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Who Owns Your Website & All Its Content?


So you need a new website built. You go to an experienced web development agency and want a custom, fully functional, and purpose-built site designed to achieve your specific goals. But when it’s all said and done, who owns your website or the final product?

Underneath the beauty of a modern website lies several layers of complexities, making it difficult to say with any degree of certainty which parts of your website you own.

A website is not just one thing—it’s a domain name tied to a host with software that runs a theme to display your digital content. 

So, which part is really yours, and does that matter?


First, in determining who owns your website, let’s look at a few ownership rules of thumb.


Web Ownership Rules of Thumb.

If you subscribe to it, you do NOT own it.







If you subscribe to it, you do NOT own it.

You lease your domain name, and space on a server to host your site, and you pay yearly for premium plugins.



Check your contract.






Check your contract.

You may have paid a developer to write some code for you, but if you’re licensing it, you’re paying to use it. You can’t take it to another developer or modify it without the developer’s involvement.



Open Source exceptions.






Open Source exceptions.

You don’t own it, but neither does anyone else. Open-source software allows you to have community developer support with the freedom to make it your own.




This infographic helps illustrate the three points listed above. We’ll take a look at the Advantages of Open Source Software further down in this article.

See the color key below and at the bottom of the image.

Red = You do NOT own this.

Green = You DO own this.

Blue = Open Source.

Infographic color-coding things one owns and doesn't own on a website.




Next, let’s take a look at what you don’t own.


Icon representing the world wide web.


Domain Name.

You do NOT own your domain name.


The Domain Name appears in the address bar of your web browser. It is universally understood by web servers and online organizations and provides all the pertinent destination information.


It’s important to understand that being a registered domain owner does not mean you legally own your domain name. Much like the contract you have with your wireless carrier for a phone number, you have a contract with the domain registrar that gives you the exclusive right to use it for a specified time.

Buying a website domain is similar to making a rent payment on an apartment lease. The Domain Name Registrar is the service provider, like GoDaddy or BlueHost, from which you purchase the rights to use your domain name for a specific amount of time.



Graphic representing an internet browser.


Web Server.

You typically do NOT own your web server.


The Web Server is the computer software and underlying hardware that stores and delivers web pages to browsers. It is the computer running the Web Server Platform that hosts your website.


Modern web hosting solutions typically involve more than one server. However, cheaper alternatives will host several websites (sometimes even thousands) on the same server. But this crowded server space can slow your site down exponentially. 

Usually, you lease the space to host your website from a service provider. You can purchase your own website server, but this is not cost-effective in most cases, even for the largest enterprise organizations.



Magnifying glass looking over web source code.


Source Code.

You typically do NOT own your source code.


The Source Code programmed on your website is created in the language of the Web Server Platform. It generates the HTML/CSS/Javascript and contains the logic and connectors to other software running on the server. 


The frontend source code used to build modern websites typically integrates from a templating framework like Foundation or Bootstrap. In this case, the source code is owned by the creator and licensed to you.

Alternatively, the custom code (whether themes or plugins) from an expertly engineered GTMA website built on an open-source platform, like Drupal or WordPress, is yours to own. There may be instances where clients license the code from a developer, but this is rare, especially when building on open-source tools.

Tip: WordPress has the best admin user experience with ready-made themes and templates that improve cost and turnaround time. For the larger, more elaborate projects, Drupal has become the leading enterprise-level CMS platform.



Internet browser with a gear icon representing a content management system.


Content Management System (CMS).

You do NOT own your CMS.


The Content Management System (CMS) is the web application used to manage the administration of your website content.


The same respective ownership rules apply here as well. Unless you are a software company, you do not own any software on any computer. This also applies to the programming code, database software, and web server platform on which your website runs.


Advantages of Open Source Software.

Infographic representing four benefits of open source software.


Maintained by an invested community.

You get the advantage of a community of developers dedicated to maintaining and improving the software. Regular updates that add features, security patches, and performance improvements happen often in more popular open-source projects.


Make it do what you want it to do.

You can extend, change, and modify it to fit your needs. There are guidelines for this and requirements of open-source licensing, but the point is not to keep you from using someone’s code, it’s to keep you from taking credit for someone else’s work. As long as you attribute the code properly, you’re good to go.


Build your team with confidence.

Popular open-source platforms have larger communities, which means you have more options if you need to change or grow your team. If you have a bad experience with a particular developer or are growing so fast you need to add more amazing developers to your team, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with people that already know the platform.


Free, as in free speech, not free beer.

The fact that open-sourced software is open means it’s a place where ideas and innovation flourish. They’re not stuck with one way of thinking, and they update and respond quickly to demands. Will you save money using open-source solutions? It depends, but what you will have is the freedom to do whatever you want with it.




Now, let’s talk about what you should own.


Graphic of a computer window with lines of code.



You SHOULD own your HTML/CSS/Javascript.


HTML and CSS are the building blocks of most websites. It is a universal language that all web browsers understand. Javascript is programming code that may alter the HTML and CSS as users interact with your website.


If GTMA builds your website, you will have ownership of the HTML/CSS/Javascript upon completion and a final payment of the project. Otherwise, your website creator, like Wix or Squarespace, owns the programming and licenses it to you.


Graphic of a canvas with ruler and paintbrush on the side.


Visual Design.

You SHOULD own your visual design.


Visual Design combines the layout and presentable graphic elements like colors, photography, and typography to create the user interface, images, videos, and readable website content.


The HTML/CSS/Javascript contains the information needed to display these assets on your webpage. Your website creator should give you ownership of these elements. 

Tip: If you are in the market for a new custom website, make sure the agreement you sign with the web development agency includes the “finished assembled work” upon final payment and project completion.


Graphic of a page with lines of text.


Text Content.

You DO own your text content.


The Text Content is all the formatted, readable, search engine indexable, copy, and pasteable text displayed on your website.



Your website text content is yours to own if you or an employee authors the content. Similarly, if GTMA handles your website copywriting, it will be yours to own upon completion and final payment of the project.


Icon of camera representing photography.



You SHOULD own your photography.


The photography on your website encompasses all digital photographs used as part of the user interface, slideshow, gallery, video, or other visual design assets. 



You have ownership of your website photography if you or an employee took the pictures and gives the creative rights to the company. If your website uses stock photography, then you are only using the license given to you by the original creator. 

Using custom website photography sets your company apart online by illustrating your brand’s unique story. It also protects you from copyright infringements, as you know you have the right to use them. GTMA’s award-winning production team, web developers, and UI/UX designers work together to organize and execute a successful content collection strategy.



After purchasing a custom website, you need to make sure it stays up-to-date with regular maintenance and server support. Having a team of trusted web developers ready to solve issues and secure your website is crucial. 

GTMA has a variety of maintenance and support packages that also include hosting. Our experienced team of web developers is continuously optimizing to make sure your website is regularly updated, patched, and free of security vulnerabilities.

Included in our maintenance & support packages:

  • Managed hosting.
  • Site performance monitoring and recommendations.
  • Security monitoring and recommendations.
  • Smart caching for faster page loads.
  • Daily backups.
  • SSL certificate.
  • Monthly care report.
  • Automatic image compression and optimization.
  • +Basic Annual Compliance
  • +Full AI Accessibility & Compliance

Contact our Account Services team for more information and to schedule a demo.

A list of services included in our maintenance and support packages.


So if we had to wrap up the topic of, “Who Owns Your Website”, websites should not be seen as a commodity to purchase and own. They’re a platform to connect, sell, and communicate with potential customers, employees, and partners. 


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