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5 years ago my wife and her friend set up a business with no other employees at all until this date. I created the website, backoffice application and database (the data in there is not mine so they put them there) for the business because I didn't want them to pay anyone for those - just a goodwill. I was never paid either. Also there has never been a contract or agreement between us so no legal docs. Now my wife is moving away and her partners wants to take owner the business. The question I have is, am I the legal owner of these three properties or does business own them? I don't want them to be taken away for free and being sold on then I get nothing. All my efforts and time will be lost if you get what I mean. What is my rights and do you suggest? In UK!

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This will depend on the agreement between you and the business. Since you never had a written agreement, there would have to be an implied agreement.

As the creator of the website, you would hold the initial copyright on that site, including its design. If yo wrote the text shown there, you would hold the initial copyright on that, also. (Under UK copyright law, the initial holder is always an individual.) The question is whether you agreed to transfer that copyright to the business, or license it on a long term basis, or neither. Any of those arrangements would be possible, although in providing the site for the use of the business, you clearly contemplated some sort of license if not a transfer of copyright.

Does the site have any copyright notice or statement? If so that might help define whether you retained or transferred copyright.

Pretty much the same thing applies to the backoffice application and the database design. You hold or held the copyright on each, so the question is whether you transferred the copyright or granted a license, and if a license, o what terms, permanent or renewable.

If you take this to court the court will have to guess what unstated agreement you had with the business. That might be unsatisfactory, as it will depend on the detailed facts of the situation.

It will be better if you an the remaining business owner can come to some agreement, and this time put it in writing. You could agree to transfer the copyright, or to ,grant a non-exclusive license on a permanent basis, in return for whatever fee or other consideration yu can both accept.

You could also make an agreement that the business can continue to use them without charge (a license) but if the business is later sold you would be entitled to a fee or a part of the sale price. Or you could agree that they are licensed only as long as the business is run by the friend, but any such license is not transferable to anyone else.

The basic situation is that the copyright cannot be used by anyone without a transfer or a license. But since you knowingly allowed the business to use them, indeed created them for that purpose, you must have granted either the whole copyright or some license. Proving what you really had in mind 5 years ago would not be easy if it was never written down.

Further info

The OP writes in a comment:

There is a T&C page in the website stating that the business owns it although I copied the whole text from other examples in the Internet. Also there is a classic Copyright notice at the footer.

In light of this I wrote:

If you added a copyright notice in the name of the business to the web site, and a T&C page saying that the site is owned by the business, that goes a long way to showing that you, in effect, gave the copyright to the business, and it would somewhat suggest the same for the application and database. You may still be able to make an agreement, but this probably reduces the chance of a court holding in your favor.

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  • Thank you for the explanation. There is a T&C page in the website stating that the business owns it although I copied the whole text from other examples in the Internet. Also there is a classic Copyright notice at the footer. So in short I added all those myself without having any agreements. Just for the sake of making it look professional. When I build all those I said here you go, use it! Not sure if I am on any strong side here at all? Feels like I lost it already.
    – BentCoder
    Aug 3 at 18:29
  • If you added a copyright notice in the name of the business to the web site, and a T&C page saying that the site is owned by the business, that goes a long way to showing that you, in effect, gave the copyright to the business, and it would somewhat suggest the same for the application and database. You masy still be able to make an agreement, but this probably reduces the chance of a court holding in your favor. Another time include a copyright in the name of yourself or a DBA you have, and make a written agreement that is clear. Aug 3 at 18:37
  • Maybe this will be a silly question but what about if I take T&C and Copyright footer out now?! The reason why I am asking is because I put it there without request and I take it out without notice. Not sure if it makes sense.
    – BentCoder
    Aug 3 at 18:40
  • The question is what you agreed to or intended when you built the site. and wrote the software 5 years ago. The T&C and copyright notice are merely evidence of that fact. Removing them now would have no more effect than tearing up a written contract. If the site has ever been recorded by the internet Archive or another archive site, it would be easy to prove that they had once been there. Even if not, testimony could establish it. Then removing them looks like bad faith. That might actually harm any case you have. You had better make a deal or consult a lawyer. Aug 3 at 18:47
  • Yeah, I'll leave it and just try to make both sides happy. No perfect solution. Just a bit of compromise which I am fine with but not the other side as far as I heard. Anyway, I'll have to get on with it. Thank you for your time and help. +1
    – BentCoder
    Aug 3 at 18:54

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