This is an unfortunate story of how start up businesses can easily be taken advantage of by graphic/web designers when they don’t know how to protect themselves. Here is the background… My husband and I were starting up a business (Big Law Entertainment) in our home state of NC. The business is focused on his music production and songwriting abilities. We wanted to create a website on which all of his songs could be easily played in hopes of being licensed. To create the website, I reached out to a person named Christopher (Chris) Fant that I knew when I lived in Chicago from 2004-2008. He owns a company called Apocalypto Media (or APOC Media) and he created a simple website for me when I lived in Chi Town. Given the past (good) relationship, I asked him to create a logo and website for Big Law Entertainment. He quoted an amount of $2,530 to me and I requested that he reduced the cost by about $500 based on our budget, to which he agreed. In an email, he very specifically stated that the discount is coming out of the cost of the logo (approx. $400) and because of that, he asked that I try to keep the number of revisions to the logo down. So the new project quote was $2,035. The project was moving quickly and progressing well. But somewhere along the line, Chris’ entire attitude changed with no explanation. I believe it had to do with the fact that he regretted giving the discount; but I don’t know the true reason. There is another part of me that thinks this was a setup from the beginning – his way of getting our money – but I imagine I could never prove that. Either way, he became very difficult to work with. He even repeatedly refused to speak with me or my husband via phone with no explanation as to why, thus forcing us to only communicate with him via email and text. His tone of voice in his writing became very condescending. What’s worse is that he would put things in writing, and then deny ever writing them or say that I simply repeatedly misinterpreted what he wrote. Misinterpretations? Sounds like something that a few phone conversations would have easily resolved. But he would not speak with us. For instance, on March 23, he wrote the following exact words in an email to me: “I can host your site on my server, which will cost $15-$20/mo, depending on the amount of traffic.” But when the working relationship became strained, he tried to double my cost stating that my hosting would be $30-$40 per month. Somehow this business relationship became personal for him, and he was no longer treating me as his client. But that is not even the biggest problem. We paid Chris over $1,600 (via PayPal) and today we don’t have the website from him! The relationship became so strained that my husband realized Chris was just going to keep giving us problems no matter what we did. Based on some things Chris began writing in his emails, we concluded that these issues had to be about the discount he gave us. So we figured the best thing to do would be to just give him all of the money from the original quote, and then get away from him completely. In an email, we told Chris we will just pay him the original amount of $2,530, and that we would pay him that amount by May 13 provided he gives us all of the website files, folders and the database. We also wrote that we would then move our website to be hosted elsewhere. The next day, Chris replied stating that he agreed to give us all of that, but not until he received all of the money. He also wrote that our site would be hosted on his server until we finished paying. However, about a week before the May 13 deadline, a friend of mine who went to our website emailed me to tell me that no website appears – just a message that shows the “account is suspended”. We were literally about to pay him that last $900+ but thank God someone told us about the site being suspended. So I sent a text to Chris to find out what the heck was going on. He wrote that my project was over as of April 29, 2014 (which is a date he clearly made up because that date is in no document or email anywhere) and since we did not pay the full invoice, our hosting account with him was suspended. What???!!! He literally just agreed in writing that we could pay in full by May 13! The games people play! So, we did not give him another dime. By shutting our site down, he proved yet again that he does not keep his word. There is NO WAY we would be foolish enough to trust that he would truly give us ALL of the website files/folders/database if we gave him the last $900. To make matters worse, he then threatened that we had to stop using the logo he created for us and remove it from wherever we have it on the internet, etc. He further commented that the logo is his creation and we have no right to it, and that if we don’t stop using it he will send us a Cease & Desist letter. That logo is currently posted on all of our social media sites and has been printed on the 2,000 business cards we paid Chris to get printed for us. Yes, 2,000! And if you look at this from another angle, per his invoice, that logo represented $400 of the $1600 we paid him, so we have already paid for it 4 times over. To make a long story short… we have since hired another graphic/web designer who heard our story and is creating a completely different logo and re-creating our web site at very reasonable prices. I got so frustrated that I searched the web and found a very nice lawyer in Chicago who gave me a few minutes of her time. Here are some things I learned that all small business start-ups need to know/do before working with graphic/web designers: Though we could probably hire a lawyer and fight Chris in court and win on the grounds that we paid him for the work – thus we have an implied license to use the logo – we don’t even want to use the logo he designed. We want NOTHING to do with him or anything he created. So the best thing for small businesses to do is: Before the logo work starts, get a true contract for all work to be done – not just an invoice. Require the designer to include some sort of an ownership statement in that contract which states something like: I give you the right to use your new logo design in all media useful for your business promotion. Once we receive final payment, we will sign the Copyright Assignment Form which will transfer all rights to the logo and its use exclusively to you and without any limitation. Then when the project is complete and you have made the final payment, affix a full color image of the final logo design to the copyright assignment form, have the designer sign the form (which he has already promised to do in the contract), and submit that to the US Copyright Office. If a web designer ever asks you whether you want him to host your website on their server, tell them NO! Hosting your site on their server is a big mistake because you have NO CONTROL over what they do with the website files and folders that make up your website. And that’s crap anyway – it really isn’t their server because all they are doing is renting a fairly significant amount of space from the companies like GoDaddy or BlueHost that really have the server – and you could do that yourself. The problem is that if you allow them to host your website on their server, then the only thing you actually own is your web domain name. I have no doubt that Chris knew this would put him in a position of power over us. So, God forbid the web designer’s business flops or he is simply a shady person like Chris, you can wake up one morning with no website and with no way to get it back. You will have to start over like we did. Finally, do your best to do business with a designer that is in your state. We thought about suing Chris in small claims court but that is difficult to do when you are across state lines. We learned that because the work was done in Chicago, we would have to sue him in Chicago. I bet you this isn’t Chris’ first rodeo doing this kind of shady business so I am sure he knew the deal with small claims court. Our new designer’s office is in NC (yes, an office – not some dude working out of his apartment) so we can go visit him to discuss our project WHENEVER we want. So, Chris got us for $1,600 but I am a spiritual woman. I know my God doesn’t like ugly so He will not only restore what my husband and I lost, but our enemy will be our footstool.
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