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  1. #1
    SitePoint Evangelist ferrari_chris's Avatar
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    Who owns a website?...

    I'm not sure where to post this, so I thought I'd chuck it here and have it moved later if need be.

    I've been reading the SitePoint newsletters and books for some time now, and have just registered with the forums to hopefully get an answer to this interesting problem that has recently occurred. Anyway...

    I'm a junior web developer at present, working for a medium sized web development company.

    Recently, a personal acquaintance asked me to update some content on his site for him. Just a few new images, nothing major at all.

    Seeing that he knows I have the skills and will do the work for him for free (that's what mates do) he'd rather I perform this simple task than pay his current developer (who charges to much in his opinion) to do it.

    I agreed. (To do the work, not about the charge rate of the other developers...)

    Now this is where it gets tricky. I spoke with the current web development company about getting the source code for his site, and about his hosting details, explaining that he wants me to undertake some basic work on the site for him. They weren't really very happy about giving me the files they had developed, and while things didn't turn nasty or anything like that, I can tell they would much rather not give me the files and not have the updates done, then let someone else do the work.

    Now, as I see it, they're holding my poor mate's site to ransom. Is it my friend's site, or the developers'? If it belongs to my friend, then can he not contract whoever he wants to complete the work? In which case the developers are obliged to give up the files as they don't own them, aren't they?

    At this stage, not much more than some initial words have been passed between me and the site developers, so there are no bridges irreparably burnt or anything like that, but I thought I'd get some expert opinions on the matter.

    Thanks for any help.

  2. #2
    doing my best to help c2uk's Avatar
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    Does your friend have a written contract? If yes, look for the answers there.

    And another advise, never do something for free and without a contract even for your best friend. I've been that route and regret it now.
    Dan G
    Marketing Strategist & Consultant

  3. #3
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy C. Ankerstjerne's Avatar
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    I don't think it's a matter of ownership, as much as it is a matter of professional pride and business on the part of the web development firm. Look at it from their point of view: they have a customer, who is now switching to a competitor, even if it's not a paid competitor. Bottom line is that they risk loosing business.

    Furthermore, it can be a problem for them, if they have to work with the files again later. They have no idea which qualifications you have, and they do not want to spend their time sorting out junkcode left by an amateur. Remember: from their point of view, you could just as well be the neighbour's 14-year-old kid. It probably won't make it better if you tell them your profession, as they will then have to deal with the risk of you giving their scripts to your employer.

    By the way, when checking out your friend's contract with his web developer, be sure to check your own contract; when you work as an employee for a web development firm yourself, it is possible that you are not allowed to do that kind of work for others in the first place.
    Christian Ankerstjerne
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  4. #4
    phpLD Fanatic bronze trophy dvduval's Avatar
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    I can only speak from personal experience, but if our company develops a site, and then the customer wants help from someone else too, I have absolutely no issue with that. We have no shortage of work coming in, and often it is nice when some of the routine tasks are given to others, so that our main focus is on the core development of the site.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by C. Ankerstjerne View Post
    I don't think it's a matter of ownership, as much as it is a matter of professional pride and business on the part of the web development firm. Look at it from their point of view: they have a customer, who is now switching to a competitor, even if it's not a paid competitor. Bottom line is that they risk loosing business.

    Furthermore, it can be a problem for them, if they have to work with the files again later. They have no idea which qualifications you have, and they do not want to spend their time sorting out junkcode left by an amateur. Remember: from their point of view, you could just as well be the neighbour's 14-year-old kid. It probably won't make it better if you tell them your profession, as they will then have to deal with the risk of you giving their scripts to your employer.

    By the way, when checking out your friend's contract with his web developer, be sure to check your own contract; when you work as an employee for a web development firm yourself, it is possible that you are not allowed to do that kind of work for others in the first place.
    WoW, i guess you didn't read OP's post. Its your friends site and he has full rights to all those files and hosting which he is paying for. That web company sounds like bossy with their clients. That practice is not ethical.

  6. #6
    SitePoint Evangelist ramone_johnny's Avatar
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    Doing work for "FREE" is what is hurting us freelancers in the web development industry.

    Be professional about it and charge accordingly.

    RJ

  7. #7
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy C. Ankerstjerne's Avatar
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    zehrila
    I guess you didn't read my post. I never wrote that he didn't have the rights to the files. What I wrote was some reasons why the web development company currently used might be disinclined to hand over the files.

    ramone_johnny
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with people working for free. If you can't handle the competition, it's because your services are not competitive enough.
    Christian Ankerstjerne
    <p<strong<abbr/HTML/ 4 teh win</>
    <>In Soviet Russia, website codes you!

  8. #8
    SitePoint Enthusiast Grenland's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by C. Ankerstjerne View Post
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with people working for free. If you can't handle the competition, it's because your services are not competitive enough.
    I agree, it's up each and everyone how they do it. If my girlfriend wanted a website I woulden't exactly charge her fees for that, nor for my best friends - as I would get other benefits in return.

  9. #9
    SitePoint Mentor bronze trophy

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    Unless transferred otherwise, ownership of a creation lies with the creator. Hence the code that runs a web site belongs tot he company that coded it unless they agreed to transfer those rights over to your friend upon completion of the project.

    There are many reasons for developers not wanting to hand over code to third parties. For example, the code they use may be part of their own pre-developed application and they wish to ensure that source code remains a trade secret. In turn, they will obviously be reluctant to share hosting details with third parties.

    I offer a pre-developed CMS product to my clients, which is effectively a hosted solution. I certainly do not allow third parties to access the source code nor the web server the code is hosted on. And my contract states this very clearly. Basically, clients want a cheaper solution, so we can offer it to them but in turn they have to accept they cannot own the source code or have the freedom they would have when paying for the entire development of source code from the ground up.

    I'd personally leave this to your friend to work out with his current developers. I'd also give you the benefit of my experience and tell you to never work for free for anyone,especially your mates. Even good friends will eventually take advantage - I also advocate a contract or at least some form of written clarification of project specs and explanation of ownership issues. Then agree a price for initial work and a costing for ongoing maintenance. Of course, bartering is always an option, but the problem with web sites is that it's never a one-off gig - you'll always be expected to make 'just a quick update - it won't take you long mate'. So if you barter, make sure you barter only the initial work and charge for ongoing. A true friend would not expect you to work for free as they would respect your time.

  10. #10
    Programming Since 1978 silver trophybronze trophy felgall's Avatar
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    Sometimes the site developer will reuse custom scripts to which they own all the rights on their client's sites to provide some of the functionality. In those instances the contract may state that they can only continue to use those scripts while the site is maintained by that developer since the developer is basically using it simply to make their job of maintaining the site easier.

    The actual content of the site should have been provided by the site owner and therefore should belong to the owner of the site.

    Where the site owner wants to change who is maintaining their site it is simply a matter of working out what parts of the site that they do not own or have the right to continue using so as to make sure that replacements for those parts are created prior to terminating the agreement with the old developer.
    Stephen J Chapman

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  11. #11
    SitePoint Evangelist ramone_johnny's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by C. Ankerstjerne View Post
    ramone_johnny
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with people working for free. If you can't handle the competition, it's because your services are not competitive enough.

    What a ridiculous statement.

    RJ

  12. #12
    SitePoint Evangelist ferrari_chris's Avatar
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    Thanks for your thoughts so far guys, some interesting ideas being thrown around. I'll definately be asking for a copy of his contract before I go much further with this. I don't want to be dragging my name throught the mud for the sake of a few of his dollars...


    Quote Originally Posted by C. Ankerstjerne View Post
    I don't think it's a matter of ownership, as much as it is a matter of professional pride and business on the part of the web development firm. Look at it from their point of view: they have a customer, who is now switching to a competitor, even if it's not a paid competitor. Bottom line is that they risk loosing business.

    Furthermore, it can be a problem for them, if they have to work with the files again later. ...
    These are good points - particularly the first one. But even in this situation, can they actively prevent their customer going to another provider? Maybe they are contracted to be the sole developers for a (renewable) period of time? My friend didn't mention anything like that to me...


    Quote Originally Posted by zehrila View Post
    ... Its your friends site and he has full rights to all those files and hosting which he is paying for. That web company sounds like bossy with their clients. That practice is not ethical.
    This is what I thought initially. A builder doesn't own a house after he's built it - it belongs to the person who paid the money for it. If he then wants to hire another builder to do alterations, the original builder can't stop him. But it seems things aren't as black in white as that in this instance.


    Quote Originally Posted by felgall View Post
    Sometimes the site developer will reuse custom scripts to which they own all the rights on their client's sites to provide some of the functionality. In those instances the contract may state that they can only continue to use those scripts while the site is maintained by that developer since the developer is basically using it simply to make their job of maintaining the site easier.

    ...

    Where the site owner wants to change who is maintaining their site it is simply a matter of working out what parts of the site that they do not own or have the right to continue using so as to make sure that replacements for those parts are created prior to terminating the agreement with the old developer.
    I find this quite interesting. So, if he decides to move his hosting, and his maintenance, he will be provided with a non-functioning site that will need work to get up and running again (assuming they remove their scripts from the site before handing it over). This doesn't seem entirely ethical to me. It makes perfect sense for the developers - reusable code for quick development time, and a way to tie in the hosting/maintenance for a period of time. But after paying money for what is seemingly a working product, when you ask for the product itself you're handed a bagful of pieces and 'some assembly required'...


    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox View Post
    Unless transferred otherwise, ownership of a creation lies with the creator. Hence the code that runs a web site belongs tot he company that coded it unless they agreed to transfer those rights over to your friend upon completion of the project.
    It seems weird to me that this is the default option. You get paid to build something for somebody, and when completed they don't own it anyway? Interesting...


    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox View Post
    There are many reasons for developers not wanting to hand over code to third parties. For example, the code they use may be part of their own pre-developed application and they wish to ensure that source code remains a trade secret. In turn, they will obviously be reluctant to share hosting details with third parties.

    I offer a pre-developed CMS product to my clients, which is effectively a hosted solution. I certainly do not allow third parties to access the source code nor the web server the code is hosted on. And my contract states this very clearly. Basically, clients want a cheaper solution, so we can offer it to them but in turn they have to accept they cannot own the source code or have the freedom they would have when paying for the entire development of source code from the ground up.

    I'd personally leave this to your friend to work out with his current developers. ...
    Yes, it seems like it's all leading back to the agreement made when the site was initially developed.

    I'l get my friend to look through his contract and see what he can find. With all this hassle for both of us though, it may just be better off in the long run to get the developers to handle this update. But then, that's what the developers wanted all along wasn't it? So is that right?...

    Thanks, and any more input/ideas appreciated. I find this topic of ownership quite interesting now.

  13. #13
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy C. Ankerstjerne's Avatar
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    Ramone_Johnny
    Why should you be allowed to decide, what other people do with their time and business? You're in a business along with a lot of other people, some of whom charges more than you and some of whom charges less. When some companies are able to charge more than you, and still be successful, then what is to stop you from being successful while charging more than your lower-charging competitors? If you can't find enough customers, while your competitors are doing fine, it's either because your price is too high or your quality is too low.

    ferrari_chris
    In regards to your house builder analogy: under certain circumstances, the home owner is not allowed to do any alterations to the house (including re-painting), unless the architect is consulted.
    Christian Ankerstjerne
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    <>In Soviet Russia, website codes you!

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by ramone_johnny View Post
    Doing work for "FREE" is what is hurting us freelancers in the web development industry.

    RJ
    I tend to agree with the above reply, this is why there are too many people put there looking for free work, there is a comic about this, but it escapes my mind the url.

    Anyways, tell your friend to call the development company that he is switching hosting, etc and he can get his site and put it elsewhere. Business is business, they should comply.
    If this happened to me I would react the same way, until the actual client sends the request, not a friend of them.

  15. #15
    I hate Spammers mobyme's Avatar
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    Golden rule no1: Never work for friends, relatives or neighbours. Golden rule no2: Never let third parties anywhere near your code. Golden Rule no3: All code created by you remains your property unless your client has paid you to specifically create it and you agreed to it in writing.
    There are three kinds of men:
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    The few who learn by observation.
    The rest of us have to pee on the electric fence.

  16. #16
    SitePoint Evangelist ferrari_chris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonabyte View Post
    ... Anyways, tell your friend to call the development company that he is switching hosting, etc and he can get his site and put it elsewhere. Business is business, they should comply. ...
    Hmmm, I don't think it's got to that stage over what is really a small update. But their attitude hasn't done much to improve his opinion of them...


    Quote Originally Posted by mobyme View Post
    ...Golden Rule no3: All code created by you remains your property unless your client has paid you to specifically create it and you agreed to it in writing.
    See, this to me seems a bit silly. Has he not paid them to create the website for him (like you state in your second point of 'Golden Rule no3')? If I want to change the hosting to someone else, give me my website and my database, please! Now.

  17. #17
    I hate Spammers mobyme's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ferrari_chris View Post
    See, this to me seems a bit silly. Has he not paid them to create the website for him (like you state in your second point of 'Golden Rule no3')? If I want to change the hosting to someone else, give me my website and my database, please! Now.
    Not a problem if that is what I agreed with you in the initial contract and you paid for us to develop a cms specifically for you. In all other instances our contract would have stated that the cms was yours to use while you were hosted with us; otherwise the source code was to remain our property and is not part of the deal.
    There are three kinds of men:
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    The few who learn by observation.
    The rest of us have to pee on the electric fence.

  18. #18
    SitePoint Evangelist ferrari_chris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mobyme View Post
    Not a problem if that is what I agreed with you in the initial contract and you paid for us to develop a cms specifically for you. In all other instances our contract would have stated that the cms was yours to use while you were hosted with us; otherwise the source code was to remain our property and is not part of the deal.
    OK, that makes sense.

    What would your reaction be to the initial post - a third party wanting access to source to perform some minor updates?

  19. #19
    SitePoint Mentor bronze trophy

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    Quote Originally Posted by ferrari_chris View Post
    What would your reaction be to the initial post - a third party wanting access to source to perform some minor updates?
    We still talking about a CMS? If so, why would they need source code access to perform updates? A decent CMS should have the capabilities to negate the need for such access in the first place - everything should be manageable through the CMS admin interface.

    As for wanting to switch hosting, our CMS contract says 'no problem' - you just don't get to take the CMS source code with you. If you want the content of your web site, we'll forward you all relevant images, site design template and any files uploaded through the CMS, plus a CSV export of all the HTML page content - your new developer can use this to recreate your site in their CMS.

    Once again, it just goes back to the terms agreed between vendor and client, so check the contract.

  20. #20
    I hate Spammers mobyme's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ferrari_chris View Post
    OK, that makes sense.

    What would your reaction be to the initial post - a third party wanting access to source to perform some minor updates?
    I did not catch your post until after shadowbox had posted his comment. However my reaction would be the same; any small update should be possible through the cms. The source code will remain off limits as it represents many months of work that were not paid for in your initial purchase and to all intents and purposes you are only leasing the cms while you are hosted with us. To many this may seem unfair however all of this is explained in bold type in our contracts.
    There are three kinds of men:
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    The few who learn by observation.
    The rest of us have to pee on the electric fence.

  21. #21
    SitePoint Evangelist ferrari_chris's Avatar
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    Sorry guys, I should have cleared that up.

    The site at the moment isn't CMS based. It's a PHP based site, which is mainly static but has a few features such as being able to register for a mailing list, using PHP to submit user enquiries, stuff like that.

    The desired updates are pretty much hosting some new image files on the server and (obviously) changing the src on the <img> to display these new pictures. They're even the same size as the existing ones, so there'll be no change to the layout at all.

    So, not an overly complex website, and some very small updates.

    Can I get your opinions again?

  22. #22
    doing my best to help c2uk's Avatar
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    It's still about the same things:

    Quote Originally Posted by ferrari_chris
    getting the source code for his site, and about his hosting details, explaining that he wants me to undertake some basic work on the site for him. They weren't really very happy about giving me the files they had developed
    While it seems nothing big, I'd still wouldn't like it if a competitor got its hands on my custom developed code. So, why don't you ask them how you can do this small job without needing to get your hands on all their files nor access to the server. Put yourself into their position and try to find a win-win situation for all three of you.

    But I'd still like to reiterate some of the advice that has already been said by various others:

    Quote Originally Posted by mobyme
    Golden rule no1: Never work for friends, relatives or neighbours.
    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox
    I'd also give you the benefit of my experience and tell you to never work for free for anyone,especially your mates.
    Dan G
    Marketing Strategist & Consultant

  23. #23
    SitePoint Evangelist ferrari_chris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by c2uk View Post
    ... While it seems nothing big, I'd still wouldn't like it if a competitor got its hands on my custom developed code. So, why don't you ask them how you can do this small job without needing to get your hands on all their files nor access to the server. ...
    While this would be good, I can't see an outcome that will provide this. After the client getting a third party to do some work on his site, I can't see them implementing that in any way without charges.


    Quote Originally Posted by c2uk View Post
    ...But I'd still like to reiterate some of the advice that has already been said by various others:
    Yeah, I know. But if he's going to pay me, I'd just recommend to him to the pay the original developer. And sometimes favours are worth more than dollars in the long run...


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