For the past 6 months or so I have been working on a project with 2 partners. Here's the breakdown:
Partner 2 and I no longer believe that we can work with partner 1 because he tried to exert complete control over the product dev process. At some point he decided he was going to take control of the process and that we need to just follow him. We both feel that it's leading us down the wrong path. When we brought these concerns up with partner 1 he basically dismissed us, defended his own opinions, and has essentially alienated us. Since then he's all but shut us out of every decision. He's continuing with the marketing efforts. He's even contracted a developer to work on the code to implement the features he feels are best. He's essentially taken the business hostage.
Here's the kicker: while we have formed a C-corp, no documents have been signed (stockholders agreement, no board, etc.). More importantly, neither I nor partner 2 have assigned any IP to the business.
I have a few questions:
First up, I'm not a lawyer, you will need to work through the specific IP issues for your country/state.
I think you should try to get to a middle ground, ending up in court is just going to kill all of you.
Both sides take a copy (if he has an external developer already then he has a copy that you will struggle to get back as it is) agree to fork the code at that point and you both walk away and keep going on your own directions. Ensure you have a legal document around this seperation point. Decide who takes the servers (the person who bought them in I would suggest).
In most countries I know, without any other agreement, the issue you have is all the marketing and branding and etcs are owned by him (the creator) as much as the source code is owned by you ... again clarify this with a professional. You will have to invent your own product branding and replicate all of his work.
Turning off the servers would be an issue generally you are malicously impacting his earning capacity, unless you can prove its because he is stealing your code to do so.
Here are the questions I'd be asking:
(1) When was the code created and when was the company formed? If the code was created before the company was formed, then it's pretty clearly owned by the developers. If it was created after the company was formed, is there any way that somebody could claim an employment relationship?
(2) Did person 1 have any hand in creating the code? If so, could it qualify as a Joint Work, in which case he would have some rights to it?
In general, US Copyright vests in the author at the moment of creation and can only be transferred in a written agreement. If it's a work made for hire, then the employer is considered the author. If it's a joint work, then all authors have rights.
This is a good time to find an attorney to advise you. It shouldn't take much more than an hour of his/her time, and it's well worth the few hundred bucks (if he even charges you.) Find somebody familiar with software -- don't just go to the neighborhood guy who handles wills and traffic cases.
You state "no documents have been signed" and you also state "we have formed a C-corp".
I can virtually guarantee you that one can not form a C-corp without documents. Do you have a copy of the certificate of incorporation? If not, why not? You can get it from the state as a matter of public record.
Before doing anything rash like "shutting off servers", you should gather the facts.
You should understand that in some places an act like "shutting off servers" could be considered sabotage and could lead to arrest and criminal prosecution.
Are you sure no IP has been assigned, like per action? YOU do not always needa contract in writing to make a valid one.
Regarding servers - NOTHING stops you from shutting them down. Nothning stops you from shooting the president either. YOu are a free man that can do what he wants. BUT: YOu need to be able to live with the consequences. Freedom comes with responsibility. In this case you likely spend the next years in court. Whether you win or not - it will hurt you a LOT, in time and lawyer fees. Look at Facebook and how they have to defend against a guy claiming to own 50% that just does not seem to be willing to stop. In this case it is actually likely they CAN take damage from you then - given that there is a valid operational setup and corporation so there is an agreement in place.
What is the ownership distribution of the corporation?`If it is equal, why do you evn ask - you then ahve 2/3rts of the vote on your side, act accordingly and talk to a lawyer ;)