I have a website and the original web designer says our website contains material copyrighted to and owned by them. They specifically refer to the inner pages. We made minor changes to some inner pages and major changes to others. Can they really copyright the inner page layout of a website?
State/Country relating to question: California
Just received cease & desist notice via email from original web development company.
In theory, yes. A webpage is a visual work of art -- it has graphics, it has choices about layout, and so on. So someone can certainly copyright a page, be it a splashpage or an inside page.
What's puzzling about your question is that you refer to the copyright holder as the original designer of the page. Did that person sell you the page? Do the page as a project for you? etc. Depending on the facts, possibly you have an implicit or explicit license to use the page, to edit it, and so on. Put differently, if you copied the page from a stranger, that would be an easy case. But here it sounds like you had a relationship with the copyright holder or some sort?
Tell me more, if you'd like.
Professor of Law at Top-Tier Law School, specializing in patent & copyright
I paid the original web developer to create my website (custom home page & banner, the inner pages were templates by the company, which I had them make minor changes). I supplied them with all of the pictures for the website. About a year ago we got fed up with them and wanted to have someone else host our website. We were told by them it would have to be re-created due to the copyright (exluding the home page which was a custom design). So we had to pay the new company to re-build our website. Our new website company worked with them in re-creating it too. Now they said we have taken material from them. No inner page is identical to the way it was, but the left banner layout and top banner layout are the same. The functionality is similar. I hope this helps.
1. I'm surprised that, in the original contracts where you paid them to do the design, neither party made clear what would happen if the relationship soured. So, just for futures, keep in mind the importance of writing a contract that covers the possibility of things going bad. It's a shame you've had to deal with the cost and inconvenience of re-doing all this work.
2. Assuming that you don't have an express contract that lets you use this, or an implicit contract that lets you use it, then the question is whether their banner layouts are protected expression; and that would depend on what they look like and whether they are more than just the normal functional things. That said, if their banners are just lame functional things, why not create your own new ones and avoid the fight? Put differently, if their banners are expressive in some artistic way, then they might have copyright and so you shouldn't use them; and if the banners are not, why are you using theirs instead of recreating your own (hopefully better but at least different) banners? If you like the look and such of theirs, that might be a sign that they could also have copyright on them. (If you want to use theirs for some other functional reason -- ie you already have them coded up to run your website -- that's a different story.)
Hope that helps. I'm sorry that you've had this aggravation.
DISCLAIMER: Answers from Experts on JustAnswer are not substitutes for the advice of an attorney. JustAnswer is a public forum and questions and responses are not private or confidential or protected by the attorney-client privilege. The Expert above is not your attorney, and the response above is not legal advice. You should not read this response to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law that might affect the situation you describe. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken with you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction to which your question pertains.
The responses above are from individual Experts, not JustAnswer. The site and services are provided “as is”. To view the verified credential of an Expert, click on the “Verified” symbol in the Expert’s profile. This site is not for emergency questions which should be directed immediately by telephone or in-person to qualified professionals. Please carefully read the Terms of Service (last updated February 8, 2012).