[thelist] Charging for copyrights

Andy Budd andy at message.uk.com
Mon Aug 4 06:05:37 CDT 2003

Interestingly we were having the very same conversation at message the 
other week. We had a client who expected to own all the copyright to 
their site and we had to formulate a response.

Under UK (and international law I believe) if you create something you 
own the copyright. It's fair enough if your client want's to buy the 
copyright from you, but you want to be careful when you do this.

First off you need to make sure that you actually own and can sell the 
copyright outright. for instance if you use any third party scripts or 
have hired a freelancer to do work on the site, you probably don't own 
the copyright for these elements. If you reuse code on a number of 
projects you may not be able to sell the copyright outright because 
other people are also using elements of your code.

Also if you reuse code/code libraries, if you sell your copyright you 
won't be able to use them again and will have to start from scratch. 
Depending what you do, recreating al these resumable elements could 
account for a considerable amount of time/budget and this needs to be 
factored in when deciding to sell your copyright.

Next, if you sell your copyright, you'll no longer have any say how 
your work is used. If that client decides they want to set up a 
business selling clones of the website you made them, then tough. If 
you've made them a really cool design and they decide to use that on 
all their marketing material from now on, again it's tough. You'll get 
nothing. The value of a design is much more than the hours you put into 
creating it, so if you're planning to sell your copyright you need to 
take into account all these factors.

I'm sure the gut who created the coke logo was kicking himself al the 
way to the poor house for selling the copyright.

However in my experience, most smaller clients don't actually 
understand what owning the copyright means, so it's worth finding out 
exactly why they want to own the copyright and what they want to do 
with it. Most people think they own the CD's, Videos, books and 
software they have. However they actually own a license. Usually this 
allows you to do most of the things you're likely to want to do with 
this stuff, but you cant alter, reproduce and resell these things for a 
profit. The companies who created these things put a lot of time and 
effort into their creation and don't want to give away their right to 
reuse or make future profits out of their creations.

If they just want the freedom to be able to edit the code/design 
themselves, and it's not too big a deal to you, grant them a license to 
do so. However if they want to stop you using/selling element of the 
site you created for them, or wish to do so themselves then the cost of 
selling the copyright needs to be proportional to the benefit they will 
get out of owning the copyright.


muinar wrote:

> Hi all
> My current contracts state that the customer doesn't own the
> copyrights to her site. This is what I understood was for a long
> time best practice among webdesigners. However, recently I got
> somewhat unsure whether I was the last webdesigner who does not
> sell the rights automatically - I heard from many others that
> do. And I even heard that local courts (Switzerland) are taking
> the customer's viewpoint, claiming that a website is useless to
> them if they don't own it themselves.
> So... how do you handle this? If customer says in the
> negotiations 'I want to own the website, including all the files,
> as well as the original SWFs', Would you simply say 'Sure, you can
> buy them for an additional ... %'? How much? In some of my recent
> offers it was 25 percent.
> I feel this will be an important point in a meeting that I'll
> have in a week. So I'm looking for some food for thought to rebuild
> my own point of view...   ;)
> Thanks a lot for your insights!
> Mike

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