Who owns your website - you paid a professional web developer to create your website, so you own it. Not necessarily, a Black Country legal specialist is warning businesses.

Kate Legg, an associate in the corporate and commercial department of Higgs & Sons, believes that many businesses may be completely unaware that they don't actually own their website.

"The layout and contents of a website will generally be protected by copyright," she said.

"Under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act, the general rule is that the person who created the work will be the first owner of copyright in it.

"This means where a company commissions a third party to design a website for them, the first owner of copyright in the website will be the web designer, even though the company has paid for this work."

Just as fundamental as the ownership of copyright in the site, is who owns the domain name. Frequently, the registered owner of a domain name will be a services provider rather than the person that operates the site. This may be of little consequence in the short term, but can cause difficulties if a company switches provider or looks to sell the business.

"Often, the registered owner of the domain name will not come to light until discovered as part of a due diligence or grooming for sale exercise," said Kate.

"One of the first things we will check is that the person claiming to own a website is in fact the registered owner of both the domain name and the rights in the site so that those rights can be fully transferred to the purchaser.

"If the rights are not owned by the business, a purchaser will generally insist on the position being rectified before the business will be purchased and this could delay completion."

Kate is advising all local businesses to review their contracts with web designers and service providers in the first instance to ensure that the rights in the site are assigned to the business. The identity of the registered owner of the domain name should also be confirmed.

* To find out more or for specialist e-commerce advice contact Higgs & Sons' Corporate and Commercial department on 01384 342100.