Almost two years ago, I had an idea to build a site. The nature of the site, while not crucial to the discussion, made it a potentially profitable business idea. From advertising, member subscriptions, etc. it would be possible to make it quite lucrative.
After already beginning work on the site, I approached my bosses with the idea. My plan was for our company, using company resources (read: financial backing, server space, design, development time), to achieve the vision that I had. Despite my bosses' interest and enthusiasm, they did very little in the way of helping me. I developed the entire site in my own time (from home, and outside of work hours). Other than a few meetings and the server space (at no additional cost to the company), there was no contribution to the project.
After a year of beta stage, I want to take it to the next stage. In order to clear up any confusion and hopefully prevent any problems down the road, I requested that they formally sign over all rights to the name, code, data, etc. associated with the site.
That's where the problems begin.
Now that I have shown so much interest in the project, they also begin to show more interest. There is no chance for us to dedicate company time to the project, they are not willing to spend money to make it happen, and because it is not a paying project at this point it will always be less of a priority than our paying clients.
I am not willing to work on it during my free time if there is no benefit to me. If I don't own it, then there's no guarantee that I will ever see a profit. I could quit or be fired and the site (including my hundreds or thousands of hours' work during my spare time) would be left with the company.
So here's my problem: Because the domain name is owned by me (in my personal account), I could simply take the site and the domain name to another server. They would have to sue me to get it back from me. Of course, I would be fired long before that ever happened. My other option, assuming that they refuse to sign it over, is to start from scratch and create a brand new site with a different name.
Since I'm the only one with the ability to work on the site, here's how it will play out:
1. The project doesn't get done.
2. The project gets done.
a. They devote company time to it.
b. They ask me to do it on my own time.
i. They compensate me for that time.
ii. They don't compensate me.
Since 2a won't happen because of our busy schedule, the only option that I would even consider acceptable is obviously 2bi. I think that's highly unlikely - so I'm left with either starting from scratch or convincing them to sign it over.
The worst thing is that my bosses are becoming more and more unreasonable with every week. And each week, I start to look harder and harder for a new job.
Does anyone have any ideas about this?
UPDATE (July 30, 2004) My request (and subsequent discussion) has resulted in an offer by my employer. They agreed to sign over any claims of ownership, including code, trademark, etc. completely free of charge. They won't host my site for free anymore, but I'm allowed to take it elsewhere. The only catch is that I have to sign a non-compete agreement. The terms of the agreement are a bit vague at this point, but I will be certain to have a lawyer examine it before I sign. They're afraid that I will be offered (and accept) projects outside of work. This concern has been there in the past, but with the publicity of this site I will exposed to a lot more potential clients. They're asking for a two-year agreement, but I won't sign anything that extends past my employment with them. Basically, if I quit (or they fire me) then I won't be prevented from working in this business for any period of time. While I'm generally against such agreements, this seems to be a way for everyone to get what they want. If I decided to quit and form my own company, which is a possibility in the future, I need to be free and clear of any obligations or limitations.
Thanks to everyone that offered their advice. It seems that my gamble will pay off; I can avoid any future legal or ethical issues, and they can rest assured that I'm not competing with them while on their payroll.