own the copyright in anything an employee creates in the course of their duties, but I have seen employers and employees get into disputes about this particular issue.  It is therefore always advisable to have a clause in an employment contract to deal with copyright ownership to avoid misunderstandings.

If someone successfully claims you have infringed their copyright then the common sanctions are an award of damages, and account of profits and/or an injunction against you.