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Bad Client Ugly Solution

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FranklinTimms
Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Oct 28, 2005 at 3:34:43 pm

I wonder what the thoughts or legal ramifications are here from the forum.

Say you have a client that has a project that is only half done and looking to move the project due to no fault of the edit house but for unrelated reasons. They still have an outstanding bill on the work performed. This the short story version.

Anyway, what happens if they say they are not going to pay and in response I tell them that if the are not going to pay the bill then I am going to clear the drives of their media (causing an extreme amount of work to be lost) and make room for new clients. This would be a "no turning back" move. Would they have any sort of legal right from preventing me to do this, or if I did do this would this come back to me legally.

I understand that this falls into a bad editing taboo to get to this point of withholding tapes and threatening to dump media but aside from all the bad business karma and such I am more curious about the legal issues by doing something like this. Things are not yet to this point but I am just thinking...


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Charlie King
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Oct 28, 2005 at 5:21:11 pm

Releasing any work at all that has not been paid for, regardless of the reason, is bad business practice. If they are taking the project elsewhere, they either pay for what has been done, or start over at the new facility. They should not expect to get the work that was finished, at no cost whatsoever. If they refuse to pay, they don't get any work. If any tapes belonged to them before the work began then release those tapes to them, but nothing that you created.

Charlie


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franklinTimms
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Oct 28, 2005 at 5:41:01 pm

So you recommend letting them have all their source tapes, but nothing that was generated within the facility. In addition, what is your take on holding the media on the drives. Once it is wiped it is not recoverable (long story but essentially not re-batchable). How long would you keep the media on drives.


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Charlie King
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Oct 28, 2005 at 9:24:53 pm

[franklinTimms] "what is your take on holding the media on the drives."

Once he walks out of your facility with his original material, your drives belong to you, as a point, I would probably keep the material (If I had the room to do so) for a day or so jsut to be sure he wasn't going to come back and say what if I pay you for what was done? BUT...I would not ever put any faith on him doing that, if he should, you could always tell him, lucky for you I haven't had time to wipe my drives yet. When he walks out of the door with his material and having not paid you, you are in your rights to wipe everything.

Charlie



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Ron Lindeboom
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Oct 28, 2005 at 5:48:46 pm

[Charlie King] "Releasing any work at all that has not been paid for, regardless of the reason, is bad business practice. If they are taking the project elsewhere, they either pay for what has been done, or start over at the new facility. They should not expect to get the work that was finished, at no cost whatsoever. If they refuse to pay, they don't get any work. If any tapes belonged to them before the work began then release those tapes to them, but nothing that you created."


Good advice, Charlie. Kathlyn and I once found ourselves in this situation with a client who had come to us with a half-finished project that needed some real finish work to get it done. We later learned that he had stiffed the first studio and took the work that they gave him and which he brought to us. We worked for days with the guy until it became clear that this project was never going to end -- he suffered from "artiste's syndrome" and nothing was ever going to be good enough. He fancied himself, Van Gogh or DaVinci or something. I told him that we were going to wrap up the project that night or not at all. He insisted I give him my work and he would finish it elsewhere. I later learned he had done that to the first studio and they gave it to him. We didn't. He refused to pay and threatened to sue us, I told him to go right ahead. Of course he didn't and I don't think he ever finished the project. I think he's still massaging it in the 322nd studio in the line, by now.

Like you said, I handed him back everything that was his when he walked in the door. I gave him nothing of my work. That job taught me a lot of reasons why I would never do a job without a signed estimate and making them sign updated change orders along the way. It was an expensive lesson but one well worth the cost.

Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom


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Tim Kolb
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Oct 28, 2005 at 8:02:09 pm

This is also an excellent cautionary tale about interval billing...

Billing at the end leaves lots of openings for problems.

I would agree with what's been said. You need to have them pay or erase the drives and only return what they own. I might also insist that it's a cashier's check under the circumstances...


Good luck with it.

TimK,

Kolb Syverson Communications,
Creative Cow Host,
2004-2005 NAB Post Production Conference
Premiere Pro Technical Chair,
Author, "The Easy Guide to Premiere Pro" http://www.focalpress.com
"Premiere Pro Fast Track DVD Series" http://www.classondemand.net


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foleyvideo
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Oct 28, 2005 at 8:36:10 pm

Hi

Yep this happens from time to time. How much real estate does the project take up on your drives? Would it be possible to move it over to a tape drive or some other archive device? You could do that then offer to sell that to your client ALONG with your bill for services performed up til this time.

Whenever I have encountered the rare "impossible" client, I usually am only too glad to wash my hands of him. And I am happy to do it in the most professional way I can -- that is -- you pay me for what I've done and I'll give you the material you want. Pay me enough and I'll yank loose the hard drive and hand that to you also. Whatever it takes to get rid of ya. Perhaps I'm too easy on some people, but I'd rather just cut my losses and move on with as little stink as possible.

Legally, the client DOES owe you for time spent. As for the master tapes and files -- well -- if that wasn't part of the original deal, then do some bargaining.

Steve Foley



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David Roth Weiss
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Nov 1, 2005 at 5:19:01 pm

[Charlie King] "If they refuse to pay, they don't get any work. If any tapes belonged to them before the work began then release those tapes to them, but nothing that you created."

Charlie,

Here in California there is long-held industry standard, when a customer fails to pay, you need not return any work product left in your hands, including their original tapes.

So long as you have a proper paper trail, you're covered in most situations. You must be able to show that you've informed the customer why you are holding their materials, and show that you've given them repeated opportunities to pay their outstanding balance. Unfortunately, I've had to go to court twice in this position, but both times the rulings were automatic.

Its always good to keep in mind, the client could sue... But then, anyone can sue anybody for anythng...

DRW



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Craig Seeman
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Nov 2, 2005 at 1:35:42 am

David, did they have to pay your court costs? Did they "stiff" their lawyer too?


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Nov 2, 2005 at 7:06:35 am

Craig,

I took these fellows to small claims even though both cases were over the California $10K limit. I didn't want to share my dough with a lawyer, and I wanted to go for the max allowable by law, just so I could write those words on the court petition. My objectives were easliy achived in the small claims arena, where small businesses usually win. The court and collection costs were just $60 or $70 total, so I just ate that myself. It was all well worth the trouble in the end.

I am not by any means a lititious person, but if I do my best and they try to slip away without paying the bill, I'll fight like a cornered pit bull until I get what's due to me.

DRW


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Mark Suszko
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Nov 3, 2005 at 8:26:09 pm

This has happened to such varied film makers as Orson Welles and Jerry Lewis;
Film stuck in vaults of processing labs because a check bounced or there's a lawsuit or some such thing. I agree with the consensus so far: give him whatever materials he came in with, but unless he's paid up in advance and the check has cleared, your contribution to his materials in your editing and compositing is YOURS, and you can erase it at any time.

I would personally archive it off to deep storage on tape or data DVD's in case you need evidence for a lawsuit later.


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Matt
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
by
on Nov 7, 2005 at 7:30:07 am

If you want to be a stinker and put a temp halt to the heat of the situation to allow other party to cool off whereas you could benefit from other side making better choices...Box up the materials, put in a reasonable storage and perform a "mechanic's lien" on ALL materials, (Cost should be no more then an hour of legal time, or you can do yourself) this is just like taking your $45,000 truck in to get a $150 brake job... but not paying, that shop can detain your vehicle for payment. This is perfectly legal. Once the other side realizes the dynamics of a legal fight on this fundamental stance usual come to their senses...


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Nov 7, 2005 at 7:45:40 am

Exactly Matt. And all this stuff about giving them back their camera original or what have you, and just hanging onto the work product you created is ridiculous. Just put it all in storage. If they're gonna dick with you about money you've earned legitimately, show 'em you too can play the game.


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ian karr
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Nov 9, 2005 at 5:04:25 pm

It's pretty simple, actually...

His stuff belongs to him.

Work you did belongs to you unless he pays you for it.

From now on, with all untested clients, 50% of projected costs up front.

As far as the law is concerned, your client asked you to do work and you did it (that's a verbal contract). Most states in the nation would require your client to pay, regardless of whether or not he likes the results...however, if there's a dispute, most courts expect the client to give you an opportunity to "remedy" the problem.(s). If you can't remedy the issues, that's another story.

You are completely within your rights to do what you want to with the work you performed...delete it, archive it, whatever. You need to weigh the karma hit on your own ;).

What we generally do in these situations is see if it's possible to address the client's concerns. If that isn't practical, I like to ask the client..."what would you do if you were me?". More often than not, that starts a meaningful dialogue.

Hope this helps!

Ian



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David Roth Weiss
Re: Bad Client Ugly Solution
on Nov 19, 2005 at 8:56:54 pm

[ian karr] "It's pretty simple, actually... His stuff belongs to him."

No, not if you're imposing a lien on it, which you are entitled to do for non-payment. At least thet's the way it works in California thankfully.



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