What is the name of your state? Alabama
My husband is in the military, and I met a woman via the internet who was a spouse of another member and she asked me to design her business site for her. I did...at a very generous discount and was paid and life went on it's merry way. She lives in Maine and I live in Alabama.
About a year after I had done her site for her we were both involved in a private forum together. She bought a new domain name (we'll say it was [url]http://www.militaryspouses--with[/url] nearly every tld possible--this is not the real domain though lol) which had been an exsisting spouse support website a few years ago but had been taken down. She presented to the group of women at this site that we as a group would (there were 17 of us) work together to build this support site for other spouses. It was a very exciting prospect, and since this was going to be a group effort, I volunteered to build the site for us. I do reseller hosting as part of my design business for my clients so I put the site right up on my hosting.
This was personal, not business. I designed the graphics, did the layout, coding, programming, and everything for the site--and it is a HUGE site full of databases and just full of great features. I was willing to do this because the woman who bought the domains told me that I was her "partner", all the while I was thinking of course we are--you own the domain name and I own the site, one can't work without the other! So the site is launched, it was absolutely wonderful and things seemed to go along smoothly for a while.
I designed the site based on my ownership--in fact I never consulted her for approval for anything because I wasn't making it for her. I didn't even use the name of the domain she had purchased as the "official" name of the site. I used "Military Spouses Friends & Family" on the logos and site wide. In fact, I purchased two domain names myself to point to the site that were basically [url]www.msff.net[/url] and msff.org. All of the text on the site is what I wrote, with the exception of a few paragraphs she wrote, and of course the things the other women involved in the project wrote--everything I created was made without her input and I never handled any of my interactions with her the way I did when working on business sites because *I owned the site* not her. I am the admin of the message boards and have total control over everything site related.
In January of last year this woman sent me a check in an envelope for $500, it was made out to me as an individual, not my company name--nothing else was in the envelope, just the check, and nothing was written on the memo. I called her and questioned her about it and told her that I was not working for her and that she wasn't paying me for the website. I told her I could apply the money to the long term hosting costs and she agreed to this. I looked at this as the same as any "community" site which takes donations to offset the cost of maintaining the site. A few other people have donated to the site as well. I have a copy of an instant message I sent to her in April of last year--in which I said the following (among other things, but these are the things that are applicable here):
"I *am* the admin of the site, not you"
"I *have* invested financially into this site--I have paid for the hosting since the beginning--I also have paid for several scripts for the site, and certainly there is value in all of the work I have done...and I have not been nor intended to be a "paid employee".
" I'm sorry, but I never felt "hired" by you to do this site--I was doing this site personally--devoting finances, time, skill, effort, talent, more hours than would seem humanly possible--and I *have* paid for this site in ways far larger than solely monetary."
"I *never* felt I was hired by you to build this site--never. I never felt I was an employee--and YES I did always feel ownership. I had NO idea that would ever be offensive to anyone--and I have heard all about you protecting your investment--is there any consideration to my investment as well or since the domains do not belong to me do I not have any right to have any feelings over the design I have created?"
"I truly felt that though you had paid for the domain names, *I* was paying for the hosting, the design, and with more time and effort than I ever dreamed possible--I again, admit that I felt like we were partners in this endeavor--as such I had treated the html and graphics as my own--not specifically "yours"-- a very different scenerio than one with a client--I was doing this personally."
I think I made my position more than clear and she accepted this and did not question my feelings or rights on this matter. This was pretty much played out before all of the other women at the site and they would all verify this is the way things happened if necessary. If she had insisted the site was hers I would have withdrawn and took the site with me. That was in April 2004 and I now find out that this woman has been trying to move the site from my host since July where she planned to eliminate me completely. Earlier this month she removed her domain names and pointed them to another host. I bought new domain names, put the site back up and changed the logo to "Military Family" (this would be relative to being located at [url]http://www.militaryfamily.us[/url] now--however, only the forums are up at this time as I have not had time to get the rest of the site functional. I thought she had moved on.
That said, it came to my attention that she had paid a gentleman who helped me with the site and had access to the entire site to download a copy of my site to move to her hosting for $200. This guy is the only other person besides myself who EVER had access to the hosting account. This woman led him to believe that this was something I had agreed to, and that she had a right to do, and he never checked her rights or credentials at the beginning--she DID NOT have the user name and password to my hosting account. He downloaded the entire site and then he realized that he should check with me. So he lets me know what is going on and obviously I tell him that she does NOT have my permission to access the site and she certainly never had my permission to take any of my work. This man decides that maybe I am right, maybe she is right and he is going to keep the downloaded copy of my work, will not give it to her NOR destroy it, until she and I resolve this or work it out legally!
So there are several issues going on with all of this right now...and I'm not a lawyer obviously or I wouldn't be asking for help and possibly how to get the proper legal aid--but here is what I believe to be true to this point:
a) since there was no contract nor work for hire agreement I never worked for this lady and she is wrong to think she owns the website. I have never signed any agreements, there is no contract in reference to this site that exsists anywhere.
b) just because I took the $500 does not mean she bought the site even though she believes it entitles her to it, sites all across the internet accept donations toward the site, and no one can claim ownership just because they have given money to someone else without a written contract stating they are actually purchasing something
c) I own the copyright (all of the pages had my copyright written on them) and the site I built--because I NEVER sold it to her or signed over my rights to her
d) This man who had access to my site and now has a complete copy of my entire website is holding an illegal copy of my work
My objective would be to get the copy of my site destroyed that this man is holding, as well as make the law clear to him so that he would not do this to anyone else--and to settle this issue with the woman to where I do not have to live in fear of her trying to take my site from me...and honestly, to be sure I have not done anything wrong. This woman is claiming very loudly that she paid me for the site and everything. It is a very hard place right now and I would like to be able to be in peace about it all. If you have any questions or need clarification on anything please do not hesitate to ask.
I look forward to hearing from any of you and would appreciate any advice or insight you can give me and also would appreciate some information on how to find a lawyer who would know the ins and outs of internet law.
Thank you very much!