Legal Question in Intellectual Property in Virginia

Volunteered to do website. What is mine?

I volunteered to design a website. I wrote the code, got the site up and going and installed a bulletin board. While this person described features they wanted, frequently they were things that should not be done, i.e. poor design that would lead to problems. So my involvement was design, management, design consultation, admin. of bulletin board, to name a few. There was no written agreement for anything. After a year, I asked to “unvolunteer”. This person got mad but still wanted to use the site. At first, I agreed and gave them access to the hosting account. Then I came to my senses & realized that the whole template was my work. I couldn’t see them just walking away with it.I sent a letter telling them I was taking what was mine. I asked them to delete any files they had of anything that was my creation or property and not use it. I discovered that while they had access to the hosting account they made a backup of the database of the bulletin board and they now have it up on another site.

Since I volunteered, what recourse do I have? Can I demand that they return the database and take down the bulletin board? What rights to I have?

Asked on 6/13/06, 2:33 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Brett Dorny Law Office of Brett N. Dorny

Re: Volunteered to do website. What is mine?

I recommend that you contact a copyright attorney. He or she can provide specific legal advice regarding your rights.

Under general copyright principles, the author of a work is the owner and can control its use, including making of copies or modifications. There are certain situations in which the ownership is transferred. For example, if an employee creates a work as part of his or her employment, the employer is considered the author and owner. Similarly, a work is created pursuant to a written agreement can be owned by other than the original author. Since you were a volunteer and there was no written agreement, you are probably the owner of all copyrightable material created by you. For a website and a database, there may be questions about what is copyrightable material. Additionally, there may be issues regarding the expectations you created on behalf of the organization which would allow them to used copyrightable material in certain ways.

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Answered on 6/13/06, 3:16 pm

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