Legal rights for website files/pages of ‘creator of files/pages’ vs ‘website owner’

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Legal rights for website files/pages of ‘creator of files/pages’ vs ‘website owner’

I had a friend express interest in starting a website to promote their business as a realtor. I told them if they bought the domain name and hosting services that I could prepare the website files/pages. I asked for no payment … no payment was offered, nor made. It was something I enjoy doing, and I considered I was doing it as ‘a favor for a friend’. We have since had a falling out, and I was considering taking back the files/pages, basically disabling the website. My question is, given the scenario outlined above, can I get in trouble for taking back the files/pages? What are the rules concerning the ‘rights’ to such website files/pages for both parties? Thanks in adanvce for any advice.

Asked on March 22, 2017 under Business Law, Florida

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Don't do this. While the fact that you were not paid would not mean you did this as a "work for hire," and so rights would not belong to your friend for that reason, a strong argument can be made that you "gifted" him the files, etc., the same way someone could gift a tablet, a phone, money, etc. If they were gifted--given unconditionally--to him, they are his, and you no longer have any rights to them. Taking them back or disabling them would be (depending on exactly what you did) a form of theft and/or vandalism; you would also be committing "tortious interference with economic advantage"--wrongfully interfering with his business--and could be sued for any lost profits, business costs (such as to get his site up and running again), etc. you cause.


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