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There are 12 of us, all owning a vacation home on a single estate. This estate was previously run as a vacation rental business by the then owner, who sold up 4 years ago to individual owners. A bunch of us have got together as a group and run a number of the properties as a business in the same style as before. The group is a loose co-operative, no real legal agreement, jointly marketing our properties as a single entity. We just put equal shares of dollars in once a year to cover running costs, which are mainly marketing (media placement, brochure production) and of course, website costs (hosting, search engineers listings etc).
When we started up the group, I bought the website and domain from the then estate owner, which I then registered in my name as the co-operative group was not a real entity from the viewpoint of domain ownership. I recharged the group funds 100% for this expense with their agreement. Since then I have spent a lot of uncompensated time and effort managing the website, and improving it to the benefit of all group members, as I'm the only one of the group with website design skills.
I am now dissatisfied with the way the group is going, as a number of the group do not want to continue to pay for the frequent updates, listings on search engines etc, which are necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the website as a marketing tool. A small number of us want to jump ship, take the website and domain name, and continue to drive this forward strongly as a separate, smaller but more professional business on our own. This will mean our leaving the co-operative, which has no rules on apportionment of assets.
Question is, if I choose to leave the co-operative, is the domain name really mine, or wholly or partially the group's? Do I have to hand over the domain name (and start again) on the basis that the group contributed to the purchase costs? Or, as the domain name owner, can I just refund the sum of money I was recompensed when I bought the website. Or would I have to refund 9/10 of the value of the website as it now stands? If so how would it be valued, and could I do any of this unilaterally? I know that most of this is for my attorney to answer, but any suggestions would be appreciated.
Also is there any distinction between rights to the content (I'm happy to give that up and start again)and the domain name (which I am not).
First, give the original co-op the right to own the domain but tell them all the work that made the site is unpaid and you will need to be fully compensated if they want to keep the content. They seem like they paid for the domain but not the content. Does that make them the owner, not exactly.
I am not sure how much work is in this domain. Like what Google PR it has, inbound links, DMOZ entries, value of the domain name, and how many people have bookmarked it or just know the name. The value that is placed on each of these can be very high.
If they donít want to pay the full amount, then refund them partial cost of what they have paid and go about your business.
If one of the members wants to contest that, then they can go to court and sue you for whatever. But it will be up to them to prove ownership with only a verbal agreement.
I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV, so take my advice for just about what it costs.
My gut read, based on the scant record, is that it's the best damned advice you will get.
Here's the "tell": If you all could agree on matters you wouldn't be in this situation.
So, is your interest in the domain, etc. worth more than $10,000? Because, if this turns into a legal battle - with that many people - that will be your minimum legal fee.
Webwork, Esq. - 20+ years of insinuating myself into other people's disputes as a trial lawyer
It's the type of advice that takes a lot of self-confidence, a healthy dose of commen sense and a measure of class to follow BUT if you are a real operative you won't hardly notice the ripple in the water as you motor away. Put your time, your talent, your energy, money and attention into something else.