Avoid being held hostage by your Web designer

By Mikal E. Belicove|For Entrepreneur.com|January 4, 2010

Recently, I received an e-mail message from a reader of my Entrepreneur magazine column inquiring whether I could help her company gain access to source code that a third-party programmer had created on their behalf and is being used to run certain areas of her company’s website.

Her company had hired a Web design and programming firm to create her company’s website in 2008, which includes an e-commerce-enabled shopping cart containing customized code that she had already paid the developer for. Now, one year later, she wants to move the website to her own server and have it managed by one of her own employees. However, in order to receive 100 percent of the files required to run the site, her company has no choice but to pay an additional fee. Why? Because the site is hosted by the developer, and, she agreed to the following terms when the site was built:

Unless other contractual arrangements are made beforehand, you will not be receiving any source code or files containing code of any kind from us other than what is stipulated here: You can request a CD or ZIP file containing and limited to: “.swf”, “html”, files for purposes of backing up your site. Unless specific arrangements are made these files cannot be altered, adjusted, decompiled or changed in any way. If you remove and edit or otherwise obtain files not given to you by us you are in direct copyright and contractual violation.

The website design firm further stipulated:

I understand that the source code for all projects belong to and are copyright of (Name of Design Firm). Source code is defined as all project files, executable code, source files and materials used to create the framework of the project. [In the event that (Name of Design Firm) is not able to provide service or future updates, we will negotiate a flat fee for any source files. This fee will be 50% of the total hours spent on the creation of source files. Source files will include fla, swf and a copy of the store.]

You may be asking yourself, why on earth would anyone agree to such limiting terms? If you were in the company owner’s shoes and had never owned a business or had a website built for your business, you might fall into a similar trap. Feeling pressured to sign a deal, eager to see the vision for your site come to fruition, or assuming the developer knows best you may unwittingly hand complete control of…

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