A Question of Copyright or ‘How to Get Paid’

Today was a big day over at our sister site, Custom-Copy.com. We got paid. We didn’t just get paid for any old job, though – oh no. Today, after over three months of waiting, we finally received the payment we’d all but given up on, from our worst customer ever. Here’s how we did it – and how you can avoid finding yourself in the same situation.

First of all, I have to hold my hands up and admit to making a huge mistake with this client. You see, this was a small project: just one web content article, for a well known website owned by someone I “knew” online, having spoken to him many times on a business forum we both frequent. While I’d normally request payment upfront for this type of work, the client was well known to me, and had worked with one of my other clients with no apparent problems, so, as a mark of good faith, and in hopes of turning one article in repeat business, I told him I’d be happy to take payment upon completion. Big mistake. Huge.

The client, of course, agreed immediately to this no-risk offer, and the article was duly completed and accepted. A few days later, it appeared on the website it had been written for and I submitted an invoice.

Time passed. I submitted a second invoice, then a third. No response. A fourth invoice generated a “sorry, I’ll pay this today”, but, needless to say, no payment materialised. By now, of course, I was starting to feel just a little bit annoyed. The fee in question was a relatively small one, but I’d done the work, and it had been accepted. So why wasn’t I getting paid?

Having spent more than enough time sending polite requests for payment, and receiving no response whatsoever, we decided it was time to get a little tougher. So we issued our client with a Cease and Desist notice stating that as the article remained unpaid for, he was in violation of our copyright by displaying it on his website, and that we required either its immediate removal, or payment in full.

If you’ve never had to write a Cease and Desist letter before, you’ll find a good sample here. This letter is written from the perspective of someone discovering that their writing has been published without their knowledge, however, you can also require a client to “cease and desist” if they’re using your work when they haven’t paid for it.

There was a certain amount of risk to us in sending this letter. We were aware that if our non-payer really didn’t want to pay, he could have simply removed the article from his website and let that be the end of it. I’d have lost out in that I’d already done the work, but at least I’d be able to try and re-sell the piece elsewhere. What actually happened, however, was… nothing. No response from the client, no removal of the article, nothing. So it was time to play our trump card.

By publishing my writing on his website without my permission (he hadn’t paid for the article, so the copyright still belonged to me), our client was breaking the law. It took us only a few minutes to find the name of the company hosting his website, and a contact email address for them. We wrote the hosting company an email, copied to the client, stating that the website in question had violated our copyright, and that, having exhausted all attempts to contact the owner, we were now forced to turn to the host for help.

While it’s true that most web hosting companies use disclaimers to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the material used on the websites they host, it’s also true to say that most won’t want to become involved in any dispute arising from copyright infringement, and many would rather remove the site from their servers than risk being caught in the crossfire. By making our complaint direct to the host, we placed the site at risk of being closed down entirely – and this, it seems, managed to achieve what no amount of begging emails had come close to.

Within thirty minutes of sending the email to the hosting company, the payment was in our account. The client was, of course, extremely apologetic. He had thought the bill had been paid, you see. He hadn’t received any of the numerous emails we’d sent him, the cease and desist notice or the personal messages sent via the forum we met him on. No one could have been sorrier than him – and no one could have been less convinced than us.

We were lucky in that we managed to get our payment in this way, and by using email. What we should have done, of course, was to send the reminders and follow-up correspondence in writing, and by registered mail, so that the client couldn’t claim not to have seen them. As it is, we got our money, and we’ve learned an important lesson on how to deal with non-payers in the future. Here’s what we’ll be doing from now on:

1. Sticking to our written terms and conditions – no matter how trustworthy someone appears to be
2. Sending reminder invoices by recorded delivery so there’s proof that they’ve been received
3. Trusting our instincts – I was never sure about this client, but decided to take a risk as I “knew” him. Next time, I’ll know better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>