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CalAttorney2
CalAttorney2, Attorney
Category: Business Law
Satisfied Customers: 10244
Experience:  I am a businesses law attorney, with experience advising and representing owners and investors.
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And thank you my question. My question is

Customer Question

Hello and thank you for taking my question. My question is multifaceted, so I'll try to be as informative but as concise as possible. My question is in regards ***** ***** ownership of a online domain (a website) and who owns what within the website.
The firs thing I'd like to highlight is that absolutely nothing we did was ever in official writing. No contracts were made. Everything was just talked about verbally or through text. We spoke of making a contract eventually, but never did it get beyond that.
A friend and I made a website together. The friend is an up and coming artist and Im just a regular guy. I offered to create the website for him. I created the website during my spare time. I paid for the website and created all of the content within the website. The website is his artist name. For example purposes I'll just say it was www.bigsanta.com. The website went up and we used it together for business to promote his art. He had a business e-mail that the website used as well.
The purpose of the website, was to give the artist a central point for things that already existed within social media. It had his Facebook, Twitter, etc. All in one location. But all of it still existed independently of the website. The website generated no revenue. We sold nothing and we also did not advertise for anyone on the website. It was just for his promotional purposes. The website had very little content.
The website was up for a few months until we disbanded. When we disbanded, all his contact was changed on all social media and then I took down the website.
Now as far as I can tell, I am the registered owner of the website. The artist is claiming that he owns the rights to his name, domain, and publicity. So he believes that he is entitled to the website. I'm trying to figure out, within the eyes of the law, who is the legal owner of the website? Should I be the legal owner of the website, is it still possible for him to sue me to obtain the website? I'd also like to know that since we just agreed as friends to do this together, am I able to at least claim payment for my time creating the website or have him reimburse me for the cost of the website?
Also, along those lines, a lot of e-mails came through on the website. Even if I legally own the website, does he have legal ownership of e-mails addressed to him? Does he have legal ownership of the e-mail that is associated to the website?
I think that covers it. Thank you so much for your time.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Business Law
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 1 year ago.
Dear Customer,This is a somewhat complex set of questions, however, within the confines of this "Q&A" forum, the general answer is that both the domain, the email, and all correspondence, belongs to your friend. Using your friend's name for the website is going to give him a claim to the domain name that is superior to yours under the doctrine of the "right of personality" and he is going to trump any informal or equitable claims that you may have against him.The only claims that I can see you being able to bring against him would be for the actual costs you expended on his behalf in paying for the website (such as domain registration fees, etc.). You can try using equitable theories such as "unjust enrichment" to claim reimbursement (these equitable theories are used in quasi contractual situations where there is no actual contract between the parties and are used to prevent an unfairness between the parties). Correspondence addressed to your friend are going to be his property - you could not reasonably claim an ownership interest in correspondence or communications directed towards him (and I would highly encourage you to ensure that your friend's communications are not interrupted in any way - provide him with whatever information he needs to ensure that he is able to continue receiving his emails uninterrupted).I do wish you the best with this matter, if you do get in a dispute here, I would recommend trying mediation in lieu of litigation (the dollar value here is going to be low, and you are more likely to reach a mutually agreeable resolution having a third party neutral help you reach a settlement as opposed to spending a lot of time and money going to court - contact your local bar association and ask for referrals to local mediators and they can assist you in setting up a mediation to resolve the dispute and get a formal settlement).

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