Common sense suggests that if you hire a Web developer to build your site, whatever they create belongs to you. But that isn’t always the case.
According to U.S. copyright law, if you hire a Web design firm as an independent contractor, that design firm owns all of the content that it creates. In a case such as this, the law treats the contractor as an “author” and automatically grants them ownership of the work. Even if your business works together with a design firm on your Web site, the design firm might be able to claim joint ownership of the site’s design and content. Obviously, this could create a major problem for your business.
Make sure your contract or agreement with your design firm includes a clause that assigns the ownership of the firm’s work to your business. This agreement must be in writing — oral copyright assignments aren’t enforceable. Most standard Web development agreements assign the copyright to the client, but you should always make sure the assignment clause gives you complete, unquestioned ownership over every aspect of your Web site.
There is a notable exception to this rule: If one of your employees builds your Web site, then your business owns that work. If you’re not sure whether a Web developer qualifies as an employee or as an independent contractor, however, play it safe and require them to sign a copyright assignment form.