I acquired a domain name on 12/11. On feb 2012 I built a web site for a client using my domain name. Client paid me some money to build the site. we than had an agreement in writing that I will promote the site for him for 3 months and he will pay me every month x dollars for my work. Last week he told me that he does not want to pay me per our agreement and he wants me to release the site to him. Initially before I started the promotion the site was worth y dollars but after promoting the site for a month the value of the site is much more than the initial investment he paid. couple of issues here: who owns the site does it include the domain name? what is the value of the site? i also paid for the hosting of the site and fees for the doamin name
What does the agreement for services state? Does it specify ownership of the domain? What was traded in exchange for the compensation, only services to develop content?
Your services could constitute a work-made-for-hire whereby the content and website could be owned by the customer which gives the customer rights to the built site. However, the issue of contention is who owns the domain (where the value now truly lies) since you owned it before the customer. There is a presumption that you own it unless you agreed to transfer it by way of a written or oral contract.
Review your written agreement. If silent on the issue of the domain, you will want to see if the agreement has a merger clause where the parties state that the written agreement is the final and only agreement between the parties in regards to the subject matter. If you have such a provision, any oral agreement could be excluded if the scope of the provision is applicable (maybe excluded).
Also consider whether you entered into an oral agreement regarding the domain transfer or whether the argument for the creation of an oral agreement could be made.
If you clear these obstacles, you're likely the rightful owner. Be mindful of a possible dispute from the client as there is seemingly some loss of expectation looming. There could also be a reputation issue in your industry if you have a dispute with client over a domain ownership; this may impact your ability in the future to gain clients.
You need a lawyer.
The issues here involved complex matters of copyright and contract law.
The Domain Name is registered to someone, which would constitute evidence of ownership of title to that Domain Name as property. Of course, that ownership interest could have been divested through a contract, which can be either written, verbal or equitably imposed by the Court, depending on the circumstances.
Further, the content of the website involves content creation, which means the copyright in the content could be owned by you, your client, or both, depending on the circumstances. Hire a lawyer.
The first thing an attorney would do is review the written agreement. It would not be advisable to render an opinion prior to doing so.
This answer is provided for informational purposes only, does not create an attorney-client relationship, and is not to be relied upon as legal advice or applied to specific situations. Legal advice is provided only upon execution of a written retainer agreement and after a comprehensive consultation in which all relevant facts are discussed and reviewed.
Generally speaking, I advise businesses to register their own domain names, rather than allowing website developers to handle any part of the domain name registration process because it avoids issues of domain ownership. However, it appears here that you may have a distinct advantage as the domain name registrar.
With regard to the design and content of the website, under U.S. copyright law, a website developer, as the creator of the website, will own the copyright in it, unless the company that engages the developer has a written agreement with the developer assigning the necessary rights in the website to the company.
You definitely need to sit down and talk with an experienced intellectual property lawyer -- preferably one with substantial internet experience.
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