Something which comes as a surprise to many people is that even after you have paid designers for your design and the website you will not own the copyright unless you have a written assignation (transfer of ownership rights) – because in this situation the copyright belongs to the creator, even though they’ve been paid to do the creating. There can be exceptions, most notably if the creator is working under an employment contract, in which case the employer would normally own the copyright. Sometimes a designer may subcontract work to a third party, not an employee. In that case the third party would have the copyright and any transfer to you by your designer would be worthless unless the designer has had the ownership properly transferred to him or her.
Why is this important? Copyright gives the creator rights to control the use or commercial exploitation of the work that he or she has created. So the designer would have a right to authorise or prohibit the copying, issuing of copies, renting or lending, performing, showing, playing, broadcasting or adaptation of whatever he or she has created for you. This can be a problem if you wish at a later date to have another designer develop your brand or website. Perhaps more importantly, not securing your copyright can seriously weaken the value of you brand when the time comes when you wish to sell or franchise the business, bring in investors or partners or in fact take any action where the brand’s value and security is likely to be a concern to other parties. They will not look kindly on the designer being in a position to inhibit the business through exercising their legal ownership rights, should they wish to do so, including being able to name their price for a retrospective transfer of ownership.
Like so many business relationship issues, this is better to be raised early on in your discussions with the designers.
Nothing in this awareness article is intended as legal advice. If you have a specific legal requirement or query you should consult a solicitor directly.