We are a non-profit organization which paid a software/website developer to design a business website. We have the bill of sale, but there is no mention of who owns the code. In addition, neither the developer nor our organization has a copy of the original agreement which supposedly accompanied the bill of sale. My sense is the fact there no written agreement can be found - by either party - means there was no agreement.
The website has been successfully used, but the developer has been increasing difficult to deal with and service support issues have been growing in number. Recently, the developer asked if we would be interested in "selling the license back" to him so he could market it. We have thus far refused since we see the potential of the website, too.
Because of the poor service and response time we're receiving - in addition to what we consider unreasonable costs of upgrades and fixes - we would like to move the "care and feeding" of the website to another provider who is familiar with the language. The question is: Who owns the source code? We own the license and the fact the original developer has asked us to sell it back to him leads me to believe WE own the source code.
Without access to the source code, another service/support provider cannot fully evaluate their ability to take over as the "caretaker."
Again, there is NO written agreement regarding ownership of the code, but we clearly own the license.
Can we legally seek another service/support provider?
1 Answer from Attorneys
Under United States copyright law, absent a written assignment to the contrary, the developer continues to own the code to the website, and you have been granted an implied license to use it. Without specific terms regarding your rights associated with the license, your ability to expand its use to allow for third party service provider access and use may be limited or non-existent.
If you would like to discuss your situation with me further, feel free to contact my office.