Copyright vs. client
December 12, 2007 6:55 AM   Subscribe

How tough are copyrights on website design and content, if a client asks you to re-use content?

Website X is hosted and maintained by BellSouth. My company has been contacted by X to attempt to host their site on our own servers, but BellSouth will not grant their client or us FTP access.

Company X has the idea of buying a new domain name and my company re-using content to launch Website Y. This content is currently on Website X.

However, Website X is copyrighted 2007 by a company called Media Ventures, LLC which appears to have been bought or is a subsidiary of, drum-roll, BellSouth.

Has anyone encountered anything like this? If it's content on the company that they wrote themselves, and their own photos they took, shouldn't we be able to do this?

(Side question: I took a media law class in college, before websites hit their stride - I'd love some updated media law book suggestions.)
posted by fijiwriter to Law & Government (10 answers total)
This sort of thing is the responsibility of your client and their legal representation, not your company.
posted by nathan_teske at 7:00 AM on December 12, 2007

If Company X originated text and photos that they created in-house or bought full rights to, then X owns the copyright on that content and can use it wherever they want. If they have contracted to have this material hosted on a templated website put together by MediaVentures, MV can own a copyright on the design of the site, but not on the Company X-owned materials. If X terminates their hosting contract with MV/Bellsouth, they can use their own content on a site hosted elsewhere, so long as they do not steal MV's design scheme. Depending what their contract with MV says, MV may have no obligation to grant access for X to pull their material off MV's servers. So X would need to provide your company that material from their own files. Since they wrote it and provided it in the first place, presumably they have it in their records.
posted by beagle at 7:11 AM on December 12, 2007

IANAL but a lot of web companies put their copyright on work they create, when they have no actual right to do so.

Its my understanding that in the US 'work for hire' belongs to the person paying for it, not the creator. If the text/image was created by company X then they own the copyright and may own the copyright to the design/layout - you shouldn't have much trouble moving it.
posted by missmagenta at 7:13 AM on December 12, 2007

Work For Hire is more complicated than that. When produced by non-employee outside contractors, works only qualify if they fall into one of nine categories laid out in the statute and if there's a very clear signed agreement beforehand which says something along the lines of "this is a work for hire and will be owned by the client." Frankly, it doesn't look good for your client.
Not legal advice. You know, because it's a link to Wikipedia.
posted by Partial Law at 7:28 AM on December 12, 2007

Lots of crap advice here. Whether the web page was a work made for hire and whether the company owns it are independent questions, which are dependent on the facts and agreements related to the development of the website. Get real legal advice, not bad advice from people on the internet.

posted by iknowizbirfmark at 7:36 AM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Something to consider: Your client will get penalized by Google for using the same content on two websites at the same time.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 7:55 AM on December 12, 2007

You can re-use Company X's own content, photos, etc, for certain. But if the website was designed by somebody who does not work for Company X, that's where you hit the legal stuff and where you need legal advice. I personally am a web designer/developer and my deal is: you pay me to create a site for you, then you own the site. But I know that's not everybody's deal. (Smarmy bastards.)

If you can't get the design: Bellsouth is being paid by someone to host/maintain the site, presumably by Company X. If you build a new site elsewhere, Company X should stop paying Bellsouth, and they'll take the site down. Then you don't have to worry about Google problems, or confusion.
posted by iguanapolitico at 8:39 AM on December 12, 2007

Seconding iknowizbirfmark. There seem to be some pretty detailed issues at work in your situation. If even modest amounts of money are involved in the deal, don't feck around -- a knowledgeable lawyer will be worth the cost.
posted by GPF at 9:31 AM on December 12, 2007

Best answer: Before talking to a lawyer, it would probably be helpful to review the contract between Company X and Media Ventures, LLC. If the contract was done intelligently, then it should spell out how Company X can re-use the website content written by Media Ventures (and may in fact resolve the "work for hire" issues others are speculating about).

If it wasn't done intelligently, the document will at least frame the issues for the lawyer and/or others trying to resolve the issue.

Until you look at that contract, this is all speculation.

It also sounds like the original questioner is being hired by Company X. Is Company X representing that they "own" the "website" (content, templates, etc.)? Are you afraid of being sued by BellSouth or Media Ventures, LLC for copyright infringement? If that happens, will Company X indemnify you for following their directions? If that's a real concern, you should check YOUR contract with Company X, too.

Like iknowizbirfmark, IAAL, IANYL. Handy acronym.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 9:45 AM on December 12, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks - I'm letting my company know that this could get touchy, and not worth the headache.
posted by fijiwriter at 10:53 AM on December 12, 2007

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