Having a website built from scratch is an essential step forward for your business. But before you shell out upwards of tens of thousands of pounds on a custom website created by an experienced website developer, you should look into hiring a lawyer.
Most people that you talk with who have gotten a website built can probably list a plethora of hoops that they needed to go through, extra charges, and delays. It is easy to chalk this up to unprofessional or bad website developers, but often it is not their fault. Those entering into the contract to get their site built are often blindsided by facts that were included in the original brief for the project.
Regardless of whose fault it is, website developers usually host the website on their servers during the development stage. They often limit clients to user access only. If there is a disagreement regarding the implementation of the website brief, the website developer’s primary protection is to bring down the website and block access to it until payment is received. The client’s options are to pay what is owed, pay additional fees to get the work completed or make a legal claim.
Instead of waiting to hire a lawyer when you need some leverage after a website developer didn’t deliver, you can potentially save headache and money by hiring a lawyer up front. It is all too common for people to not only lose control of their website but not fully understand the process. A lawyer can help you identify these sticking points and negotiate a more amicable agreement.
Here are four critical clauses in particular for which you need a lawyer.
Within a web development contract, you are sure to see an intellectual property clause. Intellectual property refers to anything that is created by the developer; things that they have created. An important distinction your lawyer would be able to find in this clause is who owns the intellectual property in the end result of the combination of the ideas and content that originate from you, and the creative work, tools, software and business methods of the developer the content that is designed for you and your website. It will not bode well if you find out months later that you do not own parts or the whole of own the site that you paid for.
The jurisdiction clause of any contract defines where you settle disputes over the agreement. A growing practice among those who need websites built is to find the cheapest option. These options are most often in other countries, what I call “tourism developers.” While you may get your website for a more reasonable price, they are often protected by jurisdiction laws that keep you from taking legal action against the developer if necessary. A lawyer can help with this clause.
No matter how perfect a website brief is, there are always new issues during the project development. All website briefs make assumptions about the behavior of the underlying technology used to design and build websites. These issues mean changes in developer’s obligations. It might also suggest additional cost for you if those changes are outside the initial scope of the brief. You need to be clear to a high degree of specificity what is delivered and what will be a change. You need to manage that the change request. Most website projects go wrong because this clause is missing or not well drafted.
Another aspect of website development that you should have your lawyer look for is who owns the different assets related to the creation of a website. These assets could include a domain name, a hosting platform, analytics data, and even backups. Ensuring that you own these elements will prepare you if you ever need to work with an SEO agency or switch developers.
While it may seem like an unnecessary expenditure to hire a lawyer to get a website built, I can assure you that it is a wise decision. Protecting yourself before you begin the process, will not only help the process go smoother but will most likely save you money in the long run.
Peter Adediran is an award-winning contentious and non-contentious UK Internet Lawyer for small and medium-sized business, entrepreneurs and startups. His practice areas include intellectual property and information rights, as well as modelling and fashion law.