Who Owns Website Content

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Who Owns Website Content

I have a client I did a verbal contract with who now demands full access and
rights to the website to transfer it to a new website developer even though I
told him how I set up each website and the rights and rules.

I never give a client access to the backend and they don’t own the website
itself since my unique style is what sets my services apart from other

I do have written contracts with others where it clearly states that I own the
website and any functionality I design for the client and they own the
pages/posts and content of the site and have access to the site/functionality
while using my services. I did it in the style of Wix.com where you can add
your content but when you decide to leave you no longer own the site or

I also have email records showing him asking for access to the site and then
a few days later sending me site updates to make which clearly shows I told
him how the deal works.

I just want to ensure that I do

Asked on May 1, 2017 under Business Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

You may have difficulty without a written contract in this case (the fact that you have written contracts with others does not matter: this client is not bound by the agreements others entered into). Except where changed by a contract, content developed belongs to the *client*, not the designed or developer, as a "work made for hire"--when you are paid by someone to design or develop something, they own it, not you. While a contract can change that, so the creator keeps the rights, you state that you do not have a written contract; therefore, if litigation (i.e. a lawsuit) ensues, the client may be awarded ownership, based on what you write.

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