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I was hired by a client to develop an Android app for him. We've worked together once, and when he offered me the job we didn't make any formal agreement. Now after finishing the development of the app, the client is demanding various changes which wasn't a part of the initial requirement. I told him that I would make any changes he wants but we need to pay for it. Besides I requested him to release at least a portion of the project budget as the app is complete according to the initial requirement. He didn't agree. For this reason and various other reasons our relationship gone bad and now he is threatening me that he would hire another developer to complete the job.

Now, I'm trying to make everything alright but as he already threatened me that he would hire a new developer, I'm considering distributing the application myself (through Google Play and other services) if he just walk away. Will it be a good idea? Considering that:

  • There was no formal agreement when I took the project (it was set up through our Skype conversation)
  • I haven't signed any NDA. When expressing his idea and sending the details (through Skype and Dropbox), he never requested me to keep it secret.
  • He haven't paid me anything yet
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    You should include in your post where you're located so you might get the best answer for you. Hope this helps. – jmort253 Aug 1 '14 at 5:35
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    ... It's how Mark Zuckerberg made billions..... – Scott Aug 1 '14 at 6:34
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Obviously, I (or anyone here) have not been part of your negotiations or development, but I can tell you, you're only going to add fuel to the fire. You're also going to put yourself into a legally sticky situation.

You did yourself a disservice by not writing a contract/scope of work etc. At this point, you're both stuck.

You also made a mistake by not charging him anything upfront.

Try and salvage the relationship. If that doesn't work, consider this a learning experience.

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Can you collect any evidence that there has been an informal contract between you ? Like e-mails, recorded Skype messages, any trace of Dropbox transactions showing that you delivered source code, testimonials, whatever...

If you can provide material elements showing that you worked for him, then there is no need for a full-fledged written contract. Send him an invoice for the work you've done, by registered mail. Let him understand that you will play it fair if he does as well, but warn him of possible legal actions.

This will not improve your relation to this guy, but will put you in a better position to claim your due. What do you have to lose ?

He will probably try on that moment to negotiate new clauses (such as acknowledging tribute to him) and tell you "I'll pay if...". Stay firm on your position, he has to pay first before any new arrangement is made, as the trust relationship seems to be gone. Work done must be paid.

If that works, be fair with him after payment; it may be possible to keep the relation. If it doesn't work, evaluate if it is worth to go to court.

On the opposite, you have no evidence of anything, drop the money and go your own way. Claiming that it was his idea will force him to admit he appointed you.

In any case, stay fair, avoid making justice yourself if possible.

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"He never requested me to keep it secret"... but he never says you can distribute it alone. Your job has been to develop the app. If you start distributing the app yourself you can have many more troubles (eg his paternity of idea, lost customers, lost sales, etc).

In some countries, he who develops the app has the property of source code. However, he said he would hire another developer to complete the job, so I imagine he has the source code already.

Consider that probably reading your Skype conversation and considering which rules (written or not) you both followed in the previous work, someone can see your behaviour as wrong and maybe an aim to damage him someway.

Maybe you can do a little agreement now to be sure you'll be paid at completion of the app (with changes not being part of the initial agreement). Even if you end up with a very low price, consider it is better then nothing, as you will reduce your present lost.

That's an error I did years ago: developing a custom e-commerce site without written agreement. I ended up with a working website that he didn't need anymore, since he had nothing to sell "at the moment". 2 months of work wasted.

  • In the US, without a contract, the developer owns the copyright in a consulting/freelancing scenario. On these legal questions, it's a good idea to cite sources to help other readers make the right decision. Hope this helps. – jmort253 Aug 1 '14 at 5:35
  • See this post for more details, where I've cited actual US Copyright law: freelancing.stackexchange.com/a/588/64 – jmort253 Aug 1 '14 at 5:39
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You've used your tools, your knowledge, and your time. Until he PAYS for it, it's your property.

Friend, it's a really, really stupid idea to ask him to release a "portion of the project budget" if the work is completed. He needs to be paying 100% of the price for a 100% complete application. If you turn the work over for anything less than your full price right now, I guarantee you that this client will disappear and you'll never get the rest of what's due. This is mostly especially because you don't have a contract.

I'd tell this guy that he has 7 days to pay, or you keep the app and post it to the Play Store yourself. I mean, think now -- what can he do? He has no written contract that even gives him a hint of ownership in your work. And as far as I can tell, you've not received ANY money. He's got no recourse.

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    You have to be really careful about this. In many cases, when you are hired to develop an IP, the person hiring you owns the IP, not the developer. This is the case in almost every job I have worked at (in the USA) and has such a long history of legal precedent that any court will likely rule that the client owns the IP if there is no contract stating otherwise. However, the client can not do anything with source code and byte code that they do not have, and you can certainly withhold both until you receive payment. But you risk a huge legal mess if you try to use it or sell it yourself. – Thomas Aug 1 '14 at 0:52
  • @Thomas - My research on this subject shows the opposite, those hired in a contracting role are the owners of the copyright, not the client. See freelancing.stackexchange.com/a/588/64 – jmort253 Aug 1 '14 at 5:38
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    @jmort253 That's a very thorough answer to the other question. However, my concern is that because there is such a tremendous industry standard (evidenced by the written contracts) of assigning ownership to the person hiring the contractor, a judge can easily rule in the client's favor regardless of the technical interpretation of the law. I have seen it happen. It's a sticky situation and I would not encourage the asker to make it any stickier by assuming ownership and making money off of the property. At the very least, he should consult an attorney first. – Thomas Aug 2 '14 at 4:05
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    @Thomas - That's what makes these legal questions so tricky... interpretation of the law. It's one of the reasons some community members discussed whether we should even allow them on our site and that answers should be backed up ideally with sources. As you've indicated, precedence can play a role, which is why it's always good to have a contract even if the law is written in your favor. – jmort253 Aug 2 '14 at 4:52
  • Thomas, your example keeps pointing to the example of what happens when there are explicit written contracts. That's not the case here. Apparently there are some communications that took place for a "meeting of the minds" but also note that even minus a "real" contract a judge would evaluate performance. Here, there's been performance on one side only and not the other (no money). That's a critical issue. – Xavier J Aug 4 '14 at 18:55

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