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I co-own a web design agency, we're finishing up our first three jobs this week for some smaller, local mom-and-pop shops. Obviously the stakes aren't that high at the moment, but I was curious anyways, especially for future clients:

Is it important to display a copyright notice on my client's website? Something like:

© 2019 My Business, LLC

Fortunately the people we've encountered and worked with thus far as a business have been very pleasant and trustworthy, but I know there are some people out there with ill intent. Does a notice like this somehow help protect us? Could it harm us? It does seem a little strange to be putting our company name on someone else's site.

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It is not critical, however, it can help and it can't hurt. You own the copyright and if you were to take legal action you would need to prove this - the notice is evidence you can use to do so. Note that some jurisdictions (including the US) require registration of copyright before commencing legal action and that damages only accrue from the date of registration.

A more significant issue is: what rights does the website owner have? They may believe that their contract with you involved a transfer of the copyright to them: did it or didn't it or doesn't it say?

  • damages only accrue from the date of registration Does this extend to criminal liability for copyright infringement? Can one not be convicted unless the offending protruded beyond the date of registration? – Greendrake Feb 19 at 7:54
  • @Greendrake The criminal statutes, as I remember, say nothing about registration. However, criminal prosecution appears to be rare in the US in any case. – David Thornley Feb 19 at 16:29
  • Thank you for the response - We don't specify with the client who owns the actual website, which is something I've never really thought about. I'll need to put some thought into that. I'm sure as is, that means we own the website, but I don't know if I want that to be the case with every project, or any project for that matter. – Gage Hendy Ya Boy Feb 19 at 19:14
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In a comment, the OP says:

We don't specify with the client who owns the actual website, which is something I've never really thought about. I'll need to put some thought into that. I'm sure as is, that means we own the website, but I don't know if I want that to be the case with every project, or any project for that matter.

In the absence of a written agreement to the contrary, in a contracting relationship, the author (who would be the contractor) owns the copyright on the work produced.

It is common in this sort of situation for the contractor to retain copyright on the HTML coding, but specify that the client owns any copyrights in the content. It was probably the client's content originally, in any case. If that is the agreement, a notice such as

Site content copyright © 2019 Client firm; Web design and coding copyright © 2019 Super Web Builders, LLC

In such a case it would be helpful if the agreement clearly indicated that the client has a license to use the design and coding, and what that license is. It could be "Non-exclusive and perpetual", it could be exclusive, it could be for a limited term only. The first is probably most common, but it all depends on the agreement of client and contractor. It is best if each party knows exactly who gets what rights.

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