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So you’ve had a website designed some years ago. You were absolutely ecstatic with it but now the honeymoon period has ended. Maybe after talking to other people you’ve realised your web company are charging you a lot to do very little. Or maybe now they’ve received payment for the site they’re no longer responding to your calls and emails with the same speed and enthusiasm that they did at the outset. Whatever, the reason, you’ve decided to change your web designer or web company. You’re thinking, that should be fairly straight forward. Think again. Here I outline some of the issues of changing your web designer. Some are easy to overcome, sadly some aren’t—and are well exploited cash cows for the dubious web design company.

The first and foremost issue is getting control of the domain name (the name that appears in the address bar) and the web hosting (the place where your website physically resides). Because some people are not comfortable setting these two things up themselves the web company will do it for them. Because of this legally the two things are owned by the web company and not you. So if they don’t comply when you ask them to hand it over you have a big problem on your hands.

One of the other problems is the web design contract—or often the lack of it. If you have a contract in place it no doubt states who owns what. Hopefully, if you do have a contract you checked it to make sure you have full ownership to the website and can transfer it to another designer at your will. Don’t assume this is the case; by default the UK copyright laws are weighted in favour of the designer, not the client. Also, in the contract some designers reserve the right to charge an indeterminate amount of money to hand over the site files. That might seem like Dick Turpin in dot–com form but you signed it thereby making it legally binding. If you have no contract at all then by default the copyright for the site belongs to the creator of it, not you. What you’re paying for is the right to use it in the context of your particular site. It’s actually not yours to do with it what you will; you’re also paying for the finished design, not the process. What this means is they don’t need to surrender the source files for the design but you do have the right to get what you paid for: a copy of the website itself. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons why a web company will prevent you from having a copy of the site. If for example, the site runs on an in–house platform that they’ve developed over years they could never give you the source code to all that as it’d be worth a lot of money. If they have any kind of morals at all they would export a ‘static’ copy of the site for you though.

One thing to remember throughout the whole process is be polite and calm. In most cases the web people have the upper hand so as much as you may not like it, it’s best to try and keep in their good books. Losing your temper and being abusive will only make them even more reluctant to cooperate.

So what if it’s clear the web company are trying to hold you hostage? That is, they are deliberately not handing anything over—or are trying to charge you an exorbitant amount for what you think is yours anyway. If you have no contract but have proof of payment you can threaten legal action. If you do have a contract take it to a solicitor to find out what your rights are. Sadly, some companies are so unscrupulous they will hold you hostage to make some easy money but luckily there are very few of these companies.

So for any future projects to prevent problems:

1. Get the domain name and hosting in your own name
2. Insist on a contract—they are there for the benefit of you and the designer
3. Always maintain a good relationship with your web company/freelancer

My standard terms sign over full ownership of the site and its imagery to you, the client, once full payment has been received. The only limitations are that you cannot resell it or claim it as your own—but there’s no reason why you’d want to anyway. I also happily sign over hosting and domains names to the client.

If you’re unhappy with your web designer and want to move to someone reliable give me a call on 07843 483 078 or get a free quote online.

Tim Bennett is a Leeds-based web designer from Yorkshire. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.