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Repossessing A Website

When the client doesn't pay..

2:18 am on Jan 17, 2001 (gmt 0)

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A question aimed at folks with some legal knowledge of website "ownership" issues.


Client appoints you as their SEO (webmaster, designer etc etc) and commissions a website.

You register a new domain in the clients name. You arrange hosting nominating the client as the major contact (to be billed) and yourself as the webmaster contact (technical support)

You design the site, get it online and submit to all the SE's and directories.

Client then does not pay. The reasons are not important, the fact remains they don't want to pay for the work that they commissioned and which has been delivered.

Q.... are you entitled to "repossess" that for which you have not been paid and remove the site from the host server?

If you bought a refrigerator and failed to pay it would be repossessed. Does the same "protection of ownership" apply to products such as a website?

Appreciate any comments, realising that some variations may apply in different countries.

2:47 am on Jan 17, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member mivox is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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I'm not sure of the legal issues, but my general policy is to build the site on my own server, so they can look at it and approve the overall design, and then move it over to their server only after payment is received.

I currently have a client's site sitting on my server waiting for payment... it's been acouple of months, and it's irritating to have done the work and not received payment, but at least I didn't 'deliver' the goods only to find myself unpaid later.

If I'd already uploaded it, I'd seriously be considering 'repossesion' at this point... as it is, I'm pretty much limited to sending 'reminder invoices' periodically.

4:47 am on Jan 17, 2001 (gmt 0)

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Protect yourself and your client up front.

Payment Terms Agreement:
25 percent down (or whatever you need to cover your costs)
Require additional payments for any additionals beyond the estimate
25 percent at final approval (before publishing)
50 percent net 30 days.


Signed approval of all estimates and proofs.
Signed approval of any alteration charges.

During the production phase you should have a statement on each page that the property (copywrite) of the page belongs to your company.

Include some scripting error that will cause the page to (implode) if edited in any WYSIWYG program (frontpage etc.)

After you have established a (good) relationship with a client, you can modify these as needed.

If a client does not respond to numerous payments request make sure you contact the highest person in the company and if you still do not receive a timely payment, send a certified letter of termination and blast the web site at the date of termination.

DO NOT replace the website with a notice of "The client has not payed so this page is not available"!

Most of the measures are not needed if a clear client/vendor relationship are agreed upon upfront.


6:14 am on Jan 17, 2001 (gmt 0)

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There are any number of different business relationships similar to what you describe..... and I am sure many of our fellow posters would be happy to advise their preferences as well...

but the question was "Can you repossess a website?"

12:28 pm on Jan 17, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member marcia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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austtr, you cannot repossess it if they change the info at the registrar, removing you as tech contact, and change the password at the web host so you can't access by FTP to kill the files. If they're unscrupulous, they could conceivably do this if they suspect that you might pull the site.

Before anything further, I would make sure of having backups of of everything, including all documentation - take screenshots of the connection via FTP and/or control panel, verifying dates, filenames, etc., any and all things to substantiate your work, including screenshots of major site pages.

Let's question ownership. In your example with the fridge, they can repossess it because it is still their property - not your property until it's paid for. When you pay for it, it becomes your property.

By what criteria is that website that client's property?

I had a similar conflict a little over year ago, on a small scale, but had to check a lot of similar issues out, which I did, in depth.

Without going into details, the client paid the required 50% in advance, sent the check by Airborne with the signed contract, and then proceeded to try to up the number of products from 55 to 148 without paying a dime more. No dice. I learned invaluable lessons from that hassle on what could potentially happen.

The web site was still MINE at this point in time - and I yanked that site off the server faster than you can say hot coffee.

An important question is: Who owns the copyright to a web site? Don't know about Australia, but here, the entire site except those elements that are provided by the client -all the graphics, HTML, design elements, the whole kit and kaboodle is the intellectual property of the creator - ME in that case. In your case, you. Copyright and all attendant privileges stay with the creator unless and until they are expressly, in a legal fashion in writing, turned over to someone else, relinquishing any further rights. Our intellectual property cannot be used or distributed in any form without our permission.

What I learned form a chat friend who is a consultant for government contracts is that, written or otherwise, a contract (agreement) always consists of two elements - offer and acceptance.

In my case, offer and acceptance would have been valid even without the contract - reinforced by the description on her check, and doubly reinforced by the fact that I had copies of correspondence concerning her already having already seen and approving the site prior to sending the check. I actually did most of the work in advance (with documentation).

In your case, obviously an offer was made, which they most certainly did accept, since they are paying for hosting to house the site you created, which IMHO, is still your property. Remember - just my opinion.

These things vary not only from country to country, but within the US, other than copyright laws, which are wider in scope, from state to state.

Here's an American site with some good advice and information:


Here's an Australian copyright site I found at Anzwers:


You'll get a chuckle at this line at the bottom of their index page: If you are an indexing robot, click here. :)

I'm sure someone much more knowledgeable than myself will give better information, but I did want to share some of my experience with a similar issue and bring up a few pertinent points.


Disclaimer: as is always the case on the internet, all statements are no more than the opinions of the person stating them (in this case, mine) and should not be taken as advice, in any way authoritative, or even assumed to be correct. They are merely opinions, and people should, for their own benefit and protection, always consult with an accountant, attorney, or other qualified professional or professional organization or government agency in the locale where they live.

10:31 pm on Jan 17, 2001 (gmt 0)

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Marcia... great response. Thanks for your time in preparing it and for sharing the experiences.

Much appreciated and exactly the type of info I was after..