H auliers are increas
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ingly setting up web sites to let their customers know what services they can offer and what equipment is available to carry out these services.
But operators should exercise care in the material they choose to post on their site since they may not own the intellectual property (IP) rights.
Who owns the IP?
Where a haulier commissions a site to be developed by an independent contractor the operator is likely to believe that, as it is paying for the development, it should own all components of the work done.
However, the fact that the haulier has commissioned and paid for the work does not inevitably mean that its IP legally belongs to the transport company.
It will only do so if the IP has been specifically assigned; for an assignment to be effective under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, it must be "in writing, signed by or on behalf of the assignor".
While ownership may be desirable, it is not essential. In order to publish the site, the client must either own the intellectual property or have a licence to use it. There are no formal requirements for a licence, but it is in both sides' interests to have clear terms set down in writing.
From the developer's point of view, the commercial position is more complex. A web developer will not wish to give away software coding which he can reuse in other website developments; he would regard these as his 'stock in trade'. On the other hand, he may be happy to assign to the haulier components which have been specifically designed for that client. In practice, the IP in a website may be made up of a number of components, such as software, graphics, images, text and 'look and feel' (see box).
• by Nigel Miller Nigel Miller is a commerce and technology partner at City law firm Fox Williams. He Is also joint-chair of the Society for Computers & Law.