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The Legalities of Your Web Site, Part 1

Creating a Web site? Don't get caught off guard--here are the first five things to consider before signing a contract with a Web designer.

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Before lining up an expert to develop your Web site, consider the following:

The firm's reputation. There's no shortage of people and firms offering Web site development; some are excellent, but some are fly-by-night outfits eager to take your money and run. Find out where the company is located, get referrals, and check out Web sites they've created. For a major project, have two or more firms submit proposals.

Specifications. Asking someone to develop a Web site for you is just as complicated as asking someone to build you a customhouse-and furnish it, too. Be as specific as possible during your meetings-include functional specifications, such as the site's loading speed, whether it's compatible with Web browsers customers might use, and whether users will be able to place orders online. Before signing a contract, work with the developer to draw up specifications that include sketches of the site's design and functions of the various buttons.

Domain name. It's important to ensure that the domain name you choose is registered under your business name, not the Web site developer's. The easiest way to accomplish this is to register it yourself. It's a simple and inexpensive process that can be done online at http://www.networksolutions.com

Intellectual property rights. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, all rights to a created work belong to the author or creator unless otherwise provided in a contract. Since a Web site counts as intellectual property, be sure to address the question of rights before it's created. One way to address the problem is by specifying in the contract that the project is "work for hire," which means the product created belongs to your company. A second option is to let all rights remain with the designers during the development process, with a provision in the contract that they'll transfer all rights to the content and HTML to your company upon completion of the project.

Licensing of software. A typical commercial Web site might contain "java scripts" that make your trademark dance across the screen, interactive features that enable the user to communicate with the company or purchase products online, or a custom-designed "shopping cart" that the developer wants to use for other clients. The computer programs that make these features possible might belong to the developer or, more likely, to a software company. Have the designer help you obtain licenses to use any necessary software so you can move your site to another host if you choose. Make sure you get copies of the software along with your Web site files.