About a year ago, I completed a simple project for a client on his already existing website: he's actually someone I know (a friend of friends) and we only had a verbal agreement.

It is an automated procedure that store the users data in a database, allows some queries, and creates automated emails with attachments, etc.

I turned over the work ready-to-use. He had to compile text, add attachments, etc. He did that part all alone. I gave only the clean working software and he payed me as required.

A few months ago, he asked me to make some minor changes. I did those, but while using the site, I realised that he is selling courses that are literally copied from other courses and adapted to his needs. There are videos from TV channels, pictures from Google searches, pieces of movies, PDF documents as well as many other resources he likely accessed on the internet.

I told him that he can't sell this material since it amounts to (surely) infringing on copyrighted resources, but his response was "don't worry, all that is publicly visible is original, I took this materials only for teaching purposes and also is sent one-to-one in private email address, so none will find out and also they can't make my emails public because they will break the privacy laws."

There is no written agreement binding us and I don't want to be involved in any legal action.

Is it appropriate that I make him sign an agreement to this effect?

If he were facing any legal action, would it extend to me?

5 Answers 5


You should take the routine to make any client (friends, family, or not) sign a well done contract (you can search here to find many posts about that) that contains also a releasing agreement on any material that he will give you or that he will use independently on your sites.

In this case, I'm not a lawyer but I don't think that you can be involved in anything illegal, since you produced a "clean" software that he used for his purposes.

It would be like if you build an empty site with Wordpress for a client, and then he fills it with copyrighted materials. Or if you sell cooking knifes and then someone use it for an armed robbery.

In any case, if you will have a signed contract from the client will always be better.


Truth is.. even a contract won't protect you if you knowingly do something illegal.

Imagine this... a woman hires you to steal her friends car.... you make her sign a contract that she is actually the thief and you are released from all liability and are only doing what you are hired to do. You steal the car... do you think the contract saves you from any criminal pursuit?

In short, if you know what the client is doing is infringement, assisting means you are guilty as well, regardless of any contract or verbal agreement. The only option you have is to not do the work.

Given all this. If you are merely writing software to manipulate data and are not involved with anything he's "borrowing", then you may be okay. i.e. SnapOn makes a screwdriver... I use that screwdriver to steal a car... SnapOn isn't responsible for how I used their product. But If I ask SnapOn to make me a special screwdriver specifically for stealing cars and they do.. well, then SnapOn is as fault.



Is it appropriate that I make him sign an agreement to this effect?

NO; there's absolutely no need. One may ask; for what purpose? You CANNOT be truly protected for premeditated acts, not even with a written agreement!

If he were facing any legal action, would it extend to me?

If and only if you delivered further on the project after having noticed the copyright infringement you've made mention of, YES; you surely will.

You delivered the project initially as asked in all fairness and due processes without any possible fraudulent implications; your ability to determine the scope of work and nature of the project was based on information given you by your client which at that stage had no negative connotation.

When asked further for modifications, now that the clean project you delivered grew with data added by your client, you now realised it contains copyright infringed materials.

You did well by drawing his attention to that fact and based on his response, I can conclude he is fully aware of what he is doing and has no intention or soever to refrain from such a practice but banking on possible escape doors should the worse occur.

Having reflected on this challenge as you did and taking a conscious time and effort to seek advice into the matter equally demonstrates that you are morally sound and frown on this act.

You have to trust your gut; simply back off.

From the very moment you know of his true intention and practice, should you continue further (with or without an agreement and or legal denial of possible copyright infringement repercussions) with him on the said project, you absolutely no longer have any cover under the law.


This one's very simple. (I am not an attorney) Your awareness of his intent to commit a crime, AND most especially the fact that afterward you continue to work with him AND benefit from the situation financially would probably make you an accessory before the fact. A contract won't save you. Backing out will.


If, from the outset, the deal does not look good, you should rethink the project. If you do decide to continue with the project then you have the other answers here to follow guidelines and keep the project positive.

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