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If you have spent time creating IP (intellectual property) and a website for a client, you may wonder if you have any ownership rights over this intellectual property. As ownership comes with numerous legal rights, knowing who owns the intellectual property you create for clients is important. This article will explain any questions you may have regarding whether you own any IP when you create a website for a client.

Domain Names

A domain name is the web address used for a company or business online. It is where your clients or customers will go when they search for you online. Commonly, a domain name ends with .com or .co.nz in New Zealand. The New Zealand Domain Name Commission (DNC) oversees and regulates domain names. Their role is to develop a fair market for those wishing to register domain names and impose punishments for those that attempt to register domain names unfairly.

If you create a website for a client, it should be up to them to register their domain name. This is because they are likely to be maintaining the website once your work is complete. Additionally, some rights come with having a registered domain name that would typically only benefit the website’s user, not the creator. If needed, you can complete a transfer of domain name ownership, but it is best to avoid double handling and allow your client to register their own domain name. 

Who Owns the Website?

The general rule is that whatever you create, you own. However, this changes when you are employed to create something for a client or customer in exchange for payment. It is always good to clarify ownership with your client before you begin work. You would likely cover this in an overall client agreement or another similar legal contract. You should outline specific licensing terms and intellectual property ownership in that contract.

Whatever contracting structure you decide on, your client agreement is a legal contract between you and your client. As such, it needs to set out any intellectual property ownership in intellectual property clauses and terms of use. As a website designer, any intellectual property clauses must clearly define who owns what in your relationship, which you must clarify with your client.

Additionally, you will likely access your client’s intellectual property while creating the website. For instance, to create their website, a client is permitting you to use their:

  • brand;
  • content;
  • goods; and
  • services.

They will retain ownership of any intellectual property of this nature, while allowing you to use it to complete their website. Your contract should specify this, as well as any specific licensing terms, such as the length of time you have these rights for. Additionally, if the client is the only owner of the finished product, your contract should also detail this. 

Transferring Ownership

If you wish to retain ownership of any specific aspects of the website you create, negotiate this with your client from the beginning to avoid disputes later on. However, if there is anything that you own that the client needs ownership of, you can assign ownership rights to them. An assignment is a complete transfer of intellectual property ownership from one party to another. You can assign all or parts of intellectual property. 

However, this method does pose risks. When doing this, you could encounter an issue if the client changes their mind for any reason and does not accept the assignment. This will result in a waste of your time and resources if you have already completed the website. Negotiating intellectual property ownership can quickly become very complex. So, to best protect your interests and work, you should contact a lawyer if you need any assistance. 

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Other Intellectual Property

Furthermore, it would be a good idea to protect any intellectual property you create that is not within the scope of your agreement with your client. The intellectual property rights you may want to consider here are:

  • patents, which cover new and novel inventions;
  • design registration, which covers the visual appearance of any product; and 
  • copyright, which covers original artistic works with a fixed format.

Additionally, you are the owner of your own brand. This branding may include anything you use as part of your website creation business. You can validate the identifying aspects of your brand with a trade mark, such as your business name. Intellectual property ownership gives you benefits such as:

  • exclusive use of your intellectual property;
  • the right to stop other parties from using your intellectual property; and
  • legal protection.

Key Takeaways

If you are unsure who owns intellectual property when you create a website for a client, it is best to clarify this with a client agreement or other appropriate contract. These specify the rights around ownership and use of intellectual property. Be sure to identify any intellectual property that you own or that is related to your brand so that you can protect it appropriately. 

If you need help with your website ownership, our experienced intellectual property lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are patents?

A patent is an intellectual property right for inventions. A patent provides you with the exclusive right to use and profit from your invention.

What is copyright?

Copyright is another intellectual property right applied automatically to original and creative works.

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