by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
According to recent statistics, about a fifth of Australian businesses have a Web site. Most of them probably believe that the Web site belongs to them. However if they retained a Web designer or programmer to help them with the site, it may not be quite that simple!
Like other modern multimedia, a Web site contains several different types of potentially copyright material, such as text, photographs and graphic designs. If these were each created by different people, there could potentially be a number of different owners of copyright to the Web site's contents.
If you are creating a Web site and you want to make sure that you own all of its contents, you will need to make this a condition of your agreement with anyone who helps you with the site. If they won't agree to that, ask if they will agree to make you a joint owner of the copyright, or as least make sure that they will not place any unacceptable restrictions of your licence to use their material (for example, make sure they will allow you to move your Web site to another Web host).
As always with the law, there are a few exceptions to the principles outlined above. For example, material that an employee produces normally belongs to their employer, so a special agreement with the employee to that effect would not be necessary. Also, some Web designs are too simple to attract copyright protection, although the dividing line can be difficult to judge even for lawyers.