Who owns software developed for your company?

As a company working with software developers, it’s natural to worry about ownership issues, copyright issues, and other legal matters surrounding the software. The question of who owns the software built for your company is a tricky one. However, it is also something you can straighten out much more easily by knowing the right information and knowing a little more about your rights. 

In this blog, we are going to help detangle this issue.

Copyright laws

Anything that is created commercially is protected by copyright laws. Copyright is typically owned by the person who creates any product or system. For example, if you design and launch a clothing line, you own the copyright to those clothes and the designs that created them. It is the same premise for software. 

By copyright laws, software developers own the code that they create. Developers generally retain ownership of any code, design, documentation, or any other assets associated with a development project. If a developer can prove that they created something, then it is their intellectual property unless shown otherwise. 

To share this ownership, the developers can either: 

  • Licence the copyright of the product so others may use it in specific scenarios and conditions, or 
  • Transfer the copyright to another via a legal contract 

Only in the second condition could the software now be considered legally owned by someone else.

The key: the contract 

So, if you are a company contracting a software development company to build something for you, and they own whatever they make, you may not be happy with that. You may want transference of copyright so that you can completely own the app, site, server, or whatever it is. In that case, the key to this problem lies in the contract. 

In every software development project, it is paramount that an adequate and appropriate contract is drawn and agreed upon before any development work begins. In fact, even before any planning or design work begins. 

Having an appropriate contract that details exactly how copyright will work and be transferred is the best way to avoid any potential problems down the line. Making sure you are clear in exactly how you want things to work from the beginning means that everyone will be on the same page throughout the project and beyond. 

Intellectual property is a robust legal entity and it is important that if you want ownership of someone’s IP, you go about it in the right way. Otherwise, you could end up in a sticky legal situation. 

If you want to own the software developed for your company, write an IP transference clause into your contract. Outline how copyright will be transferred explicitly and set rules for this process. Have this contract signed and documented, and move happily on to the rest of your project. Then, you won’t need to worry about IP or copyright problems ever again!

Third-party IP

In the development process of any piece of software, it is likely that third-party programmes and products will have been used. To avoid any further legal situations, it is key to make sure that the licensing requirements of these third-party applications have been met. Intellectual Property cannot be stolen or used inappropriately in this instance either. 

If you are working with a software development company for any project, ask what third-party applications will be used and why. Make sure you get a copy of documentation relating to these products, specifically outlining licensing regulations and how they are being followed. 

Better to have everything out in the open at the beginning rather than trying to cover your tracks at the end of a project. 

To sum up

If a developer makes designs and writes code, they will own that material by the laws of copyright and intellectual property. This means that, initially, any software developed for your company is owned by the developers who created it.

However, you have two good options if you would like this to be changed. You can have the development company licence that software to you so that you may use it in certain situations. This means you can freely use the software as agreed upon with certain parameters without any issue. Alternatively, for more complete ownership, you can organise a transfer of copyright so that your company now owns the intellectual property created by those developers.

For either option, you will need an ironclad legal agreement between contractor and recipient. Before any development work begins, this contract should be agreed upon, drawn up, signed, and documented in a legal manner. Doing so will make sure that everyone is on the same page and no surprise legal issues can occur down the line.

Contracting is paramount within software development projects, never forget about it.

6B: a software development company you can trust


When you work with a development company, it is important to be aware of the issues that can arise and how to deal with them. It is also important to work with a company that you can trust and rely on. Working with someone professional and honest is the best way to avoid any unfortunate scenarios.


At 6B, we have our clients’ best interests at heart.


We care about software and we care about who we build software for. We can work collaboratively on contracts and agreements that will keep us both safe and happy.


To find out more about our processes and how we work…

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