When you hand over your hard earned cash for goods or services, it’s always nice to know exactly what it is you are buying. You need a new t-shirt, you buy one. This t-shirt is yours to wear as you please. The same unfortunately can’t be said about web sites.
I have had the difficult experience of trying to fix up websites for clients where they have been disappointed with the work of their current designer, or their current designer is uncooperative or non-responsive. What makes this impossibly frustrating is when the existing web designer has locked up the back end of the site so only they can view and edit source code. There may be valid reasons for this, but my suspicion for why many designers choose to do this is far more sinister. They do this as a means to trap their clients. These designers will insist that every single change to any copy or images must go through them. This is might work, assuming the designer is quick to respond and implement the changes, but what if this designer takes days or even weeks to respond to an email or return a phone call? Your web presence suffers, big time.
Here is a breakdown on what aspects should be owned by you when it comes to your web site:
Domain Name – This can’t really be ‘owned’ per se, but it should be registered in your name and you should be able to update the nameservers and DNS of the domain at will. If a designer or hosting company insists on registering this in their name then you need to be asking some serious questions.
Source Code of your Web Site – This is the big one, and where things get tricky. I work on the basis that my clients are paying me to build something for them and upon completion of the project we will both own what I have created. They will be able to change the source code as they please should they wish to and I reserve the right to reuse certain aspects of the code in future projects or for use in my portfolio. I believe clients should never be prevented from accessing or changing the HTML/CSS of their sites.
Images and Text – Clients will always own their copy (text) and images (provided they have created these images or purchased them from stock photography sources).
CMS and other Software – Chances are there will be components of the website not created by the designer. Content management systems such as WordPress or Joomla are open source tools and are owned by the community as a whole. The usage rights of these programs depend on their individual licences, although a web designer shouldn’t in any way limit or restrict a client’s access the their sites back end or CMS admin panel.
As a web designer I believe I am working on the client’s behalf to create THEIR web presence. Without the client there would be no work, so for me to insist on withholding the source code from clients seems a bit unfair.