Whose website is it anyway?

A guest post from Elaine Campbell, Solicitor Tutor

This week Business and IP Centre, Newcastle launched the Innovator Elevator – a 2 day programme designed to give local businesses tools, network opportunities and the energy to help them grow their business. It took place at Boho One in Middlesbrough and featured acclaimed speakers such as Alex Shiel, Di Gates, and Debi Beattie.

On day 1, I followed the official twitter hashtag #InnovationElevator with interest. It shared the questions that people were asking, the tips that speakers were giving, and photos from the day.

One tweet which jumped out at me was:

This is an issue which the Business & Commercial firms at the Student Law Office are regularly asked to advise on. Some clients may be starting up and thinking about engaging a designer to help with their new website. Others may have had a website for many years, but want to know what their rights are. Usually the question of who owns the website becomes an issue if the business owner wants to sell it or use another designer.

So here are some top tips!

Get everything in writing

You’ve asked a designer to create a website for you. You’re going to pay them, so surely you own all of the intellectual property rights in that website, right? Wrong! Sadly this is a misconception which can cause problems later down the line.

If you commission someone to make a website for you and they write the code that underpins that website, they will own that code. If they write the text, they will own that text. If they take photos and put them on the website, they will own those photos.

However, the law says that you and the designer can have a written agreement which overrides this. So it’s important that you sit down with your designer and agree the terms on which you are happy to proceed. The agreement needs to say who owns what, in terms of intellectual property.

A written agreement can be useful for a range of issues:  price and payment, what will constitute a finished website, who will deal with bugs/problems/updates, and deadlines (to name a few!).

Make sure you understand the difference between assignment and licence

Some designers have pre-prepared T&Cs. They can include legal language which can be difficult to understand.

The T&Cs might say that the designer assigns all of the intellectual property rights which exist in the website to you. This is good! Assignment means transfer. So, in this instance, the designer is transferring all of his/her rights in the website to you.

Alternatively, the T&Cs might say that the designer will give you a licence to use the intellectual property rights in the website. This may be less satisfactory, depending on the circumstances. Licensing, put simply, means renting. In this instance, the designer is retaining ownership of the rights but allowing you to use them. There are lots of different types of licences – some will let you use the website for anything and for any period of time, others are more restrictive.

It is always advisable to get independent legal advice before agreeing to any contractual terms.

Who is recorded as the registrant of the domain name?

Whilst the registrant is not the owner of the domain name, they do have the contractual right to use the domain under the registration agreement with registrar.

Here’s where problems arise:  Abigail from The Best Website Development Company registers the domain name BeansBeansBeans123.com for The Bean Company. Abigail leaves The Best Website Development Company. Many years pass and the directors of The Bean Company decide to sell the domain. They need to know the account details so they can tell the registrar that it should be transferred. But those details have been lost and no one knows where Abigail works now.  The registrar will not speak to anyone who does not have the account details.

It’s rare for an issue like this to occur but it’s always worth checking who the registrant is. Then you will be fully informed. To do this you can carry out a WHOIS search. If your website ends in .co.uk you can do a quick search on the home page of Nominet.

Any more questions? 

If you are in the North East and would like further information about how the Student Law Office works, please see this page for more details.

This blog post was written by Elaine Campbell. Elaine is a Solicitor Tutor at Northumbria Law School. She teaches exclusively in the Student Law Office, where she supervises students who provide free legal advice to local businesses. Prior to joining the University in 2011, Elaine qualified as a solicitor at Dickinson Dees LLP (now Bond Dickinson LLP) and later worked at Sintons LLP. She specialised in commercial and intellectual property law. 



What’s so good about in-house?

When budding commercial lawyers consider their career in practice, or how they might acquire the elusive training contract, the focus on large commercial firms is natural. However, to focus only on commercial training in its typical sense is to deprive a future trainee of a goldmine of experience.

Hundreds of companies within the UK are registered to offer training contracts. Therefore the scope of opportunities is huge. Given that many overlook in-house experience as a route of training, a trainee may be competing with fewer peers for a place. However, it should be noted that training contracts provided by companies are less consistently offered in comparison to commercial firms, given that in-house legal teams tend to be small and tight-knit in nature.

Nevertheless, the variety offered by potential in-house experience is incredible. Companies registered to offer training contracts include Amazon, BBC, Burberry, Google, Sainsbury’s, Mercedes, McDonalds, Warner Bros and numerous football clubs.  During my in-house work experience, my enthusiasm for commercial law was reinvigorated. It is surprising how working within a business you are passionate for can change the way you see aspects of your academic work. Law is much more interesting in reality after all. So why not see how a working-business perspective changes your outlook; looking after the legal needs of a company you feel passion for is a powerful incentive.

I also found a wide breadth of work to be inherent within in-house work. Some areas of law clearly affect a business more than others, such as contract and employment. However, an in-house lawyer may have to address any legal issue which confronts the company. I found myself accompanying my seniors in dealing with some peculiar issues, taking me out of the office on occasion for site visits.

In-house experience also allows a trainee to see how their role affects a business from start to finish. Rather than providing advice and moving on to the next case, an in-house solicitor will be present to see the positive repercussions their hard work has for their employer first-hand. I found that being committed to one cause created a great atmosphere of teamwork within the office. The office itself was full of not only legal-heads, but also individuals who were purely about business. This mix was refreshing, creating a dynamic of different personalities with varying skills, experience and backgrounds.

Also, in-house experience offers an abundance of commercial awareness. Understanding how the world of business works is key if you are considering private practice, given the focus on providing a client-led service. Working in-house provides the opportunity to understand how legal work relates to a wider context. This allows a future lawyer to understand the thought process of a business which may be similar to that of a future client. The opportunity to develop legal and business knowhow simultaneously is priceless, and learning about new forms of enterprise every day is exciting. This is especially the case if you would like to broaden your horizons outside of a legal environment. However, being thrown in at the deep end is a concern often expressed; this being the reason for many solicitors practicing privately before moving in-house.

This brief discussion only highlights some of the advantages and disadvantages of considering the pursuance of a career or work experience in-house. Make sure to research your favourite company and see what they have to offer. Also, in the future you may want to pay more attention to the in-house pages of your Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook!

This blog post was written by James Warnock. James is currently studying the M Law degree at Northumbria University and is working as a student advisor for business and commercial law within its Student Law office. On graduation he hopes to secure a role which will allow him to apply the law-based skills he has acquired within a commercial context, whether this is in-house, in private practice or in a wider business context. He aspires to work alongside unique and passionate forms of enterprise.

James Warnock