Do I own the code of my website?

by | Jan 20, 2023 | Burning Questions

Are you wondering if you truly own the code behind your website? If so, you’re not alone! After all, these days many of us know our websites are as much a part of business success as any other asset we possess. As marketing directors or CEO’s, understanding how ownership works when it comes to code ownership is essential – but often tricky. Is it controlled by the software developers who wrote the code? Can you legally take possession of that code and have control over its use and investment in further development? In this blog post, we will help break down what web-code ownership entails – dispelling confusion surrounding legalities and giving insight into recommended practices for each situation.

What does code ownership mean for website owners

Managing the code of your website isn’t always as simple as it might seem. Website owners should ask themselves an important question first: do I actually own the code of my website? Code ownership is a key factor to consider when evaluating different web providers. Knowing that you leave the vendor with complete control over your website’s code ensures that you have the freedom to transfer to another provider whenever desired. Ultimately, it is important for website owners to understand code ownership in order to make sure they are truly capitalizing on their creative and digital investments.

Who legally owns the code of a website

Who legally owns the code of a website? Ah, what a tricky web weaved question this can be. Generally speaking, the answer is whichever web agency or freelance web developer who built it. It’s usually stated in the project terms and conditions upon signing the agreement, so when working with a web agency or web developer make sure to take note of any web ownership clauses in the contract before committing to anything. Ultimately whoever technically created it holds the legal right to ownership — no matter who contacted or originally paid for the website to be made — unless they specifically relinquish this ownership in writing prior to beginning work on the project. Bottom-line: if you want to own your website code get confirmation from your web team that this is specified in your agreement before you launch.

Benefits of owning the code of your website

Owning the code of your website can give you peace of mind and flexibility. The biggest advantage is no vendor lock-in – if you ever decide to switch to another agency, no worries; all the software code is yours and you are free to take it with you. This also means no unexpected surprises in your budget when leaving the agency or freelancer (hover some do charge a small admin fee, as it takes from 1-8h to prepare a handover, depending on complexity of your site). With ownership of your website’s code comes the freedom to upgrade, add new features, and modify existing ones when desired – making sure your online presence stays up-to-date and working for you.

Potential implications of not owning the code

If you don’t own the code, and something goes wrong, you may be forced to completely redo your website. Unfortunately, that means all of your hard work could be gone for good – and you will only get the content, not the code. Even if the new vendor is willing to provide the exact same design, it conceptually implies that you’re losing out on an agreement where you only get what they give you, or have to pay a hefty fee to “exit” and get the code. No matter which way you cut it, it’s not ideal and should not go without being considered at the outset.

How to protect your website’s code from being misused or stolen

Protect your website’s code from misuse or theft with source control software and by taking security measures such as utilizing jump boxes for access control and the principle of least privilege. When opting for a source control provider, find a trusted source – one that you can trust to store your source securely, and back up your source regularly. Remember to roll out cyber security measures on all of your systems, including those being used for a website code project. Doing so will ensure that the source is always safe and secure from malicious parties.

Ways to manage your website’s code ownership and intellectual property rights

Website code ownership can be an intimidating subject to wrap your head around, especially as you’re just starting out in web development. It’s important to ensure that all proper protocols are followed and that your intellectual property rights are safeguarded. One of the most effective ways to manage these concerns is by drafting a Terms of Service Agreement that outlines any agreements between the website owner and anyone involved in the development of its code. Moreover, check out, which offers several helpful resources on navigating intellectual property rights and understanding ownership stakes when it comes to your website’s code. With all these amazing tools at our disposal, managing your website’s code ownership and IP rights doesn’t have to be a daunting process!

If you paid someone to create your website, then you likely own the code.

In most cases, if you paid someone to create your website then you likely own the code. But it’s always wise to remember to check your agreement as this could vary depending on what you and the developer have agreed upon.

If you created your website yourself, then you likely own the code.

If you want to own the code of your website, then the best solution is to base it on an existing open-source platform and hand code the rest from scratch yourself. That way, open-source code can be used and adapted as needed, and you guarantee that you own all of the code at the end. It may take a lot more time than using web building platforms, but in this case you really do get out what you put in – having complete control and ownership of your website’s code.

If you used a free or paid template to create your website, then the template owner likely owns the code.

This is no always as straightforward as you may think. While website code ownership might seem like an obvious answer – it’s yours – this is not always the case. If you are using website builders such as Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, or Bigcommerce – or even more specialized SASS platforms – to create your website, then chances are that the software provider also owns some portion of the derived website’s code. Knowledge of website code ownership can be tricky to grasp depending on how you create your site which makes knowing the answer even more essential for protecting digital assets. Plus, you you want to move your site, you might need to recreate quite a bit to make it work on another platform.

If you used a free or paid theme to create your website, then the theme owner likely owns the code.

If you didn’t just write your website from scratch, chances are that the person or company who created the theme or template you used owns the code. That means, as a website owner, it’s important for you to check licence agreements and take a look at what rights different vendors provide in terms of code ownership. Even if you paid for a theme, be aware of who retains the ultimate right to make edits and updates. Ignorance is not bliss – finish your research before choosing a website design! Certain vendors search the internet for unlicenced mods of their themes, so make sure you have the right to use it. For example you inherited the site from a previous vendor, they might have a theme licence, and not you.

If you used a free or paid plugin to create your website, then the plugin owner likely owns the code.

Plugins and extensions can have very different support licences and rights to upgrade, so it’s important to check each one separately. Unfortunately, plugins often come with an ‘agreement’ that gives the plugin owner ownership of your site’s code instead. So if you used plugins or extensions to create your website, then the chances are that the plugin owner actually holds the right to own your website code.

If you used a free or paid service to create your website, then the service owner might owns the code.

When it comes to your website, could someone else actually own the code? Well, if you paid for or used a free service to create and run your website – then the answer might just be yes. It’s important to check the details as different services will have their own terms of use and agreements about what happens to your data, including any code that is created. If someone does own this code – then you could be in an awkward spot with no control over what they can do with it. So make sure you take preventative measures before you set anything up – because ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to digital assets.

If you purchased a pre-made website, then the website seller likely owns the code.

If you bought a website, don’t assume you own the code. Chances are the seller still has intellectual property rights to the code they wrote and designed. The same may apply if you had someone else build your site – ownership of the code could belong solely to them. Make sure to review contracts, agreements and other legal documents before signing up for any service. That way, you won’t end up in an unpleasant surprise later on when it comes to who owns what!

If you received a refund for your website, then the person who issued the refund likely owns the code.

It’s rather unlikely that you own the code of your website, when you received a refund for it. It pays to check the agreement before purchase, as this is usually where the rights to ownership are specified. Even if you pay upfront, it’s often written in small print that the person issuing the refund is likely the one who’ll retain ownership of the website code. Be aware of any fine details before signing off on an agreement again!

If you cancelled your website subscription, then the vendor who issued the refund likely owns the code.

If you’re considering cancelling your website subscription, be aware that SASS providers generally don’t provide ownership of the code. Instead, you will have a grace period to move your data and content away before your subscription term officially ends; however, when the contract is done, the code doesn’t get transferred. So long as you possess a backup of your content and files, that’s all well and good – but if you were hoping that SASS services would inadvertently include permanent rights to the code as well, then you may need to think again.

If you transferred your domain name away from your original registrar, then you likely own the domain if you paid the new registrar.

When it comes to domain ownership, one key factor that matters is ownership transfer. If you transferred your domain name away from your original registrar, then there’s a very good chance you still own the domain again as long as you paid for the domain with the new registrar. However, it should also be noted that different countries have different rules when it comes to domain ownership, so if you wish to find out for sure whether or not you actually own the domain name in question, it might be wise to check with a domain registrar in the country where domain laws are of interest.

Quick summary of open-source licences

When it comes to websites, there are a variety of open-source licenses determining ownership for the code companies create and distribute. BSD license, MIT license, GNU General Public License, Apache License 2.0 and ISC are among the most commonly encountered. Each one holds distinct features that make them unique from each other and therefore it is important to understand which best suits your company’s needs when developing your website. BSD allows for reuse and modification without attributing the original author or licensor; MIT does not have as many restrictions; GPL grants further permission/rights; Apache License 2.0 permits patent protection and ISC covers basic copyright permissions. Picking the right license depends on how much control you want over how others reuse your code.

Taking ownership of the code of your website is essential for ensuring that your information remains, yours, is secure and protected from misuse or theft, or exposed to licencing issues. By understanding who legally owns the code, you can make informed decisions about protecting it, managing it, and maintaining control over your valuable intellectual property. Not only does owning the code give you greater control over its use, but it also offers many tangible benefits such as increased flexibility with website updates and improved security protocols. If you’re unsure whether or not you own the code of your website, make sure to do some research or get help from a web development expert who can advise you on the best course of action. Get in touch today if you need help with getting website code you own, so that you can ensure that your content remains yours alone!



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