Agency takes down client’s website and replaces with a letter in dispute over bills

Agency takes down Fitness SF website over claims of unpaid billsNo doubt there are a lot of agencies out there that have dreamed about doing this, but few have ever done it. One small agency has however taken the leap and replaced a client’s website with a letter claiming the client owes it money.

The agency in question is a small web design agency run by Frank Jonen, who has taken down the website of Fitness SF.

German designer Jonen hacked the website after claiming that Fitness SF, a chain of fitness centres based in bay area of San Francisco, owes him for “half a year’s worth of work”.

Jonen says that he wrote the letter “on the behalf of the tens of thousands of freelancers and small businesses out there facing larger corporations”  and he has encouraged  others to join him in this fight and called upon them to cancel their gym memberships and post on Fitness SF’s Facebook page and to Tweet about it.

Fitness SF denies owing money to the web designer and says that Frank Jonen was hired and paid to produce a website that he never made.

A spokesman, said: “He is not an agency. He lives in his parents’ attic in Germany. He is attempting to blackmail us and we will not cave to extortion demands.”

While many will no doubt silently applaud Jonen the danger for the designer is that no one will hire him again after this stunt.

Here’s the letter in full

Dear Fitness SF customer,

Fitness SF preferred to ignore our invoices instead of paying them. As a result this website is no longer operational.

We regret any inconvenience this may cause for you as a customer of Fitness SF, however it is a necessary measure in getting what is rightfully ours.

Half a year’s worth of work, including gallery featured logo renderings with over 1,300 views a piece.

While some of that got replaced in an attempt to cover up our work, other parts, like the base design (CSS) of the site were still used, illegally as they’ve not been paid for.

Normally there is no question of paying one’s dues. It is simply a matter of morals. Having morals and acting upon them or not having any and just betraying the people that got you started. Sadly we’ve come to know what Fitness SF stands for, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Your word on their Facebook accounts will go a long way. We’re a small company in the heart of Europe, which is probably why Fitness SF believes they can sit this out till we perish. Can you support a company that acts like this?

Do you hear the people sing, who will not be paid again…

I am also writing this on the behalf of the tens of thousands of freelancers and small businesses out there facing larger corporations who can afford to starve them out. In the movie / visual effects business this is already prevalent. Large studios awarding work to smaller studios or freelancers in the hope they won’t stand up to them when it comes to loads and loads of unpaid work.

What Fitness SF is trying here is exactly the same ploy. Give a barren advance, rake up a huge bill and ignore every invoice. Rush fees, heavy overtime and weekend work are expected to be free.

You don’t get to sleep for days on end, but you do get to wait on your money forever.

It’s people like this who cause company after company to go bankrupt.

An injury to one is an injury to all of us. We need to make a stand against crooks like this. If you’d like to join us in this fight, cancel your gym memberships, post on their Facebook pages, Tweet about it or even pass this on to a journalist. Fitness SF used the press once before to paint themselves as a savior.

It’s time the truth got out on what they really are. Doesn’t it makes you wonder what really drives their publicized “commitment” to the LGBT community? Can somebody who thrives on betrayal in one side of their business be honest in another side?

I hope you are with us. Thank you.

Frank Jonen
owner • vfx & imagineering

  • Algelgie

    Well played.

  • nbp

    Unfortunately, here in Italy, they have very strong privacy laws that prohibit us from doing this. We can only black-out the site which is usually enough to get the bill paid. I have thought of doing this many times, but my lawyer advised against.

  • thewritestuff1

    I can’t help thinking the agency should not have let it get this far. But I do sympathise.

  • Artmonkeystudios

    What is truly needed is for designers, illustrators and other creative professionals to start doing this kind of thing to “agencies” like 99designs,com and other “crowdsourcing” sites.
    They have done more to harm creative professionals than anyone else, hands down.

  • Ahmed Adel Mohamed

    I have a customer who ignored my invoice of $1000 :- I wish I could do the same, If I know how.

  • Raulsdg

    Just by looking at the design, he is a professional, the layout used on the design its great, the spacing on the letters and lines is pretty well done, this is a necessarily measure and there is no reason why responsible folks wouldn’t understand this.

  • Philipp Breier

    Made my day :)

  • Aleksander

    “While many will no doubt silently applaud Jonen the danger for the designer is that no one will hire him again after this stunt.”

    And why not? If he’s good at what he does and both parties are willing to play a gentleman’s game, why not hire him?

    I also really don’t like how FSF spokesperson tries to belittle the designer by saying that he lives in his parents’ attic. It sounds arrogant. And it doesn’t matter.

    While the details are obscure, I applaud such bold moves in principle, having been in a similar situation myself.

  • Designbuddy

    I see no problem with calling out a company who doesn’t give a damn about the livelihood of the people working hard for them. Good for the designer who posted that.

  • oliver

    one day he will bust nuts, from out of this attic, uh oh. butthirt feellings, i hear it coming…uh oh. you will need some kleenex.

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  • Steviebhoy

    Right thing to do. But who does half a year of work on the promise of an invoice at the end? Get a large deposit up front.

  • Nick

    I agree. I feel for the guy, but he is a victim of his own poor business acumen. My small agency gets paid in instalments or on a monthly basis, and we only do the work we have been paid for — if the client doesn’t pay the bill on time, we stop working. Often, the only thing designers have to use as leverage is the work itself, and once you’ve given it to the client, you have given away the best weapon in your arsenal — something we learnt the hard way. And get have a contract or Statement of Work signed by both parties before you begin — it makes it a lot harder for shysters like Fitness SF to argue they don’t owe you anything. For those small shops and freelancers looking to improve the business management side of things I highly recommend Mike Monteiro’s book “Design is a Job” and his talk, “F**k You, Pay Me”, from Creative Mornings (should be easy to find online). I hope the guy gets paid, but his odds look pretty poor.

  • Creativity

    I tried something similar many years ago, after non payment of bills. Took the site down and replaced it with a black screen and a small note saying some similar, albeit less well written and shorter. I was then sued by the client for deformation of character to the tune of £1M. Needless to say it never got to court but I lost the client and never got paid as I was advised that I had defamed them by suggesting their inability to pay which in turn affected their trading. I applaud the designer and wish him well, hoping that the same does not happen to him. Good luck fella.

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