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I have been working on a "big" advertising website for a known company in my country. The job wasn't much paid but interested so I did it. I also worked lot of overtime to build everything they needed, and they thanked me a lot for that.

But then when it comes to payment, no one is answering me. It's been more than a month and I can't get any contact.

So I'm thinking of just shutting off the website, or directly adding a message on it, that would generate bad buzz for them and bring attention. Do I risk anything legal doing that sort of things?

For the precision: I have not signed any contract specifying any sorts of term. I have just a signed invoice with a description of the work. I also wasn't the only person working on it (I was on the technical part but there was some artists and authors too)

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Are you also hosting the website for them? –  Stacey Apr 10 at 13:43
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Don't add anything to the site. While you may get some temporary satisfaction from the bad buzz, it's bound to come back and bite you. Only take down or shut-off what you were directly responsible for. –  Dryden Long Apr 10 at 17:37
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I am responsible for putting in place the hosting, but not paying for it. Also I got an answer so the problem should be solved soon (although the question in itself is still viable) –  Malharhak Apr 10 at 18:41

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The easiest thing is to shut down all, but what if the client is sick or something. Chances are 90% that they don't want to pay you, but there are still 10% which you need to consider. This is all true if you expect more work from them and if you really like the project.

Do you have a direct contact with the client? Do Skype call to his mobile and see what is going on. Send them email with read recipient. PM him via some messaging service.

Be kind and let them know that you have not heard from them X days and that you want to be paid. Ask for an immediate reply, any kind of. The most important thing is to tell them that unless they reply in Y days, you will be forced to shut down their web service. If they still don't reply, push them another reminder 3-5 days before the deadline. If still no replied, then shut down the service.

If the client has a really good reason for not replying, he will appreciate such conduct of yours.

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That's what I planned to do if I didn't get an answer from my last call (of today), sending a "notification" that I would shut the website down soon or something like that. But I got my answer so everything's okay –  Malharhak Apr 10 at 18:43
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Don't use the word soon. Be specific and say "at that day at XY hours my time zone" –  Peter MV Apr 10 at 19:07
    
And send real letters, that require signatures on receipt. Not just an email or a phone call. Use a red letter head "OUTSTANDING INVOICE" and the actions you want to take if its not settled. –  WillyWonka Apr 10 at 22:39
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I don't agree with this philosophy, most especially if it's already clear to the client as to when payment was due (and it's past due). Disabling the site will get the client's attention VERY quickly -- much faster than telephone calls. Ayan, you have to think of yourself like the local telephone company; when you're past due, and they've notified you with no response, a DISCONNECT is the next move. That's business. They're not worried about if you're travelling or sick. Ayan, your client isn't stupid -- if they're smart enough to have given you the work, they can pay on time. –  codenoire Apr 10 at 22:55
    
Exactly. That's what I think too. You don't pay for the service? End of service. Easy. I think freelancers should stand up more often, we shouldn't have to accept these sort of things. –  Malharhak Apr 10 at 22:58

You need to shut it down ASAP. Chances are that by now, your "client" has cloned all of your work, which is not hard to do at all, and put it up on a different domain. I put the word client in quotes because, without a written contract, you really don't have anything that would prove how the other party is a "client". You may never see a cent from this project. Whoops!

It can be very, very difficult to get any money through a court of law when there's no contract. Here in the USA, even if a court renders a judgment in one's favor, that doesn't guarantee that one can collect on it.

Don't EVER, ever take this approach again. Never feel like you're not being "nice" if you ask the client to sign a written agreement, as that's not how business works. There are many more writings in this forum that pertain to the same thing, so I won't wear out the subject because you can just search through the listings, and study them -- study hard.

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Yep. Well I know the client enough to know they would not do that, but clearly in the general case it's pretty dangerous going without contract and sending the work before getting paid.. –  Malharhak Apr 10 at 17:21
    
See, a contract would specify payment terms - i.e. net 15, net 30. But then again, you have to ASK for specific terms before you start the work -- terms that meet your needs. I don't get the idea that you took care of this very important step. –  codenoire Apr 10 at 17:33
    
He cannot clone his work unless it's pure HTML! Even if he uses JavaScript he's so smart to scramble it. So I'd say risk of cloning is 1%. –  Peter MV Apr 10 at 17:43
    
No they have access to the source from the start, but it's because I know them enough to trust them. In a real project, always obfuscate and stuff before showing the work. –  Malharhak Apr 10 at 18:55
    
This is a common problem. Never give source to client before they pay :) Work on it , publish it in time, and set out, even verbally, source will be delivered after 15-30 days of receipt of payment (Just in case they do the bouncey cheque trick, or reverse charges) –  WillyWonka Apr 10 at 22:41

I don't think so*.

I would take down all the parts that you produced.

Even if there was no written contract, there was an oral agreement between you and your client, where they would pay you and in return receive a product.

Since they have not paid, they have not held up their end of the agreement, so the product is not theirs to have; take your work down.

They don't have any legal repercussions if you remove the work that you did that you haven't been paid for.*

Edit: If you only contributed to part of the website, then you have every right to take down the parts that you produced. I wouldn't recommend taking off the work that other people did, since it's not yours to do with as you please.

* I am not a lawyer.

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Problem is my part is what makes it working since it's the whole server so... Well anyway that actually got resolved but it's an interesting question when other people's work is mixed in yours –  Malharhak Apr 10 at 17:20

Each of your actions can make you liable later on.

It is also bad practice to shut-down work you've done (the client can state in any moment that it's intention was to pay but was short on cash and will spread the word that you are in bad faith and untrustworthy). You knew from the beginning the risks involved (or, you should have).

Leave aside your frustration end ego and act smart.

Write an email, send a letter and go in person and speak with whom was your contact until today.

It's a well used practice to pay the bills after a month or more. Don't get scared by this delay. Use this time to find new clients and in meanwhile, send them recurring reminders that they need to pay the bill.

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"It's a well used practice to pay the bills after a month or more" -- this is incorrect. Payment terms should be negotiated before starting work. –  codenoire Apr 13 at 13:44
    
Yes, you are right. Most of the time, you should negotiate the payment terms before starting work. In my case, I had many clients who "forget" to pay. They always pay but sometimes is best for me/them relationship if I close an eye. It's not a good practice but I think is best than starting an argument. A remark: I write from Italy - a roman law country. We all know that a civil law country reinforces the terms of a contract "better". –  Avram E. Cosmin Apr 13 at 13:59
    
I would add that if you are hosting, and billing monthly fees, then you can suspend the hosting account for non-payment - this should be in the terms of your 'written contract'!!! So learn from this mistake. –  NivF007 Apr 15 at 20:39

Yes, taking action here has substantial risk.

If you add a message "that would generate bad buzz for them and bring attention" you could be sued for libel or slander by the customer. Maybe you wouldn't lose in court, but you probably don't want to go the expense and trouble of hiring a lawyer and going to court.

If you shut down / remove the site, you could be criminally charged with computer misuse / hacking (depending on local laws). If you were the one paying the bill you could probably safely stop paying it (since the client isn't giving you any funds with which to pay it) and let the hosting company shut it down for non-payment. But since you say you are not the one paying the hosting bill, you do not have a right to shut it down. Again, you might ultimately prevail in court, but you probably don't want to go through this.

The safe thing to do is to continue trying to contact the customer, and if that fails, sue for payment.

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