I built a site for a local concert venue. There has never been any contracts signed, everything has been under the table. They pay me by letting me backstage to any show I want and occasionally kick me some money since they love how I have handled the site.
I also wrote a online ticketing application in PHP for them. It has worked quite well until now, and a major error has got them very pissed at me. For what they are paying me and wanting me to do... I'm not all that upset about it because I don't really invest that much time into it since I'm not getting paid at all what I should be for it.
As a result of a recent problem, they got pissed at me. All I hear is the owner yelling as loud as he can at me through the phone, asking how he is going to fix this. I know it was a mistake I made that caused the problem, but the treatment I am getting is beyond ok. I think the problem can be fixed to a degree that is acceptable, but I am still getting major heat non-stop from them.
I am not planning on this yet, but if they just finally cross the line I want to just back out completely and take the site with me.
The question: Can I do this since we have NEVER had any formal agreements, contracts?
He will probably smear my name and reputation, but whatever. I have an actual job at a design company and his site is just a side thing I do along with a couple others. I can also just change my side company's name if it even got to that point.
You might want to document your attempts to correct the problem, in case they sue you for lost revenue. As long as you attempt to fix the error, they won't have a case. Also, try to record one of the owner's telephone tirades as a reason that you backed off the project.
A designer keeps copyright of his work until he transfers it to someone else, i.e. a client. It would be very difficult for them to win a court case since you guys had such a lax agreement (no contract). I don't think you would have any problem pulling the site.
However, I think you should be the better person and confront this gentleman politely and professionally. When clients get angry at me and raise their voice I interrupt and politely tell them that if they wish to continue the conversation we will have to do it professionally and calmly. If they still don't calm down I hang up. I call back in a few minutes and ask if we can continue the conversation in a more professional manner. I also tell them I am committed to solving their problem and will show them respect... therefore all I ask for is respect in return.
I don't really want to discuss what happened because we are trying to make the screw up not as visible. But, basically, once the owner sat and thought about some of the options me and his wife (who works side by side with him) came up with things calmed down a bit. Once he realized that the error could be fixed for the most part, he became rational again. I understood his anger because it had the potential to really ruin his reputation in his business, but we have managed some pretty good damage control.