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Do you need a written agreement for your website development project?

Advice Written by Stephen Pearne 19 Oct 2017

If you are setting up an e-commerce business, there is nothing more vital to the success of your venture than getting your website right.  This could be the difference between your business being “the next big thing”, or you wasting a lot of your time and money.  We are often asked whether you actually need a written contract in place with a web developer?  Here’s why we recommend to our clients putting a web development agreement in place.

You will want to own the website you have invested in: after all, it could be a valuable business asset in the future.  If you engage a web developer to build it for you, don’t assume that you will automatically own it once it is finished, or that all of the intellectual property rights in the site will be yours.  In the UK (and many  other jurisdictions), the designer, rather than the client, will be the first owner of the copyright and other intellectual property rights – and you will not own those rights unless there is a correctly drafted written agreement transferring those rights to you.

A properly drafted web development agreement will assist your business by ensuring that:

  • you own the copyright and related rights in all aspects of the web pages (including the overall design, any specially written text or graphics, and the coded version of the pages);
  • you will have the flexibility to transfer the website to another designer to complete the project if, for example, the current designer is not performing, or your relationship with them breaks down for any reason;
  • if your e-business is a runaway success and you want to sell it in due course, you will be able to transfer the website to your purchaser down the line.

To get the best out of your relationship with your web developer, you need to have a clear project plan in place and a well-defined specification at the outset.  They need to know exactly what you want, and when you want it done by.  You will want to know what it’s going to cost.  If you don’t do this, then if you end up in dispute with your web developer (for example if they deliver something that is sub-standard, or doesn’t meet your expectations in some way), it comes down to your word against theirs, a situation to be avoided at all costs.  You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand how difficult it is to run a legal case on this basis – and the costs of trying to do so could be significant.

Having it all in writing from the outset can also help to focus your mind on what it is that you actually want, and flush out any problems before they arise.  Basic misunderstandings can be avoided, and both parties know what they are letting themselves in for.

A final thought – even if your website developer has their own terms and conditions, don’t accept them without having them checked by a lawyer first.  They may not be well drafted or deal with the risks mentioned above.  Worse still, they may not give you the copyright and other intellectual property rights in your website, and may tie you to them moving forward.

Contact our e-commerce specialists for expert advice on making sure that your web development project gets off to the best possible start. 

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