I HAD a client in the past that requested I code a website for them. At the time, I was overloaded with work and sub-contracted another web developer company to help me out. They designed a small script to add, edit and delete Net Asset Values on the companies' site. Lets call my client THE COMPANY.
Months passed and THE COMPANY contacted me to update their site and make it more dynamic. I met with them and within a few weeks I was contracted to build their new website. I built a complete CMS which allowed the company to edit anything on the website they wished. The guy in charge of dealing with the website at THE COMPANY was very pleased and we eventually signed off on the website and I got paid. The guy that I was dealing with later quit the company. Later that month, I got an email from some staff of the company requesting all kinds of changes that were outside of the scope. Not to mention, we already signed off on the website. I got a deadline for Oct 19th. I was extremely busy and told the company I will try my best, and being the nice guy I am, I would not charge a cent. The changes took me over 2 days. I completed by Oct 28th. I sent the company an email and their response was requesting me to provide all database, ftp and files to THE COMPANY. They hired a new web developer. At first I was a little upset because I made all the changes and took my time out of it and didn't even charge. I was thinking about encrypting my code, but I figured the new web developer was an ethical developer.
A few weeks pass by and the company launches their site. I go and check it out. The only thing that has changed is the template!! The coding and structure of the site is still my code. I was fine with this because they wanted a new look. However, when I checked my copyright in the code comments, they had all be removed. Each and every file had its comments removed and copyright removed! Now I was truely upset. He even changed the footer to his company name.
I then went to the CMS on THE COMPANY website. Guess what? The CMS was completely UNCHANGED from my coding, but all the copyright, title and information containing my companies' info was changes to HIS COMPANY!
The title of the CMS was MYCOMPANY.COM CMS, he changed it to HISCOMPANY.com CMS!!
Now I am truely pissed off. I look up this guy in the whois and got his contact information. I call him. To my suprise I find out he is the coder at the sub-contracted company I used months ago for the original website. He quit the sub-contract company and started his own company.
When I tell him my situation and what he is doing is illegal, he tells me, well, one part of the website is my code.
I ask what he is talking about.... He says that the Net Asset Value script was designed by him at the sub-contract company. Remember guys, the Net Asset Value (NAV) script is one script of over 30 different scripts I have on the CMS.
I tell him that #1. He was an employee at the sub-contract company, so anything he did belong to that company and not him, and #2. I used the subcontract company to help me develop the original site. Meaning all source code given to me was mine to change and manipulate as per my agreement with the sub-contract company.
I then email him and THE COMPANY asking that the copyright be changed back to my name. He replied saying he refuses to do so because his company and mine are not affiliated.
I am about to type my response, but I have no idea what to say. I do not want to start a war, but at the same time, what is mine is mine.
Did you have a contract? Laws vary by location but you may not even have the right to claim copyright on the work.
For example, in US law, in the case of 'work for hire', the copyright belongs to the hiring company - not the person who completes the work (unless there is a contract to the contrary). http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap2.html
In UK law, the copyright of a freelance/commissioned work belongs to the actual author (unless there is a contract specifying otherwise)
So if you're in the US, without any contract stating otherwise, you don't own the copyright and you have no right to ask them to change it.
You could hire a lawyer and try to find some way around this/ some alternative interpretation of copyright law BUT it will be costly, and gain you very little. But it was very presumptuous of you to plaster their site with your copyright anyway.
First off, do not work without commercial insurance cover (which includes legal protection). Whether you are freelance or a corporation, get covered.
Secondly, write a letter each week. each time demonstrating a willingness to settle. After 6 weeks formalise with 1 letter from a lawyer, where it will be stated that they may incur your legal costs should this matter go further, and once again offering to settle. i would also inform this individuals previous employers, as it seems he is proably in breach of his own employment contract (poaching clients)
Finally, where possible, always have a terms of business with any sub contractor. there are websites where you can buy a template and alter it to fit your needs. then its no signature = no work.
For example, in US law, in the case of 'work for hire', the copyright belongs to the hiring company - not the person who completes the work (unless there is a contract to the contrary).
If you already got paid and did not have a contract saying that the copyright would remain yours, then there is not much you can do.
In all my "big" projects, I register the copyright in Washington, D.C during the course of my work, and state in my contract that upon receiving payment, I would transfer the copyright to them. However, you can write on your contracts that you will transfer the copyright to them after a certain period of time, especially in cases like yours when work is to be passed to another web developer. If you had a contract stating that the copyright still belonged to you during the time of the occurrence, then you can sue for copyright infringement.
Copyright infringement lawsuit = Statutory Damages = BIG $$$$$ (up to $150,000 if you have proof).