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Can you keep your copyright when a client doesn’t pay for code?

On Behalf of | Aug 5, 2022 | Trademarks

For freelance software engineers and coding contractors, receiving full payment for a project can be a struggle. There are many companies that will start using the code you produce without ever paying you for the services rendered. There are others that will simply accept your work and then never fully compensate you for it according to your contract.

Typically, when you sign a contract to work for a company, you grant them the copyright for the work you produce. Can you demand that they take your work down, or can you repurpose what you created for that non-paying client by updating it for someone else because they didn’t pay?

Non-payment may affect who holds the copyright

The contract that you sign with the company or your emails discussing the terms of your arrangement can help you explore the terms of your agreement. It is typical for businesses outsourcing IT or website projects to specifically include clauses in their contracts clarifying the ownership and copyright protections for the code produced.

Businesses typically demand that contractors rescind their ownership rights and copyright protections in exchange for financial compensation. When the client never made good on their promise of compensation, they arguably don’t have a right to use your code and may not have the right to enforce copyright protections if you repurpose that code elsewhere.

Instead of getting tricky with your work, focus on securing payment

There are some people who will tell software professionals to build in kill codes or otherwise create a back door that allows them to shut down any software they create from outside of the company due to non-payment.

While there may be emotional gratification to be had in that situation, such actions might violate other clauses of your contract and leave you open to litigation yourself, instead of in a position to pursue compensation from the other party. Instead of focusing on petty revenge, your top priority should be getting paid for the work that you have already done.

Many contractors struggling to connect with compensation will find that professional legal help can make all the difference in their cases. Documenting the non-payment and any other breaches of your contract and then taking legal action can help you actually get the money you deserve for the work you have already done. Learning more about your rights as a self-employed professional or independent contractor will help you protect your interests when a client doesn’t uphold their end of an agreement.