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Re: Freelancer is blackmailing me

Active Member
Zane B Member Since: Mar 23, 2019
1 of 20

Hi Everyone,

 

A freelancer finished the first version of my site mid last year (hourly rate contract), and when I said I would get a code review, they freaked out and admitted that the backend had "bad structure" and would not pass a code review. So they offered to rebuild the site for free. 

 

The new version has been code reviewed by 3 coders, and each said that there was a third party folder that contains the freelancer's in-house code that they must use as a base to start each new project, and that the freelancer should integrate that folder's code into my main code base. Otherwise the code is not complete and I am tied to them until I have it all. The freelancer claims it's safety thing, so that code reviewers can't steal the code. But since I am the owner of the code, surely it's up to me to arrange contracts with the reviewing parties. Which I did.

 

So now they are saying that they will not hand over the complete code until I agree to their terms for a new contract and start paying them again. They are saying that I own the first version of the site, but not the new version, claiming that the new version was done outside of Upwork. But it wasn't. We simply paused payments while they rebuilt the site (Sept 2017 - March 10, 2019). And they only recently closed the contract, without discussing it first, on March 10. So the contract was active throughout the rebuild, but there was no time or payments logged.

 

They admitted the first site was substandard, offered to rebuild without payment, but won't hand over the code until I start a new contract with them.

 

1/ Given what I explained, who actually owns the code? 

2/ Is this blackmaill?

3/ How can I get the code for my site? 

 

Upwork are calling me tomorrow morning. But I'd appreciate any wisdom you could share with regard to this situation so I can sleep better tonight! Smiley Sad

 

Thanks in advance.

 

Zane

 

Moderator
Goran V Moderator Member Since: Mar 24, 2017
2 of 20

Hi Zane,

 

I would like just to remind you that our team has already reached out to you via ticket to assist you further and is waiting on your response back. Please refer to your ticket with number 25026016, you can access your tickets on this Link. Thank you.


Untitled
Active Member
Zane B Member Since: Mar 23, 2019
3 of 20

Hi Goran,

That was a different issue regarding feedback. I have booked a call with Upwork for that.

Cheers

Zane

Community Guru
Petra R Member Since: Aug 3, 2011
4 of 20

Strictly speaking, on an hourly contract, you own the one you paid to have built...  You paid for the time, not any specific deliverable.

 

You are also not able to dispute anything, as the last payment was so long ago.

 

You may also not strictly speaking  be the owner of the new code as you didn't pay for it.

 

I am fairly certain Upwork will be very careful stepping into this as their hands are tied through their terms of service and it has been so long since you actually paid under the contract.

What happened about the feedback blackmail? I would hazard a guess Upwork can do some leaning on the freelancer(s) over the feedback blackmail etc, but strictly speaking "free work" could be considered to include work on an hourly that the freelancer is not allowed to track time for, and at any rate, your ability to dispute ended 30 days after the last payment.

 

Are those people in the same country you are in?

 

The whole thing is an almighty mess.

 

1/ Given what I explained, who actually owns the code?

Good question. As it was an hourly contract and you didn't pay anything for the creation of the second code, I am entirely unconvinced that you would be able to claim ownership...

 

2/ Is this blackmaill?

That really rather depends on the answer to 1/ above.

 

3/ How can I get the code for my site?

That also really rather depends on the answer to 1/ above.

 

 

Active Member
Zane B Member Since: Mar 23, 2019
5 of 20

Hi Petra,

 

Thanks so much for your reply.

 

"Strictly speaking, on an hourly contract, you own the one you paid to have built...  You paid for the time, not any specific deliverable."

 

Have I not paid for their time to build the deliverable I decribed in the original job post? 

 

Again, they insisted on rebuilding the site after completing a badly structured first version, by their own admission. These were their exact words:

“We are also learning in our mistakes. We make it in Angular but during years we also think that, ok, this thing we developed wrong. It working. But we develop wrong structure. Do you get what I mean? So why we cannot have better things? So if we give you this code to review someone for example who have 10 years experience in Angular.js he can told you ok, this, this, this, is wrong. This not something professional. So for that we are rewriting it for making everything in right way. In right programming way.”

 

That was them saying we are so sorry. It's not going to fair well in a code review. We insist on rebuilding it for you at no charge and you will be happy with the result. There were no conditions attached it, except for the ones you are saying in Upwork's. It took them 2 weeks to convince me to take this path with them. I just wanted to launch what we had.

 

"Are those people in the same country you are in?" I am in Australia, they are in Armenia.

 

"The whole thing is an almighty mess." Don't I know it!

 

To add fuel to the fire, the original job post was "AngularJS and Laravel developer required." They assured us we were getting a Laravel 5 backend, even in this rebuild. But in this new version that they're refusing to hand over, they swapped out Laravel's ORM 'Eloquent' for older tech known as Doctrine. So now the backend is only 5% Laravel and the rest is a mish mash of Doctrine and other swapouts, meaning no other Laravel developer will touch it. We know. We've already been turned down numerous times for this reason. All 3 code reviewers said this is clearly a deliberate tactic to tie you to them.

 

To me, this alone would be reason to expect a full refund - I didn't get the Laravel backend I paid for. But if you're saying that Upwork would not consider me to be the owner of a site and its code that was a rebuild to replace the freelancer's initial substandard effort (which they've admitted to) that was paid for in full, then I don't see there being any recourse in tackling the Laravel issue. 

 

If Upwork allows freelancers to make 2 attempts at getting something right, and considers only the initial time, and considers only the software produced in that time the property of the client, then freelancers may be tempted to take a client's money and produce substandard work, amend their work in the form of a rebuild, and leave the client without ownership of the usable product. Therefore walking away with the client's intellectual property and launchable code and get it to market before the client. 

 

A court of law in Australia wouldn't see my situation this way. And I don't think the US courts would be any different. Both consumer law and contractual law ensure a customer gets exactly what they paid for. A refund or replacement is easily obtainable. AND the replacement IS the property of the customer.

 

In my case, I needed a site, the freelancer took my money, built me a site, told me himself it was no good, and offered to build me the one I paid for...

 

I really hope Upwork will consider my situation and see it for what it is. As we speak, the freelancer is using Upwork's laws to their advantage and pressuring me into a new contract with them in order for me to own and have access to my code. It's blackmail, I think that's really unfair, and I think it's ok to challenge terms and conditions if they can be improved...

 

 

Community Guru
Preston H Member Since: Nov 24, 2014
6 of 20

re: "Have I not paid for their time to build the deliverable I decribed in the original job post?"

 

No. Hourly contracts entail paying for a freelancer's time, not a specified deliverable.

 

Fixed-price contracts are used for hiring a freelancer to create a specified deliverable.

 

re: "A court of law in Australia wouldn't see my situation this way. And I don't think the US courts would be any different."

 

None of that is relevant. Upwork is a website. How Upwork functions is governed by the source code behind the site, and the policies that its employees follow. For example, if there is or is not a button that says "Request Refund", that is determined by source code, and that source code has no way of "knowing" about the laws of any country.

 

Upwork employees follow Upwork policies, or at least they are supposed to. Just like employees of any other company.

 

You may think the laws of a country, state or city are interesting, but those laws are not what controls the things that happen on Upwork. This is no different than how things work on Google, Amazon, Facebook, and every other website. Sometimes active legislators or bureaucrats put enough pressure on websites to change how they do things, and sometimes websites actively strive to follow legal regulations. But that doesn't mean that just because you see a law written down somewhere, that a particular website is complying with that law in a way that fits your understanding of the law.

 

The most expedient way to deal with Upwork is through Upwork, as the original poster seems to have already concluded.

 

re: "As we speak, the freelancer is using Upwork's laws to their advantage and pressuring me into a new contract with them in order for me to own and have access to my code. It's blackmail, I think that's really unfair, and I think it's ok to challenge terms and conditions if they can be improved."

 

It is not clear to me why you need a new contract. If the work has already been done, can't this be handled simply with a bonus payment? This WOULD BE SAFER AND BETTER for the freelancer than a new contract. Because with a new contract, you could potentially give him a bad review. But if you simply pay him a bonus payment (which you can do through Upwork even if there are no contract open), then there is no risk to the freelancer.

 

Have you asked him how much it would cost? I think this freelancer is completely out of line, but if he gives you a number, then look at that number as a business expense, and don't think about things being "fair" or "unfair." Because this is just business for you, and you are not the freelancer's pastor, priest or rabbi. If the freelancer actions cause him to accrue bad karma, then that is on him, and you have nothing to feel guilty about.

Active Member
Zane B Member Since: Mar 23, 2019
7 of 20
Hi Preston,
Thanks for your reply.
The new contract is for starting the next phase of the site. New features etc. They're saying if I commit to a new contract then they see no reason why I cannot have my complete code immediately. Which makes no sense to me, since we could start the contract, they'd then hand over the code, and I could cancel the contract that week and leave a bad review. A smarter approach would be to avoid the blackmail stuff, hand over the code, and hope that I continue to work with them long term (since they know the code and would be the most economical choice to move forward with).
An Upwork rep is calling me in 10 hours. I'll see what they say. A bonus might be the way through this, as you say.
I understand Upwork, like other sites, has its own rules. But rules can be change can't they? Not owning your rebuild because a freelancer messed up their first attempt at your site, admitted it, offered to rebuild it for free, only to end up the owner your site, leaving you with nothing to launch, seems like an absurd rule to me.
Thanks again for your help. I really do appreciate you taking the time.
Cheers
Zane
Community Guru
Petra R Member Since: Aug 3, 2011
8 of 20

Zane B wrote:

 

 

 As we speak, the freelancer is using Upwork's laws to their advantage and pressuring me into a new contract with them in order for me to own and have access to my code.

 

 


There is no such thing as "Upwork law" -

 


Zane B wrote:

 

"Are those people in the same country you are in?" I am in Australia, they are in Armenia.


 

Being practical, if you were to decide to go the legal route you'd have to try and sue someone half a world away with no guarantee that even if you were to win, any such judgment may not be easy to actually turn into cash. That route may cost as much or more than you stand to gain (of course I don't know how much you paid for your site.)

 

You were very hard done by if your account of the matters are accurate and complete (and of course there is no reason to think otherwise.)

 

I really hope "something" can be worked out for you.

 

 

Active Member
Zane B Member Since: Mar 23, 2019
9 of 20

Hi Petra,

 

"There is no such thing as "Upwork law" "

 

I was making a point that Upwork's terms and conditions, pertaining to my situation in particluar, seem to be in conflict to consumer protection laws and contractual laws in western countries.

 

Re law suit: Suing a company in Armenia isn't an option, of course. I wasn't suggesting it was an option. I was asnwering your question regarding their country of origin. The consumer and contractual laws comments were to highlight that there is a great deal more protection for the end user for the millions of products and services in western countries, than there is for a comparitive situation as an Upwork user/client. And I am pointing at my case, as an example.

 

I think you, in a previous post (forgive me if I'm misquoting), and few others, said that I only own the first version of my site when I was paying the freelancer hourly. And that I may not own the rebuild they did where the contract was paused and payments ceased. I paid for a particular deliverable, they admitted it was substandard, they insisted on rebuilding it (on paused/unpaid time), but I don't own the new deliverable. They do.

 

So that seems to be in contrast to what clients/customers would legally be entitled to in the world outside of Upwork, covered by consumer and contractual laws that protect the end user to ensure they receive what they paid for.  

 

So Upwork's terms and conditions, as they stand, create a loophole whereby a freelancer could potentially exploit these terms, build a substandard product, deliberately, on an hourly contract, offer to rebuild the site for free with the contract paused, now OWN the code, and then insist that the client needs to pay for the new rebuild (or missing code) in order to own what was not delivered to standard (by admission of the freelancer) in the first place. If at that point, the client is out of money and has no money to pursue the freelancer legally (regardless of their country of origin), then the freelancer can walk away with a code they now own, launch it, profit from it, and leave the client in their loophole dust.

 

I now understand Upwork's rules surrounding this situation of mine, I realise they don't align with other common laws we are all used to as consumers/end users in the everyday world, I am simply saying that it is a rule that is serving the freelancer only, and while it stands, unchallenged, it is harming clients, losing them money, and robbing them of a website they feel they have paid for. 

 

May I at least offer a solution to everyone at Upwork, from this community forum, all the way up to Upwork management, whereby Upwork can keep their rules exactly as they are, while taking 1 small extra step to ensure clients like myself do not unknowingly fall prey to the small number of unscrupulous freelancers out there... 

 

When a client clicks the pause button on their hourly contract, could Upwork simply add a pop up that clearly states:

 

"Please be aware, that by pausing payments to your freelancer in an hourly contract, you may not be entitled to ownership of work created by the freelancer from this point onward. We suggest you contact the freelancer directly through Upwork messaging and negotiate who will own all code created after this contract is paused."

 

Technically, and legally, I am the owner of the content in the artwork attached to this post, but I hereby surrender all ownership of such content, and grant Upwork full ownership of the content to use on their website, and anywhere else they see fit to use it.

 

One final thought... I think it will save everyone's time (you've all been so wonderful and so helpful to me in throughout this 24 hour crashing of my world, and I sincerely thank you for the time and advice you have given to me), and whole lot of heartache, if a simple preventative measure like this can be put in place. 

 

Thanks again everyone. And sorry for hijacking your post Petra Smiley Happy

 

Cheers

Zane

Australia

Highlighted
Community Guru
Will L Member Since: Jul 9, 2015
10 of 20

Zane,

 

Did you also post this question on the Clients discussions board.

 

It is more likely you'll find a fellow client there who has experienced this kind of action from a freelancer and would have some useful advice for you.

 

I don't think you'll find any freelancer who regularly posts on this Freelancers board who would have any direct experience doing what you describe.

 

Good luck.

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