If a client is refusing to pay for website work, am I allowed to block their site until payment is received?

UPDATED: May 24, 2012

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If a client is refusing to pay for website work, am I allowed to block their site until payment is received?

I worked on several websites for a client. They praised my work in emails and on the phone. Now they refuse to pay. I have no contract, only verbal. Is the work I did considered mine if I also did graphics and video editing? What are my rights and what am I allowed to block or remove if anything? This client has a reputation of not paying for work.

Asked on May 24, 2012 under Business Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

There are two idifferent issues here:

1) Can you block their website? If you are hosting it, you may cease hosting it if they have not paid you--that is, you do not have to keep providing services when not paid. Similarly, if you provide administrative, tech support, etc. services to them, you don't need to continue doing so until paid.

On the other hand, if you are not currently providing services--e.g. the website is hosted elsehwere--but have some "backdoor" or administrative rights that would let you take it down or block it, you *cannot* do that. It's allowed to no longer affirmatively provide your services without pay; it's illegal to interfere with work you've completed and turned over to others.

2) If you are not paid for the work, then you should end up owning the rights to the graphics, videos, etc.--the client's material breach of contract (failure to pay) should allow you to terminate the contract, including that portion(s) turning over your rights. However, the way to then prevent their use is by bringing a legal action for infringement and breach of contract.

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