When you buy or sell web site or software project services to someone, what exactly is it that is changing hands?  There will be images and functions on the buyer’s screen that weren’t there before.  If both sides know what they are doing, the result will be valuable.

But does the buyer really own all of the work product, or are they just allowed to use it?  And can the seller re-sell parts or all of their deliverables to another buyer a day later?  In the software, app building, and web worlds, the line between goods and services is rarely entirely clear.

Clients might say, “I paid for the web site, of course all of the visual aspects and the underlying code that makes it look this way and work this way is mine.  I didn’t pay good money just to borrow it for a while.”

To which the developer might reply, “This site contains a lot of previously used pieces, and it is customized to your goals and budget.  I know the old pieces work, either because I have developed them and used them already, or because they are components created as open source projects and commonly used by many people.  I can’t sell you all rights against the world for every part of the project, because others are using them and have a right to use them.  Hiring someone to build your site from an entirely blank screen would cost you ten to one hundred times your budget.”

The workable common ground between these two lies in a thoughtful conversation and services or licensing agreement between client and developer.  Nobody wants an unpleasant surprise halfway or all the way through a project, or when payment is due and questions of copyright ownership and control.

The requirements, expectations, and rights of both sides will be covered by the right kind of development agreement, so that it will be clear what will be owned and controlled, or instead licensed and used, by each party or neither party as they work to build something together.