Who Owns Your Website?

You might have seen the recent story about the lawsuit over the website “Sammy and the City”.  The site was created by the dog’s owner, his sister, and his now ex-girlfriend.  The site contains stories, pictures, and videos of the little dog as he and his owners visit various landmarks in and around Manhattan.

Several months after Scott and Anna split up, Anna changed the passwords on the site, preventing Scott’s access.  Scott filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Anna and has had to launch another site about Sammy.  Her claim is that she created the content of the site – photos, videos, etc. even though Scott is the owner of the dog.

So what implications does this have for us pet professionals and our websites?  You could be in good shape, or you could be in a vulnerable position, depending on how you’ve set up your site. 

First – do you own your domain name and know where it’s registered?  If your webmaster or website management company purchased the domain for you during the initial set up, is it in their name rather than yours?  If so, get it transferred to your name immediately.  Start by contacting your webmaster to find out where your domain name is registered.

Second, is your website’s hosting account in your name or someone else’s?  If the site goes down and the account is not in your name the hosting service will not help you trouble shoot the problem.  Our Behavior Education Network site crashed a while back on a weekend, and even though our webmaster knew what the problem was, the hosting company would not allow either of us access to the account because it was under the name of the reseller who managed my hosting account.  He was out of town, so we spent a miserable weekend with the site down and unable to do anything about it.  All hosting accounts are now in our names!

Did you personally take all the photographs that are on your site or did they come from other sources?  If they are not your creations, do you know if you have the full legal rights to use them?  Are they royalty free?  If you display photographs or videos of your clients or customers, did you have them sign a release giving you permission to display them on your site?

Do you have any written content on your site that you copied from another site without that site owner’s permission?  Too many people these days ignore intellectual property guidelines and think that it’s OK to copy any content published on the web.  Not true.

Does an employee have sole access to source files that make up your site?  Perhaps one person in your business is in charge of adding content to your site.  If that person leaves your employ or heaven forbid dies will you lose access to important source material because you do not have copies of the information in your possession?

What about back up copies of your website?  Do you know how often your site is backed up by your hosting company?  If you are adding content frequently and your site is only backed up every several weeks you could lose a significant amount of time and content if your site crashes.  And finally, if you rely on a webmaster to add content to and modify your site, do you have ALL the passwords you need to access the “back end” of your site either through cpanel, ftp, or some other method? 

Bottom line – you need to be sure you have complete control and ownership of your website.

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