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Legal problems with coldfusion coding please help...

Posted on 2004-03-24
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Last Modified: 2014-01-06
Hello, this questions is a little off topic, but I'm figuring this is the best place to get professional opinions.

I'm a 19 year old cold fusion programmer residing in upstate new york. One day I was viewing newspaper adds and saw an add for a programmer for a local dating site. I met with 2 men, showed them my portfolio and resume and they decided to go with me. I told them I'm the man they need and that I could design the whole site for them. I started off at $100.00/week and 3 months into it asked for a raise of $300.00/week. I was advised by their next door neighbor, that they weren't totally honest people. So for security, I told them that I would not continue to work on the website unless the domain name was placed under my registrar account in my own name. They transferred it over to me. I signed a sub contractor agreement, that stated they would pay me a weekly salary, and once the site was launched I would get 12.5% of the company profits for 1 year, on the days we reached over 20 payments/day.

They eventually came to me about 2 months before the site launched and said they need a loan off of my credit card in order to meet everyones salary. So basically I was put in the position, loan them the money or I don't receive a weekly salary for who knows how long. I sent them 3800 off of my 26% interest circuit city credit card via paypal. They also tried to get me more credit cards in my name, basically up to $50,000.00 in credit card applications. Luckily because of my age and no co-signer I was denied for each credit application.

Once the site launched we were nearly bringing in 20 payments/day right off the bat. No 12.5% was ever rewarded to me. My $300.00/week was late all the time, and here they are making 5-800 dollars/day. They also paid 66% of my credit card MINIMUM blaance for 2 months, approximately $433.00. Then they stopped. The card company kept calling and kept calling and I didn't have 330/mo to pay the minimum. Now, 3 months into the job, they asked me to do non-programming related work, (spamming other dating sites) to get members to come over to ours. I dislike this kind of work entirely and recommended we use an affiliate program. I eventually could not take anymore of this data entry work, as they basically stopped me from fprogramming all together, so one day I was asked to do another employees assignment because her computer was broken. I refused. They then fired me and told me to give them all server information. Of course I naturally changed all access passwords, and completely locked them out of MY site. I coded and designed it from scratch. All they gave me were general ideas. The server was in my name as well and was configured from scratch by me.

Now as for my girlfriend, they hired her to spam, and she is 16 years of age. They told her, they would pay her $6/hour, but she only received $3/hour. The other 3 supposedly went into equity in the company. She never signed any contract with them. When they fired me they fired her as well, and at that time she had accumulated $1330.00 in 'company equity'. She wasw never paid this amount of money.

And by the way, the whole time I was working with them, I was under the impression they had legal business documentation. I eventually found out after I was fired that they did not obtain any LLC paperwork whatsoever, so I filed for the corporate name in the state of new york. I now own the LLC.

They have now complained to the new york state supreme court and its turned into a large mess. They have been lying ridiculous amounts in their affendavits. They fired their first lawyer firm after the preliminary hearing, and I have no idea why. Now they have a snake for a lawyer. He's doing nothing but trying to find me in contempt of court and trying to throw me in a state prison. Keep in mind, I'm only a 19 year old programmer that works in my own bedroom, I'm no criminal, the plaintiffs are.

I was never even awarded my last week of pay, and neither was my girlfriend. Right now the case is still in litigation but it seems to me the judge is extremely biased against me and my lawyer. From the start he's done nothing to help me, and is doing everything to help them.

It was ordered that I was to give them status quo access to the website, meaning to give them temporary adminstrative access to run the site while this case is in litigation. I gave them full access to the database, and access to all email accounts. They are able to successfully run the site. I was also ordered to give them ftp server information and root access information. I did not give it to them so once again we were called into court. The judge said that they need to get a $100,000.00 insurance policy on my software for my protection. In the meantime they took this judges order, flashed it to my server company, and to my domain registrar. The domain registrar yanked the domain name out of my account and the server company yanked root access from me from my own server. I wrote the server company and told them that it was MY job to give them the information required not theirs, and they then gave me back access to my own server. Unfortunately, they had root access for 24 hours and probably were able to sucessfully copy all of my source code. I had my lawyer contact the domain registrar stating to them that I was only supposed to transfer this to them if they got the 100,000 dollar bond. They never did, so my lawyer got the domain name put back in my own name.

Now, we went to court again, this time they wanted the judge to lower the bond amount. He lowered it to 4,500 dollars!!! But, while we were there he never said ONE thing about me giving them any ftp or root information. He told me, that their new programmer was to contact me if anything needed to be fixed or changed. I started receiving emails from these people on sunday afternoons demanding work be done within 2 hours or they would file contempt of court papers. A few days later one of the plaintiffs emailed me and said per the directive of the court I was to give him the root server password. This was never said in court, so naturally I didn't. They then filed and order to show cause for contempt of court against me. The server is MINE and my software licenses, (plesk,coldfusion enterprise 6.1,etc) reside on this server. The reason they give that they need the ftp information is to test their newly developed softtware, as they're supposed to be replacing my own.

Also keep in mind I now have to pay 650 dollars/mo to keep this server going. What I want to do is yank the server, or at least yank the licenses that are my own. But if I do this, they will hold me in contempt of court because the website is going to go down. I don't know what to do, and my lawyer doesn't seem to be helping me out too much. I need professional help, and there is no one I can complain too.

The judge has asked me to do the unspeakable. Beware this could happen to you fellow programmers. This is servere INJUSTICE!!!!!

I'm basically facing a prison sentence for not giving these people my own property and it's quite depressing. Any thoughts, opinions or acts of help would be greatly appreciated. Please help... thank you.
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Question by:fozzynet
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Expert Comment

by:ftvcs
ID: 10675809
Yank the licenses and put your letter on the page.
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by:
James Rodgers earned 250 total points
ID: 10676674
1) Get a better lawyer, check with the local ACLU office  they might be interested in a theft of intellectual property case - and they have a lot of clout or local college law societies, they can refer you to the right services and give you some help, if you are a student then your college probably has a legal services for students office

2) file a counter suit - theft of intellectual property, violation of state/federal labour laws(16 year olds cannot voluntarily enter into property contracts without written consent of a legal guardian, this can vary by state) , theft of property (they are using your licences, without your permission and without proper compensation) etc., - the best defense is a good offence - they are winning by bringing you to court - turn the tables

3) DO NOT PULL THE SERVER - this will just make you look bad in court - see number 1

4) as stated above, you can place a letter - very carefully worded!! - as the home page of your site with a link to the real home page at the top and bottom of the page - please get step 1 done first and let the lawyer write it!!, this does not interfer with the operation of the site and can fall under freedom of speach, but get  step one done first!!!! or at least consult with your lawyer before doing this!!

5) if you have receipts showing what the money borrowed from your credit cards was used for then you can show that YOU own the items purchased with the money! (ie site/software licences, development tools, office supplies,etc) and if YOU own them then you can do what you want with them, also by their paying 66% of the monthly minimum they admit, through action, that at least 66% of the debt is theirs!! a good lawyer could probably expand this to other parts of the case

please get another, more aggressive, lawyer that is the first step, try to find one with experience in internet intellectual property rights, go to the local law library to find simila cases to yours -  do your research

I feel bad for what you are going through but remember two things - there are no friends in business and no matter what they say get it in writing!!!! words can be denied but papers/contracts have a nasty way of biting people in the assets

remember what you have read here is only advice, an opinion, not the law - you need to get a better lawyer and do more research!!

good luck! and notice a recurring theme here - stay within the law!! and get a better lawyer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Expert Comment

by:PE_CF_DEV
ID: 10678112
Email me at AdamH<at>PartsExpress.com My uncle is a lawyer in the NY area, he does Copyright issues but he may be able to reffer you somewhere. I'll see what I can do to help you out.
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Author Comment

by:fozzynet
ID: 10678203
I'm trying to stay within the law 100%

I'm meeting with a federal guy today in the hours and wages department

Unfortunately regarding the licenses, the judge ordered me to provide them with access to the website status quo before I was fired, but somehow they turned stuff around and were able to get the judge to force me to give them root and ftp access to my server and software. He also said, if I tamper with the site I will be in contempt of court. If I take down the licenses, the site goes down, as coldfusion would no longer be running, and he will hold me in contempt of court. Basically I guess all I can do now is send them a bill for the hosting, which they probably won't pay, and file claims about the licenses.

I met with my original lawyer this morning and he said he's filing an appeal, and he will also write a strong letter to the judge about the licenses. My lawyer has argued with the judge over these topics, the judge just won't listen, all he says is 'put the claims in your damages', and unfortunately he has no idea what he is doing when it comes to this.
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Expert Comment

by:PE_CF_DEV
ID: 10678251
Do some research on the judge. If what you are saying is true these people will find a way to get a judge on thier side...My friend's case, custody, was delayed to get a new judge when it was discovered the judge was a relative of a close friend of the plantiff.
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Expert Comment

by:James Rodgers
ID: 10678375
>>somehow they turned stuff around and were able to get the judge to force me to give them root and ftp access to my server
the argument you have to make here is that by providing them with root and FTP access to the server they are by-passing the security measures put in place to to ensure the integrity of the hardware and software which affects the other sites hosted on the server openning you to potential liablility as the other sites on the server are no longer able to operate in a secure and discreet manner, which is part of operating a business through a web site. security as regards virus activity, intellectual property and dataintegrity have been corrupted by the requirement to provide your 'partners' with root access, but as you are the administrator of record you will be held liable for security violations so you need to be the soul person with super user/root access.

try that one out ... remember... if you can't dazzle them with diamonds, then baffle them with BS, and there is a lot of BS in dealing with the law
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Author Comment

by:fozzynet
ID: 10678582
Jester thank you, I will make sure my lawyer uses some of that excellent wording in his letter to the judge!

When you told me to do some research on the judge, I just had a memory flash, one of these 'partners' originally said his sister worked for the state government. How do cases like this go straight to the state supreme court unless you have an 'IN'? I will try and find out and maybe we could get this judge recused if that is the case.
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Assisted Solution

by:bowline
bowline earned 250 total points
ID: 10682010
I went through a similar situation, although not nearly as ugly, a while back - did a site for a start-up, chipped in a small investment, and they decided to go a different route trying to cut all ties with me, while keeping the code.  The most important lesson learned:

**Get a good intellectual property lawyer who has experience with technology cases.**

Prepare to pay a lot, but you can also prepare a counter suit at the same time to recoup those costs.  I would not jump to conclusions about the judge's alliances, but rather assume that his illogical judgements are due to ignorance in this field.  Think about how much explaining you had to do with your parents and grandparents to help them understand the ramifications of this judge's decisions.  With the right lawyer, this case can be presented to the judge in a manner that he can understand.  Not saying that your lawyer is not doing a good job, it sounds like it has been an uphill battle the whole way, but I think that you can find someone better suited for your situation.

Make sure that you continue to be cooperative, you really don't want to be perceived as disgruntled - you want to be the complying victim.  Let your lawyer question things and write letters, they are paid to be the bad guy.

Also, decide on your goals with this case, do you want to own the site and run the dating service?  Or do you want to be paid for your work and your legal fees, and hopefully a little punitive damages?  Act accordingly.  If you want to be paid, will running this company into the ground really help you?

...you have my sympathies...
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Expert Comment

by:tnunamak
ID: 10934101
I would charge them hosting.  Rackspace.com charges something like $800/mo for a dedicated server.    Take a percentage of the server's utilization they are using out of $800/mo and send them a bill wit instructions that their account will be terminated without full payment with 30 days of the invoice.  I worked for the USPS during college and the police would routinely send out registered letters "return receipt requested, RESTRICTED DELIVERY"  That means only the person addressed on the envelope can sign for it.  If they signed for it, they obviously got a copy of it.  That at least should get some monthly revenue coming in from them.  If not, per your hosting agreement, you have to terminate their account.

I'm NOT a lawyer so take that as an input for consideration with your attorney.  
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Expert Comment

by:tzak12525
ID: 39760983
This is extremely bad, any update from the author?
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