Who Owns My Website?

"Who owns my website?"

This is a question web design companies often hear from clients.

We get it, we would want to know this as well. 

You want to feel secure.  

Our goal as a web design company is to address any website ownership questions that you might have. 

It may sound simple, but it is actually quite complicated. 

Websites are built with varieties of assembled parts. 

It may come as a surprise to you when you begin to learn who legally owns each part. 

We have included a list of website terminology below, that we hope, will answer some of the questions you might have concerning website ownership.  

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Doesn't ownership feel amazing? 

It gives you peace of mind, right? 

Listed below are parts of your website that you do own: 


The two building blocks for almost all websites are HTML & CSS. 

Javascript is programming which may change the HTML and CSS as one communicates with the website. 

  • Website creators should make sure to provide you with an agreement that explains HTML/CSS/Javascript ownership upon completion and final payment of project. 
  • Otherwise, unless either you or your employees allowed it, it is owned by the one who created the website and is licensed to you.


A combination of layout and presentable graphical assests like colors, photography and typography used to create user interface, videos and images, and readable content of the website. 

HTML/CSS/Javascript contains information intended to display these assests so that the browser will be able to render the website on your screen. 

  • An agreement giving website visual design ownership should be given to you once the project has been completed and final payment has been made.
  • Otherwise, unless you or one of your employees created the designs, the creator owns it and will have to be licensed to you. 


This is simply the text that can be formatted, is readable, search engine indexable, and can be copied and pasted in the browser. 

  • You will have ownership over your text content if either you, or your employee, authors the content. 
  • If this is not done, the website creator will be the legal "author" of the website's content. 
  • Whoever created the website should provide an agreement explaining website content ownership upon completion and final payment of project. 


Did you take the pictures? 

If so, you own this. 

Whether it be the entire or part of digitized photographs that are being used on a website either as part of a log, slideshow, gallery, user interface, video, or any other visual design assest. 

  • If you, or your employee captures the photographs, you will be considered the owner. 
  • Otherwise, only a license to others' photography will be given. Remember to keep a record of that license.
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Ever wondered what parts of a website that you do not own? 

Listed below are the ones that you do not have ownership of: 


What exactly is a web server?

A web server is the Web Server Platform that acts as a host to your website. 

You do not typically have ownership of this. 

  • Data centers own your web server and lease it out to you or your web vendor for almost all hosting services. 
  • If you purchased your own website server, you will obviously be the owner, but remember, this will usually be cost prohibitive to maintain. 


System software running on the server is what this is. 

Some common examples include LAMP (Linux Apache Mysql PHP), Windows IIS + ASP.Net, and Microsoft SQL Server. 

  • You will never have ownership over this.


This is a web application used to manage the administration of the content on your website. 

WordPress, Drupal, and Shopify are some great examples. 

  • The only way that you own your CMS is if you are the author of your own source code and have written it yourself. Very common to all software. Do you own a software company? If not, you do not own any of the software on your computer. 
  • The Content Management System (and all other software) is owned by those who have created it and is licensed to you.
  • Custom programming that has been written on top of a Website Platform may be something that you can own. Complications arise though with Open-Source platforms because of the GNU General Public License.               


What is the source code?

It is the programmed code designed in the Web Server Platform's language containing the logic and connectors to the other software that is also running on the server. This code will be able to communicate with those outside integrated servers as well. The source code initiates the HTML/CSS/Javascript so that the browser renders it to your screen.   

  • The only way you will own your source code is if you, or your employee, authors it. 
  • Otherwise, the creator owns it and it will be licensed to you. 
  • "Work for hire" is something that could be specified in the agreement provided to ensure that you own the website source code once the project has been completed and final payment has been received. This may get complicated with proprietary and Open-Source platforms because of Intellectual Property and the GNU General Public License
  • "Control" of the source code is the most critical concern when it comes to contracting custom  development and is most likely amendable by using open-source platforms.


The computer software used to look at websites is known as the browser. Some examples are Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Opera. Browsers display rendered websites which include the HTML/CSS/Javascript and all other visual design assests. 

  • This is something that you will never own. 


The Domain Name will appear within the address bar of the browser. This is the part of the website URL that is memorable as well as identifiable. Search engines index it, display it in most marketing, and remember it as part of the brand. 

  • Did you know that you do not actually own a domain name even though you are considered a registered domain owner? 
  • Having a contract with the domain registrar gives you "ownership" of the domain. This is similar to having a contract with a telephone company for a number. 
  • Wikipedia says that "...domain name registration with a registrar does not confer any legal ownership of the domain name, only an exclusive right to use." 

Legal Side of Owning a Website

  • Here's the reality, you wil never legally be able to own the domain name, CMS, web platform, web server platform, database software, or the language used to construct your website. 
  • Owning the web server that hosts your website will not be very likely.
  • A license to use the Intellectual Property of the website creator and/or the platform used to build it will be given to you. 
  • If you have programmed the website yourself, or have a "work for hire" agreement, you are the owner of the website source code. 
  • Are you the author of your own content? Did you design the interface? Take your own photographs? Create your own graphics? If so, you will be the owner of all the website "visual design" and content.

Owning Your Website: "Finished Assembled Work"

The "finished assembled work" is the terminology that matters the most. 

This can be defined as the HTML/CSS/Javascript, visual design, and text content rendered by the Browser. 

You will be able to save and store the entirety of finished assembled work. 

Wanting to rebuild?

This can be done on any website platform. 

Remember to keep your eyes out for contractual terms defining "finished assembled work" and stating that you own the website's "finished assembled work" once you have completed the project and made the final payment. 

MaLInda HOstetler

Malinda is a Content Creator/Web Designer @ Troyer Websites, a full service Web Design & Marketing Firm located in Orrville, Ohio. 

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Jonas Troyer

Jonas Troyer is the founder and owner of Troyer Websites, a full web-design and SEO company based near Orrville, OH. When he's not working on a website, you'll probably find him in a treestand hunting, in a boat fishing, or wishing he was. Reach out to him if you need help with your website.

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