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My understanding is that the person who produces the work produces generally owns the code until they are paid. Obviously it depends on the specifics of the signed agreement, but I'm curious why you think the client owns the code by default?

I’ve never seen a contract like that, have any examples?

It's the copyright law. You own your work, all rights are reserved until by means of a license you give it away.

No payment would invalidate the license.

No actually most contracts assign full ownership and not a license.

What about partial payment? What about a payment dispute? in all these cases ownership remains as defined in the contract.

You could try to make a contract that works the way you describe but it would be unwieldy and I’m skeptical anyone would use it.

It’s really straightforward to call a collections lawyer. In most cases the money is paid after one or two letters.

Not paying money owed can have bad consequences. The collections lawyer reminds them of this, and the situation is remedied in short order.

On the other hand, pulling some cowboy stunt to teach them a lesson (like releasing their source code, or the related idiotic idea of sabotaging their website or business) could lead to paying significant civil and even criminal penalties.

What about the idea?

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