The 12th Abusive Client – The Thief

I was speaking to a colleague this morning, and he had a story to tell that made me think I need to add a 12th client to the 11 Clients You Need To Fire Right NowThe Thief.

Let’s do a little case study, shall we?

The Scenario:  You are building a web site for a small business (let’s call it XYZ Inc).  The agreement is that you will build, then host, this new site for XYZ Inc.  Everything appears to be going well; the contract is signed by the owner of XYZ Inc. (who is also the project’s sponsor), your initial design comp was approved, you’re getting all the content you need from the client, each page is approved and praised as you release it to the test server for the client to look at.  “Wow!” you think to yourself, elated.  “This is going great!”

Then you send XYZ Inc. their bill.  The agreement is that the site goes live when the bill is paid.

You suddenly find yourself unable to contact the client by phone, fax or eMail.

Some number of days later you are contacted by a web hosting company, who asks for the database scripts for the site you developed for XYZ Inc.  Confused, you ask why.  It turns out that the owner of XYZ Inc. copied the pages you developed for him off of your test site, then uploaded those pages to a bargain-basement host.  Lacking the database scripts needed for a few key features, he had the host contact you to get them.

Let me say that again – the owner of XYZ, Inc. stole your work off of your test site and had it hosted elsewhere.  Checking  XYZ Inc’s domain, lo and behold, there is the site you built for them (minus the few pages that rely on the database scripts)!

Now imagine that you get a phone call a few days later from your client, the owner of XYZ, Inc.  He wants those database scripts, and he clearly thinks you are in the wrong for not providing them when the host asked for them.  “Why should I have to pay you before getting my site?  Those scripts are mine, I hired you to do this work, now turn it over!  I’ll pay you when I have the money.”

Frankly, this blows my mind, but it really happened to someone I know (in fact, it’s still happening, as the issue is in the legal arena right now and has not yet been resolved).  I’m not a lawyer, but this sure sounds like theft of services to me.  If a client pulled this with me, I’d have my attorney on the phone with the host to get the site taken down, and with XYZ Inc’s general counsel to get that bill paid.

Has a client ever outright stolen from you?  If so, what did you do?  What would you do?