Who owns the code to your website?

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by ericm, Dec 7, 2005.

  1. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    Who owns the code that you�ve hired someone to make a site for you? My
    best friend is a huge marketing expert and graphic designer that is
    fluent in flash and has built some of the biggest sites in this
    country. I wish he wasn�t busy actually. But he says the larger web
    building companies don�t even consider owning the site or code and
    that the smaller one person operations often feel that they do. And
    that�s who I�m working with right now. I�m working with a really
    decent guy that was referred to me from one of my labs and after a
    couple of emails and phone calls we had a meeting and a agreement with
    a handshake and a deposit. I loved the first draft and approved it.
    But the thought occurred to me this week that I made the classic
    mistake that I did when I first started shooting, no contract. A lot
    of the stuff I�ve asked for has been a challenge for him and he�s
    learned a lot along the way. Although simple, I�m worried about my
    design and navigation being seen elsewhere and perhaps becoming a
    template sort of thing. I also, from an ad client hiring a
    photographer perspective, want no restrictions on further additions I
    might have another party do to the site and have him kick up protest.
    I doubt he would as I said he�s a decent bloke but I just want to
    cover my bum.

    And what monitor settings would you build a new site for? 1280x960?

    Thanks everyone,

  2. I am not sure about the laws where you live but here in Canada there has been cases of fights between marketing companies vs clients over a concept....

    The judgment said that the client by buying party became the owner of the ad AND concept by PURCHASING IT.... and was able to get a different marketing company to work on the same concept years after....

    Not sure if this is clear... but you become the onwer when your designer fullfills the order... and can do whatever with it

    For a flash file make sure to request and get the FLA file... the source for the website.... otherwise you won't be able to change anything
  3. jpb


    It depends what kind of code is used. If it is just straight HTML, then the designer can own the design, but NOT the code... HTML is open source and can be legally taken and repurposed by anyone. If someone owned it, it would have been Tim Berners Lee, who invented HTML, but he wrote the code as open source precisely so that no one would own it or claim exclusive rights to it.

    Also, I recently installed an analytics program on my website and it seems tat the VAST majority of people use the monitor resolution 1024x768, followed by 1280x1024 and then 800x600. According to my stats, 1280x960 has been the resolution for only 1.27 percent of my hits.

    I hope this helps.

    James Burger
  4. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    Denis thanks man, I am a Vancouverite...

    James, I ment 1280x1024...sorry...see what I mean...
  5. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    and James, it's a flash site, not html.
  6. James' understanding of copyright law as applied to computer code is a pretty whacked, I'm afraid.

    As with photographs, all code is automatically copyright the author, unless the copyright has been signed away in an employment contract (a common practice).

    It makes no difference whether the programmer owns the rights to the language, just as it makes no difference to the author of a novel whether he owns the rights to the English language, or a photographer whether he owns the patents on the film technology. It has nothing to do with anything.

    Microsoft doesn't own C++, which was developed by Bell Labs, but try to tell them that they have no copyright in XP or Office or their other products. Oracle doesn't own C++ either, but try to tell them that their database software is public domain.
  7. I teach U.S. copyright law at a law school � can't speak to other countries' law. Unless you have a written agreement that makes you the owner of any copyrightable material that's part of your web site, you do NOT own the copyright to anything the designer has done. The designer may or may not want to enforce any copyrights he or she keeps, but that's up to them. You've paid for services, and for the right to use the web site in the ways that both you and the developer envisioned it being used at the time of the agreement. You haven't paid to be the owner of any resulting designs or programming code.

    Among the things that are copyrightable and hence belong to the designer are at least these two: First, the overall page design and appearance, to the extent that it's original enough to be a copyrightable work of art. The standard for "original enough" is pretty easy to meet, so odds are good that the design is indeed copyrighted and that the designer is indeed the copyright owner. Second, anything that looks like a computer program will be copyrighted. Certainly if there are more than trivial amounts of flash or other animation, the author of those things � presumably your developer, unless he's copied them from somewhere else � will be the copyright owner.

    Also, another commentator said that HTML is not copyrighted. That's true, but what that observation overlooks is that a particular, original selection and arrangement of HTML tags can be � and almost certainly is � copyrighted. It's like saying that a programming language (e.g., C, PHP, Basic, etc. etc.) is not copyrighted, but any programs written in that language can be. Or like saying that "the English language" is not copyrighted (it isn't), but any novel or poem written in English can be. So the fact that "HTML" as such isn't copyrighted says no more than that the English language is not copyrighted. A web page that assembles HTML tags in a particular and original way, however, very much IS copyrighted. That a page's underlying HTML code is typically viewable and copyable by anyone with a web browser doesn't change that fact. You can copy just about any printed material with a photocopy machine, but that doesn't mean what you're copying is not copyrighted.

    My advice would be to discuss with the designer your concerns and ask for his understanding of what rights he has, and more importantly, what rights he wants to enforce. If he doesn't want to enforce them, and doesn't object to anything you want to do, then it doesn't really matter whether under the law, he *could* object.

    As to screen resolutions for web page design. You can find up to date statistics on how widely used are different resolutions at this web page:

  8. My guess is unless you have an agreement with the web designer, he/she can do with it whatever they want. Design someone else's website in a very similar fashion and whatnot. I don't know if this pertains, but I am an architect and in the same circumstance, the architect retains rights to the design and drawings - the owner is simply borrowing them to build a building. The architect has every right to design the same exact building somewhere else 10 years later whereas the owner does not. Again, unless there was some sort of agreement to the contrary.
  9. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    thanks everyone, my thoughts as well. we do have a verbal agreement that the site is mine in all context and he will be giving me the files so i can control whatever i want when i want, as i have macromedia and hooked to my site. we've also verbally agreed that he wont make another "cookie-cutter" site just like it.

    yep, cover yourself and sign a contract. not that i think anything will come of it otherwise.

    great answers, thanks everyone.
  10. One last point that always seems to be overlooked - work for hire. That may or may not be applicable here and would change things. To me, in the case of copyright, that would be more applicable if you were going to take the code w/o paying for it, make changes to the content, and utilize the same look and feel for another product (for example).
  11. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    I am paying top dollar for it. But it does open a can of worms I guess, if for instance, I wanted to sell his work for other than what I paid for. ie. as a template or take it beyond my personal use. Which I don't and wont. But in my case, I gave him a recipe for my wants and needs and what it should and shouldn't have and so forth. Everything from menu's and navigation and size is my idea. I sat there with him as he more of less key stroked. Not to belittle flash builders. But why would it be his copyrighted work? It's not like I gave him creative control and had him dream it up on his own. That might be different but I could get dozens of flash designers to build the same site and finish with the same product yet being identical in look, any differences in action scripts are copyrighted? Sorry, I don't buy it.
  12. First of all, it's probably easier for him to prove that it's his code than it is for you to prove that it implements your ideas, unless you have design documents of some kind.

    Second, I'm not sure it really matters with respect to what you can do with it after. Even if the ideas are yours, the flash code produced by him is probably at least a derivative work of your design, which would mean that it wouldn't completely belong to either of you. You'd each need the other's permission to do anything with it.

    Lawyers can argue about this sort of thing all day, for $250 an hour. It's why companies that hire programmers usually have them sign work-for-hire agreements, even though they may be working from very tight specifications. In practice there's probably nowhere near enough money involved that either of you is going to be able to keep the other from doing whatever they want. But if you disagree, see a lawyer.
  13. On my innter territory, my cod3 pwns me!
  14. Why don't you just talk to him about it?
  15. 1280x1024? That's non-square aspect ratio on most monitors, which means that a browser would distort your images.
  16. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    I do want to talk to him about it, Todd. I just wanted a bit of insight and others opinions here before doing so. Like I said, he's a great guy and there are no issues yet, all is good.


    "That's non-square aspect ratio on most monitors"

    what square setting do you use? i don't understand...
  17. I'd suggest you talk it over with the guy and voice your concerns. After all you ARE paying for a custom website so it's only understandable that you want it to look unique. See what he says. From my standpoint most sane programmers would never think of packaging a first try for sale. He'll probably be perfectly happy to avoid looking like your site and give what he's learned a re-code or two before he'd ever consider selling it.
  18. Eric, what I mean is that a typical CRT monitor gives square pixels when it's set to 1280x960 but when you set the display mode to 1280x1024 you get non-square pixels (ie. your pictures will appear compressed on one axis). However, obviously if you have a 1280x1024 TFT then you get the pixels as they have been designed on the screen. I forgot that many people now use TFTs even to view photos, so my comment might not apply. The TFTs are taking over quickly in the office environment but many photo geeks still prefer to view pics on CRTs. Also, the aspect ratio problem is something many people don't even realize, but it's there.
  19. Make your primary content area at most 780 pixels wide if the site is fixed width unless you want to lose over 25% of the web audience going out the gate. I would very seriously suggest not going above 1000 pixels wide as you minimum unless you want your site to look awful on the vast majority (~80%) of viewers screens.

    Personally, I favor a site a minimum 780 pixels wide (leaves room for scroll bars at 800x600) that dynamically resizes to handle higher resolutions.

    hope this helps,

  20. Eric:

    My understanding is that copyright can only be transferred via written agreements. If you are at all concerned with the copyright of the design of your site, you might want to jot down your understanding on paper.

    As far as monitor settings, I would build a new site predominantly for 800x600 or 1024x768. I would make sure it is still usable at 640x480 and that it expands gracefully for 1280x960. (I have seen some sites that just occupy a small part of my screen. That's just as bad as having to scroll horizontally.) There really isn't a good reason to design a web site for one particular screen size, unless you have too much business and want to turn some away. :)

  21. Eric, it's something your web designer has most likely NOT thought about (yet).

    It's sort of like the difference between "royalty free" photography and "rights managed" photography.

    You say you're paying top dollar. Enter the negotiation with the assumption it's "rights managed." I'm sure he'll oblige with a written license agreement which includes exclusivity.

    Whether or not he owns the rights to the material is not as important as what he does with the material for which you paid top dollar.
  22. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    We have a verbal understanding that no other photography site will look like this one that we are making.

    Please check this site out, my favorite photography flash site;


    what if the designer made other sites for other photographers after the photographer basically ordered this as a result?

    Thanks Steve and Jon, and the other side of the coin is what if I miss represented my intentions and used his coding for other sites? You know, gave it away or sold it to other photography friends and all they had to do was change some test and drop different photos into the folders for the action scripts to read and voila, a cool site for another shooter. A web designer somewhere is out of work. I only mention this because it hits home to us photographers. A band hires me for a group shot for 8x10 promo/epk shots, it has a different price but a while later it ends up on their cd cover. Different usage.

    I know I will be getting all the code as it's part of the agreement. I have macromedia flash on my internet computer and connected to my server. The main demand of this new site is for me to upload and alter it's content easily without knowing how to code or write action scripts. And he's succeeded. And he's teaching me. It seems simple enough as copying and pasting, cross my fingers.

    Sean, thanks man. How old is that pie chart? Is it up to date?

    My market is so tiny that I cater to and everyone is on nice big juicy monitors that I thought perhaps just building it for them and their larger rez monitors. Anyone looking at my site at 800x600 would just be a lookie-lou that wouldn't be hiring me, which is fine, but i'd rather cater to the larger viewers with a cheque book? What do you think? I'm already frustrated with trying to view 1024x768 pages, it hurts my eyes like looking through a loupe at slides on a light table...squint squint...

    Thanks again,

  23. And what monitor settings would you build a new site for? 1280x960?
    None. The great part of the web is that you can make a website which browsers will adjust to fit any screen or window size. Doing anything else just reduces your audience to no purpose.
  24. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    thanks Topher, i'm sure he's all over this and my question in this regard is naive...
  25. Eric,

    You are welcome. Those were fresh stats as of last night. They came off an e-commerce site that uses search engine marketing so they are in general a reasonable sample of what clients use.

    As to big monitor, most users with large monitors do not run at super high resolutions. The crowd that runs at resolutions above 1280x1024 is rather small. Also, graceful expansion of a page to huge resolutions can be a bad thing. Ideally a site should gracefully expand from a minimum size to a maximum size. Otherwise paragraphs can get too wide. The problem here is the human eye only has an arc of sharp vision a few degrees wide and if the left edge of a paragraph is outside that arc when you reach the right edge of a paragraph, then it becomes hard to find the next line to scan to and people lose their place. Mix in the fact that when selling you want short pages people typically scan on the web (at least I do) and do not read too much text. Forums like this are an exception, but with sales you want to practice "short attention span" methods with rapid changes (read clicks to more data) to hold their attention.

    I run at 1600x1200x2 and I almost never maximize a browser window as it makes paragraphs too wide. Many people use larger monitors at lower resolutions (1024x768, 1280x1024) to make things easier to see. Myself, I run XP with "Large Fonts" which break a few tools but lets me read text and have resolution for photo work.

    Take a look at the following IE toolbar:


    If you install it, then you will have a tool to automatically resize a browser to different sizes so you can get a feel for how a site looks at different resolutions. And remember, many people do not even know they can set a monitor to run at different resolutions and refresh rates (everyday users as opposed to technology workers). In short, those with larger cheque books (often older people who are more established with degrading vision) will not necessarily run at higher resolutions. And even if they do, making a site too wide can hurt readability (read that as lost clients).

    For example, take a look at the image below which shows this page maximized side by side in IE (at left) and Firefox (at right). Note that at 1600x1200 the IE version is over a foot wide while the Firefox version is not quite so wide. The Firefox version is more readable and it is still to wide to comfortably read when maximized. This is a limit of human vision. To make super wide pages readable, one needs to sit back so far to scan the text easily that the text becomes too small to read.

    Have you ever seen a wide format printed document (magazine or newspaper) not use a columned layout? It would be rare, and then it is headlines in huge fonts. Really wide paragraphs are hard to read.

    Personally, my web browser windows are typically somewhere in between 1024x768 and 1280x1024 and they are often more like 1100x1100 (taller to hold more content, wide enough to comfortably display most pages without sideways scrolling).

    In short, I fear that designing a page's minimum width for more than 1000 pixels wide (roughly 1024 with scroll bars) is losing the vast majority of people on the web (rich or poor). Going for 1260 wide (leave room for scroll bars to never have a sideways scroll bar) is just too big for most viewers, even if it will fit on their monitor.

    some thoughts,

  26. Thanks for all the good information.
    My problem is not particularly with ownership, but with the text running all across my album pages, that I am creating using PS CS photo album for my recent trip, to load to my Travel page. I have offered kudos to you on my blog.
    I also followed Eric's view source of his photo.net biography page to get my black background set. I see our biographies have gone, but not before I learned how to manage that. Thanks again.

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