If you build a website for someone and they don't pay you are you allowed legally to take it down? We built a website for someone who now refuses to pay and want to know our options.
It depends on a variety of factors, ranging from applying contract law to intellectual properly law to the facts at hand.
For example, who legally "owns" the content displayed on this website?
Who legally "owns" the domain name that the website is associated with?
Why didn't the client pay you?
Did you have a written contract?
Did you have a binding verbal contract?
You obviously need a lawyer to review your options before you do anything as drastic as "taking down" a customer's website. Be forewarned!
To supplement the helpful catalog of considerations posted by Attorney Gioconda, consider what would happen if you were a landlord and someone moved in to an apartment you own but stopped paying the rent. There are some circumstances where you could use what's called "self help," but usually you'd need to go through the legal process of eviction where the tenant's rights would be taken into account.
When someone is entitled to "repossess" a certain property, such as a car that hasn't been paid for, the law requires clear documentation of that right, in advance.
This posting is intended for general education and isn't "legal advice." It doesn't create or evidence an attorney-client relationship. You are encouraged to engage an attorney in the pertinent jurisdiction for confidential legal advice on matters of any importance.
The advice you have received already is sound. Be careful about "self help". Often a breach of contract (such as failure to pay) does not automatically terminate the obligations of both parties under the contract. Even if you did not receive the agreed payment, you still might have ongoing contractual obligations to the person who failed to pay. If you unilaterally take down the website in retaliation for the failure to pay, you could cause dramatic harm to the business associated with the web-site. Depending on the facts, you could be required to compensate the owner of the web-site for the damage that you cause by unilaterally taking down the web-site---and this amount may be far greater than the amount owed to you. This is one of those situations in which you need to be represented by legal counsel---do not try "self help" because it could backfire.
As already mentioned in the great answers above, "it depends". Self-help is usually not the right answer, as it can expose you to unnecessary liability, and provide the breaching client leverage.
As an aside, where there is no written/oral agreement (setting forth "joint authorship" or "work made for hire"), under U.S. copyright law, the default rule is that the creator of the website solely owns all of the copyright rights in the work product (i.e., design/content). However, also note that, at the very least, the company or individual that hired you may have a nonexclusive license to use it as intended.
We provide these answers for general informational purposes only. Because we are a law firm, and some of the answers provided relates to legal topics, no attorney-client relationship is created between you and us when we provide general information.
Fellow lawyers ...... If he is hosting the site .... Why can't he just turn off service .... Just as the water company would do . Do not give them a chance to copy code though. Bet they would pay up!
All comments on this site are 'in the cloud' and do not form an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Just consider them ideas for discussion. J
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