Software developers are really smart (I know, as I work with lots of them on their software development agreements, etc.), but there is one blind spot that I see way too often: they trust their customers too much, and then they take things into their own hands when they don’t get paid. Hey, getting frustrated (even angry) is only natural when someone does not pay what they owe, but not handling it the right way is not. So don’t shut down a customer’s site (software, product, etc.) for a billing dispute, unless you have the legal right to do that.
So here is the hypothetical.
- A customer hires a software developer to build a website, and then the customer does not pay on time and the software developer ‘remotely’ shuts down the site (so that the customer will be forced to pay). The customer then sustains a financial loss (e.g. lost business).
- Under the law, terminating access or repossessing something is a called a ‘self help remedy,’ and is an area of the law you want to be very careful with.
- It is similar to when you do not pay your car note, and then the bank repossesses your car.
- However, in this car example, there are rules as the bank cannot ‘break the peace’ (i.e. they can get the car if it is on the street, but not if it is in a locked garage).
Q: What is the right way to handle it?
A: Avoid it.
Q: How do I avoid it?
A: Get more $ upfront and along the way.
Q: Well I don’t want to do that because I trust the customer and I am a nice guy.
A: Don’t blindly trust the customer and learn how to negotiate.
Q: Well I did not do that, and now I need to get paid. I did the work.
A: Negotiate with the customer, but don’t take down their site unless you have the legal right to do that.
Q: Why, what can happen if I take it down without legal authority.?
A: A violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is a civil and criminal statute.
Q: Yea, Right.
A: Look at this very recent case from Sept 2015 re the CFAA and the developer taking down the site. http://bit.ly/1KZ3uvv
So long story short, be very careful with these kinds of issues and don’t take matters into your own hands unless you have the legal right to do it. It goes without saying that talking to an attorney is a good idea in these situations, but I think you already knew that. I hope this helps, as you know that violating a criminal statute is not a good thing, especially for nice and really smart guys.
This post is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not legal advice. You should hire an attorney if you need legal advice, which should be provided only after review of all relevant facts and applicable law.