What is Copyrighted

Question: I would like to know if html codes can be copywrited. We recently moved to a new web host and webmaster. When the person that we had been with for 6 years found out we were leaving "strange" things started happening to our website, old images and prices, password protection so our customers couldn't order and other odd things. It affected our business and we had to move quickly.

She wouldn't give us the html code and claims she owns it. She agrees that we own the images, content and graphics. Our new webmaster got our site up and running for us without changing the design (we plan on doing that later). She now is claiming we stole her html code and wants payment for it.

I don't understand this at all.....we paid her the for it when she did the work for us the first time. Why does she feel we need to pay again and that we are stealing from her??? Any ideas?

Answer: As far as I am aware the only part of a web page that is subject to copyright is the content (text and images) and any programs attached to it to allow interacton with users and databases (eg. order form processing). HTML and CSS is just markup of what the text is (identifying headings, paragraphs, lists etc) and how it should be set out on the page and therefore would not be able to be copyrighted (at least in most countries).

Any Javascripts or server side programming associated with the page probably is subject to copyright and your original payment would have licenced its use. This would include any animations, form processing, and password protection. This is the only part where the old webmaster could claim ownership.

Did you have a written agreement when the work was originally done. If so then it should say whether you have the right to use the program parts of the design after moving the site. You might also check for copyright notices in the code. If you don't have anything in writing giving you the right to continue using those parts then your best option is to immediately replace those parts with alternatives that do the same thing simply to avoid the dispute over ownership. Depending on how your new webmaster copied the site they may have already replaced some or all of these with different programs to do the same thing.

Possibly your original payment was for the page design and the old web master allowed your site the use of their form processor etc free while they were looking after the site.

Determining exactly who owns the copyright to what parts of a web page that someone else creates for you depends on a number of factors including whether the work is done as an employee or contractor and also depending on copyright laws that can vary between countries. It is always best when getting someone else to do work on a web site for you to get a written agreement first as to who will own what.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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