Who owns your website?

Blog / Software Development / Who owns your website?
10/21/2016 | Joel Stephens

Here is a quick primer on why this basic questions is important.  You probably own the source code, database, and other intellectual property of your website.  Few companies get into disputes about that.  The problem is that while you own it you might not have any actual control over it.  Here is how this works.  You hire a company to build your website, they do a great job and through the magic of the internet your website is available to the entire world.  Things are going great, you can login to the admin panel and make changes, e-commerce orders are coming in, life is good.  Then for whatever reason you stop getting along with your website developer.  Not a problem you think.  I'll just kick them out of the website and hire a new web master to take the site over.  

But there is a problem.  While you have the admin username and password for your website you don't actually control the site itself.  All the sudden you realize there is another entity called a web host that actually runs your website.  You call them and explain that abc.com is actually your companies site, and you've paid your web developer to build the website, and now you need control.  So what's the problem?  The web host doesn't care about you at all.  Your web developer is the one who is paying for the hosting and that has the actual contract with the web host.  So when you call the web host they tell you they can not help you.  All the sudden you realize that 3 years ago when your developer setup the hosting agreement they actually became the owner and manager of your web site.  You accidentally gave them control.  I know a lot of you reading this are thinking, but I pay my web developer and then they pay the host.  Sorry, that doesn't work either.  Most web hosts like Rackspace.com, or Amazon are hosting literally 100,000 of websites and really don't care about you.  All they care about is getting paid from someone and keeping the legal nature of the hosting relationship between them and the person paying the bill.  Your desperate pleas for help fall on their deaf ears.

If this isn't make sense to you think about it this way.  You have a friend that leases a storage garage.  You have a boat that you want to store in this garage.  You pay your friend $1,000 a month to store your boat is his garage.  One day you and your friend have a falling out and are not friends anymore.  You ask for your boat.  Your friend ignores your requests to open the garage and let you take your boat.  You call the landlord and say, I need to get my boat. The landlord explains to you that they don't know who you are, they have not agreement with you but they do have an agreement with your friend.  Their agreement with your friend says that they will not let anyone but your friend into the garage.  So essentially they are telling you "tough luck."  That is exactly how it works with web hosts when you don't own the contact.

What is the final result?  We see a lot of clients and potential client's calling us because their old developer actually holds the hosting contract and they can not get access to their website.  So after reading this entire article what is the solution to this problem if you are in it?  Call your developer now while your relationship is good, explain that you would like to pay the hosting agreement directly and discuss what needs to happen to get your name on the hosting agreement.  If your developer is a good one they will work with you to do this.  If they refuse you probably need to start the process of hiring an attorney to get control of your site now.