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I wrote a game's code for this guy, he has paid half of the agreed amount when the code was delivered, but when the game was published, and I asked for the rest of my payment, he denied and blocked me.
The agreement was verbal (discord chat), and I've kept a record of the whole conversation in its original format and a recorded video.
The publisher of the game ignored my take-down request sent through email, so did itch.io, didn't reply at all. subscribestar has answered and seemed very understanding, but my code is still up on their platform and haven't been taken down yet.

Do I have any legal recourse here?

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    Discord can be both verbal as in writing - text messages count as evidence.
    – Trish
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 8:02

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Yes, you do. But you should not base your claim primarily on copyright, but just on the license contract you agreed to. It's typically much easier to prove that a party did not fulfill its part of a sales contract (here: Pay the agreed amount) than to prove violation of a copyright you own.

Also, you then only need to sue one guy, and not care about every platform your game might be hosted on. This is particularly difficult here, since they have not done anything wrong. It's not their fault that the publisher didn't properly pay the programmer. They (very likely) got their copy of the game legally.

For details, you should consult a lawyer. We can't give you detailed legal advice.

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  • Thank you, since the amount owed is small ($1200) are there any legal services that wouldn't cost me an arm and leg? Something online perhaps?
    – Kia Azad
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 14:38
  • @KiaAzad That will depend on where you are. Typically there are some places that offer free legal advice, but this is not a general rule. Consider also that if you win, the other party will have to pay your lawyer.
    – PMF
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 17:08
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    @KiaAzad - In the US, amounts that low are usually handled via small-claims court, which in some states prohibits use of a lawyer, and has some minimal filing fee (~$50). Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 1:26
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    @PMF - It's unclear whether the OP retains (or would retain) copyright of the code at all. The work performed could be adjudged to be work-for-hire, which would mean the copyright is assigned to the person who hired them. Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 1:29
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    @Clockwork-Muse The OP didn't specify the jurisdiction. Your assumption would hold for the US, but not for Europe, where the copyright always stays with the original creator and only the usage right (or "license") can be sold.
    – PMF
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 7:15
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Is the agreement in a fixed medium?

The agreement was verbal (discord chat)

Well that's complicated.

The legal distinction we are interested in is "is it expressed in a transient medium such as in-person speech or live dance, or is recorded, in a fixed medium which which can be recalled in reliably reproducible form by technology which is not going to misinterpret or mis-recall it."

As a companion to that, many governments have laws about converting "transient" to "fixed medium" (i.e. recording something) with the knowledge of all being recorded. They call it "eavesdropping" and they consider it a privacy violation. Courts don't want to waste docket time dealing with the ugliness and unfair play of getting a party to swear to their recollection of a conversation... only to spring the recording on them later to discredit their testimony.

However, in a number of venues (generally: public space), there is no expectation of privacy. So the nature of the Discord chat, and whether you are in a 1-party state (which permits 1 party consent to recording), will decide whether a recording would be usable. A private 1-on-1 effectively "phone call" on the platform, versus an open chatroom where anyone could hop on.

If there is no fixed agreement, that's no accident

Legally experienced people actively avoid that "fixed medium" for fear of the thing being used later in litigation. Take this (then, more easily eavesdropped) cell phone conversation from Margin Call the movie at 24:09:

Boss: "It's 11:00 at night!!"
Team lead: "Sorry I wouldn't have called. You need to get back here and see this."
Boss: (dismissively) "Email it to me!"
Team lead: "I don't think...that would be a good idea."
realization dawns
Boss: "I'll be Right There."

Anyway, that is what it looks like when someone skillfully avoids placing things in a fixed medium.

Freelancers get taken advantage of all the time this way. Some people who hire freelancers are really good at manipulating you into accepting work without a contract, and arranging payment so they can cheat you.

Your recording places you in an awkward situation if you are in an all-party state

If your local government (or to be more precise, the court you sue in) requires consent of all parties to recordings, your recording may not be admissable and might be an offense of its own.

As such I'm not surprised that the marketplaces where you connected with that person won't touch your evidence with a 10-foot pole.

At the end of the day, this is a billing problem

As to your root question, can you deprive the owner of copy rights for not paying you? No. This work was plainly a work for hire and so the copy rights rest with the person who hired you.

This is simply a billing and collections problem.

Your only hope is convince the court to transfer to you the intellectual property in lieu of payment. However, that's not going to happen in the original lawsuit. The original suit will resolve for cash value of you getting paid what you owe + possibly court costs. Then, it goes into the collections phase of proceedings.

I mean you can always ask for anything, even a stay on their selling the product until you are paid, but they would just turn around and claim they need the revenue to pay you, and a court will be persuaded by that.

If they have an active revenue stream on the product, and it's through a third party like Steam or Apple Store, you would have an easier time getting a "Till Tap" on that revenue stream - intercepting the payment before it even reaches them.

Probably your only option to get the IP back would be to get a court judgment, then do a laborious effort at collections under court supervision, then go back to the court and say "We want to start taking their physical assets to satisfy the judgment" and name the digital prodcut (the WHOLE product) as an asset to take. Now when they say "we need it to make the money to pay you", you say "REALLY? Exactly how much have you made in the 18 months we've been trying to collect?" And the court would be quite interested in that answer.

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