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Our company has a website hosted and created by some company but we don't like the way things are handled so we decided to pull the plug and create & host our own website.

Now the question is:

Is rebuilding this website from scratch (so using nothing of the original code, but looking and functioning the same) considered plagiarism/illegal?

Can the original designing/hosting company sue us or anything if they saw we "took" their website? Even if we can prove we have written it ourselves?

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    @Marian - yes it will. Sometimes we have to wait up to 2 weeks(!) for changing something simple, while having it in our own management would only take max 2 days. The communication with them was terrible and the way they handled customers (us) isn't quite nice.. Jan 15 '15 at 9:22
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    @unor - it's under their management and hosting with their own CMS, we cannot access the server code. Changes have to be done by them. Jan 15 '15 at 9:29
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    @GeenHenk: That might be the current situation, but (depending on your actual contract) you might have the right to get a copy of the site (e.g., as static site, so "only" the content and the design, not the CMS) and host it elsewhere.
    – unor
    Jan 15 '15 at 9:32
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    legal questions have different answers in different jurisdictions. I suggest you tell us where you are, where the hosting company is, and under what jurisdiction the contract is executed if that's defined by the contract.
    – mc0e
    Jan 15 '15 at 14:12
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    Be careful about getting crowdsourced legal advice. I think a lot of what is said here is sensible and may well hold up, but if I were you I would consult a professional. An hour of advice now may save a long battle later - and perhaps a well worded (lawyer's) letter to the current creating/hosting company will be all you need to safely move on.
    – Floris
    Jan 15 '15 at 19:35
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This completely depends on your contract. If you have a contract with them stating they will build a website and manage it for you, but they retain the rights, then no you can not rebuild it. There are two separate issues. One is the code to build the website, and one is the design.

It is the Design related contract that determines if you can rebuild with your own code but make the design the same. If they own the rights to the design, for example, a well known design firm that lets you 'license' their design while under contract, you will not be allowed to use that same design. If however, they have sold you the design during the purchase, you are free to do with it as you like.

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  • The design is ours, our graphic designer team has designed it, their webdevelopers "just" made it show. Whose design is it then? Jan 15 '15 at 11:38
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    It is your design. They made one implementation of it. You can make your own. Jan 15 '15 at 11:43
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    BTW- These types of contracts where the developer holds the rights to the work primarily related to content and not design and function, does not hold up in court. It would be disallowed by any judge under the reasonable man standard. It is reasonable to pay for expertise and assistance in design and function, but not reasonable to own a companies identity, marketing, and content resulting from such a contract.
    – closetnoc
    Jan 15 '15 at 17:04
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Happened to me (designer/coder/hoster) before – and will happen again. My approach always was that it's of course sad to see clients go, but of course it's ok if they take their website with them. And if that means they want to re-write the code but keep the layout I rather feel flattered, than angry.

So my point of view is that your website is your website – even if they designed and built it. It might be concidered unpolite if you'd change logo, layout, design or even changing the cms without first talking to them.

That said you should probably first try to talk to the company that created and hosted your website. Tell them you want to move and take your website with you – and ask them if they have any problem with that or doubts about it. Sooner or later they would find out anyways.

ps: naturally I would answer your question "Is rebuilding someone else's website considered plagiarism?" with 'yes'. But since it's your website things are a bit more complex. So I would recomment you leave out the "someone else's" and shorten your question to "Is rebuilding a website considered plagiarism?". The shortened question in the context you described I would answer with 'No'.

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  • That's the thing, when they find out that we've been rebuilding the site - pulling the plug, cancelling the contract, relocating the domain name, setting our rebuilt website online - will that have consequences? Jan 15 '15 at 9:31
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    Can't vote down, but this misses the core issue: contracts. It's not about 'your' website or 'their' website, it's about who owns the rights to what. Only if the copyright has been explicitly transferred for a work can it be 'yours'. In this case the OP's company made the design themselves, so that's clearly theirs. If the contract transferred the copyright of the code to them then that's theirs as well. If not however then the OP can not even use the HTML of the webpage in the process of rebuilding the site! Jan 15 '15 at 13:51
  • In general I have seen especially bigger clients requesting that code be shared (which is a bit harder contractually if you use your own proprietary frameworks), so they get a license to their own code and bla bla bla (I didn't write up the legal construction, but apparently it keeps both us and our clients happy :P ). Jan 15 '15 at 13:56
  • Depending on the law in your jurisdiction, it might be the case that because it is commissioned work, the copyright is yours by default unless that's modified by contract.
    – mc0e
    Jan 15 '15 at 14:09
  • I agree @David Mulder – it's a question of contracts. Usually you qould have the right to use the 'design' (logo, ci etc.) for your website – no matter what cms you use. So that would not be plagiarism, but correct use of the art work – as long as you don't alter it or 'recycle' the webdesign for print use etc... BUT of course it might be different in your case – but imho that only you and the design/hosting company can know. Jan 15 '15 at 14:49
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In answer to your plagiarism question, since the website is yours there should be no issue. Copyright in the content does not transfer to the hosting company simply because they have provided a means to publish the content. If they have written all the website text, taken all the photos and designed all the corporate branding logos/graphics by themselves then you might have an issue since the Copyright by default sits with the author of the work unless transferred in a contract. Have you read through their terms and conditions of business?


On a side-note to address your concern relating to the consequences of terminating the contract as indicated in your comment to @tillinberlin:

If you are not sure how the news of terminating the contract with your web hosting company will go, and you don't trust them to behave honourably in releasing a copy of your website or ensuring the transfer to another host provider goes smoothly, then you should:

  1. Secure the domain name. If you registered it yourself then you probably have login details to be able to update the registrant (owner) details and change the name-servers, special DNS records that tell everyone on the Internet how to find the server(s) your website is hosted on. If your current hosting company registered this name originally, then you will need to:

    (a) Check via a WHOIS query that it is registered with your name or your company name as the official registrant, and not their company name or someone else's name. If this needs changing then approach this and get it sorted prior to any discussion about terminating their contract. Asking for login details to your domain or asking to transfer your domain name away to another registrar will be a red flag event for them unfortunately so it is always best practice in my opinion to keep domain name registration with a separate company to the one who hosts your website - try to ignore deals such as get a free domain with your hosting!;

    (b) Check that you have exclusive login access to control the domain name on the registrar's (companies that sell domain names) website. Do your login details work? If not get the password reset and make sure you can login, and that noone else has the password. Check that there are no additional users setup to access the domain using email addresses other than your own, remove them if there are!;

  2. Secure a static copy of the website. While it is certainly a pain to have to redo your website an incorporate a new CMS, and SEO can go horribly wrong with all the URL changes, if you have a static copy of the website setup and hosted with your new hosting company then you can change the name-servers to point to their servers, even before they've started working on a new version, and while your current hosting company doesn't even know you will be terminating the contract. WinHTTrack Website Copier is an excellent free tool for taking a static copy of your website.

  3. To rescue your SEO and ensure all your users don't end up reaching HTTP 404 Not Found error pages by clicking on Search Engine search results links, get your new hosting company to setup HTTP 301 redirects for all the URL's that will no longer work and point them towards the newly copied static version of the page (ending in .html). In the unlikely event your CMS used the .html extension on all the URLs you may be able to skip this step, but it is unlikely.

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  • The domain name is ours, the design is ours, just the code isn't. Thanks this made it a lot clearer. Jan 15 '15 at 14:15
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    Having had an experience like this and having had to rebuild an originally CMS-based site back into a dynamic website manually, I now keep clear of any hosting company that promotes or uses their own CMS. Keeping CMS vendor and hosting company separate helps ensure your site can be moved to any hosting company. Changing from one CMS to another CMS is always a big job, so you either want a CMS that is free but very well supported or affordably commercially licensed with excellent support. Jan 15 '15 at 14:21

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