Selling themes – Proper business practices?
Lately I have been getting more and more requests for custom themes for WordPress.
I know there are others out there that do this as well, and I wanted to get some thoughts on a couple of issues.
1) When you sell a custom theme, do you always include ‘designed by …’ text? Or is it considered better to leave that out if it is a theme someone paid to have created?
2) Selling themes you have created for others. I am a bit torn about this one. Is it proper to create a custom theme for someone, and then offer it to others?
This applies to a lot of web design work in general. If you create something for someone, should it be considered 100% theirs, or is it still “ok” to do whatever you want with it, including offering it for sale?
I am not neccesarily talking about offering the exact same theme files, but more the general layout used.
I would be very interested in hearing some thoughts 🙂 Thanks!
1. Not always – sometimes it depends on the agreement; sometimes it’s just not right. E.g. I get many requests to make a theme that looks like the existing website of the client. In this case I don’t think it is “my” design even if the design has been converted into a theme by me.
But if it is completely my work (and the client doesn’t say no) I leave a designed by… link to my site.
2. Absolutely no. It is theirs.
Now, it gets a bit more complicated when you mention “general layout”. I have some stable 2 and 3 column layouts (basically almost an empty, blank “skeleton” for cross-browser stable layout), and I re-use them quite often, of course with the necessary changes and tweakes. They are just some base code to start with, so that I don’t have to start to invent the wheel every time 🙂
This is basically a web design question – not just a “theme” question. I’ve been running my own web design business for several years now, and there are some basic rules to what you’re asking.
First off, it’s a personal preference on these questions. If you “don’t feel right” doing one thing over another, then don’t do it – it’s totally up to you. However, the legalities of them (I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV – but I know this much from my own contracts and speaking with my own lawyer on the subject):
1) I do. Simply because I need the linkback – it’s part of my marketing straegy for my business. I usually put it somewhere *very* small, and it blends in with the theme so that it doesn’t stand out – except for people who are looking for it. But as a designer who wants to gain more clients, it’s in my contract that a link back to me is required from the index page. I need that for SEO purposes and to promote my business, and to gain more clients. To any clients in the past who have wanted that removed (which, actually, I’ve never had anyone ask!), then they need to pay an fee for having it removed – every good, solid link back to me helps to promote my business – so if they don’t want it, they are doing something detrimental to my business and therefore, must pay a few to have it removed. Granted, it’s not a huge fee, but it makes the client aware of exactly how important that link back to me is.
2) Unless you have signed a piece of that transfers all of your copyrights to your work and design to the person you have designed the layout for, then you can do whatever you want with it. Copyright is NEVER given to anyone (in the United States, anyway – I don’t know where you are!) without a signed document from the originator of the piece. For example, when I do sites for clients, in my contract, I state they own the RIGHTS to use the design for a certain period of time – usually 2 years. That means they exclusively have that design for 2 years, but the copyright is mine. They can’t touch the code, they can’t alter the design, they can’t play with the images on the site – the only thing they can alter is the content. After the 2 years is up, I can most assuredly sell that same design to another company if I so desire. Now, if the client wants copyright to the design and layout so they can do whatever they want to it, they *do* pay a nice, large fee for the joy of explicity owning the copyright to my hard work. I’ve yet to have a client actually pay that fee – because for *those* rights, you are asking a lot, and you will shell out a lot for them.
In my years of practice in the web design field, this is pretty much standard for your work. And keep in mind that if you use stock imagery or someone else’s work, those items don’t fall under your rights to the copyright – as the originator holds copyright (you can’t give away copyright for someone else!) only the stuff *you* create does.
Hope that helps you out!
1. Yes, I do place a link if I have done any major designwork. If I reuse a design already onsite, I usually enclose both authors (design by… adapted by lhk). Like some others here I require an extra fee if that notice is to be excluded.
2. I also sell the rights to a design, that I usually sell for good to that one person/entity for that specific domain. It’s like a license. Another domain, even with meddling with the graphics, another license/rights to use fee is necessary. The copyright stays with me.
I usually have staple designs I made, skeletons for webpages which I do reuse, sometimes only with the graphics changed, sometimes with more fundamental changes. As I retain my copyright of course I can do this. I’d go nuts if I had to prog something absolutely new for the umpteenth blog or portal site.
Wonderful responses. Thanks everyone!
It definitely gives me some things to think about.
As far as the copyright side of things. I need to look into what I should put in the theme info. I do not want to get to the point were I have a huge EULA for them to read, but at the same time I want to at least include what I need to.
The main thing I am concerned about is someone having a custom theme made by me, and then going and reselling it all over the place. Sure that can happen even with all the copyright info you want to put in there, but it is at least something.
I have not ever purchased a custom WP theme (or website design for that matter) myself, so I am not sure what is commonly done. Perhaps there is some information I can read for suggestions somewhere? 🙂
if you sell only the “license” to use a design (one person/entity on one domain) without selling the copyright, the customer can NOT resell it, except if he sells his whole website/business to another person/entity. And still that design can’t be resold by that buyer then.
A lot of that info can by the way be placed – commented out – in the code, it needs not all appear in the design.
…and if someone *does* resell it – in part or in whole – you start by issuing a “cease and desist”. If they ignore you, it’s time to take them to court.
Copyright, really, is quite easy to figure out (in the IS, anyway…England’s rules are pretty close…) – you can pretty much make a simple statement on it in the licensing agreement. Basically, the code and design is yours, any photographs used in the design are stock photography (if you use them) and copyright belongs to the original photographer. Just say that the license is NOT an agreement to transfer copyright, it’s only a license of use for a website – nothing else (meaning, no flyers, brochures, CD covers, or other forms of advertising/design without express written consent from you).
Basically, you need to get with a lawyer in your home state and get a solid contract drafted. Lawyers – surprisingly – CAN keep things short and simple if they need to be. But it’s a cost that’s well worth it to invest in if you’re serious about selling your designs. Believe me, you’ll never regret it – but if you DON’T do it, there’s a chance that a day will come when you do 😉 I’ve seen it happen waaaaaay too many times!
Once again, very helpful information 🙂
I will certainly consider hiring someone to write up something.
I suppose my last questions, if you would be so kind, are:
1) Copyright statements (commented in code) in all files, or just the main CSS where theme info is located?
2) Is there a site out there that has examples of what I should put in there? Like a good basic copyright template so to speak? Just something relatively short, but covers the important stuff? Maybe I should just look around to see what others are doing?
Or am I worrying too much about the specifics? 🙂
One of my favorite places to visit for plain English copyright info is Rights for Artists. Gives simple, plain explanations of copyright (in the US) and also has some templates on there for you to use. Of course, the US Government’s copyright website is also a good place to look for stuff.
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