I Don't Own My Website?
David Evans

Recently, a dentist friend of mine was thinking about upgrading his website to improve its appearance and so the site would rank higher on Google. Before committing to any changes, he asked me to review the site, which yielded some surprising results.

We started reviewing the site by looking at the home page and several treatment pages. I noticed that the content on the treatment pages seemed very canned and not individualized, particularly on the cosmetic dentistry related pages. I did some research and was amazed to discover that the content from my friend’s site appeared on about 100 other dentistry websites.

Who Owns the Copyright in My Site?

“Well,” I thought, “Who owns the copyright for this content?” The copyright notice at the bottom of the website indicated that both the website company and my friend—the dentist—owned it. But when the dentist contacted the website company to learn more, the horror story continued. He found out he had no rights to any of the content or design of the site. In fact, he did not even own the domain name of the site. The website company had registered the domain name and retained ownership. Essentially, when my friend decides to expand or improve his site, he has to work with the current website company or start over from scratch.

Don’t Be Held Hostage —5 Important Questions to Ask

Obtaining the maximum benefit from a practice website is a long-term strategy. The site should be continually upgraded and improved over a number of years. If you do not want to be held hostage by your website development company, here are a few key questions to ask.

1. Who Owns the Domain Name of My Website?

The domain name of your website, e.g. www.johnsmithcosmeticdentist.com, is very important for branding your practice. It should appear in all of your marketing materials and brochures. Also, the age of the domain name can influence how high your site ranks on Google. The domain name should be a practice asset, and be completely owned and controlled by the practice. If you are starting out with a new website company, always ask who owns or will own the domain name of the site. If you already have a domain name, you can check the ownership by visiting www.whois.sc. If you are not listed as the “Registrar” of the domain name, then you may have a problem.

2. Do I Have Duplicate Content on My Site?

Customized and individualized website content is essential for creating a unique image for your practice. More importantly, if your content is the same as other websites, then Google is less likely to give your site high rankings. When developing or upgrading your website, always ask whether the content will be unique and whether the same content appears on other websites. You can easily check to see if your content has been duplicated. Simply copy a sentence or two of the content from a page in the site and then Google it. Google will show matches for every other website that has exactly the same content.

3. Do I Own the Design of My Site?

When you contract to have a new website built, find out who will own the graphical images and design. Even if you personally write the content of the site, you need to own the design. If you don’t, moving the website to a different company for expansion may mean the site has to be rebuilt at your expense.

4. Who Pays the Licensing Fees for Photos on My Site?

Many of the photos that appear in dentistry websites are from online photo catalogues that require a licensing fee. Always find out who will own the photos on the site and whether there are any ongoing licensing fees. Some of the larger suppliers of photos, such as Getty Images, are very aggressive about pursuing the owners of websites who use their images without proper licensing fees. Don’t get caught by one of these companies with unlicensed photos on your site.

5. What About Flash and Video Files?

Access to and ownership of the source code for the Flash and video files is essential if you want to transfer data to your website without a hitch. When you contract with a website company for a site that contains Flash, video or both, always find out who owns the rights to the source code. If you do not own the source code, then often you may have to pay to have these files recreated once you decide expand or redesign your site.

By asking a few questions up front to ensure you own all aspects of your site and domain name, you can avoid starting over each time you want to expand your website and online visibility.