[nycphp-talk] Ownership of Code

tedd tedd at
Sat Jan 13 14:31:49 EST 2007

At 12:46 PM -0500 1/12/07, Dell Sala wrote:
>Thanks everyone for your detailed responses. Great discussion!
>>my understanding is that there was no prior discussion of code 
>>ownership, or even a contract -- only a brief, home-made copyright 
>>statement embedded in the source code after it was completed.
>In a case like this it sounds like the copyright would default to 
>the developer, but the client would have a long-term license to 
>modify and extend for their own use, as long as there is no resale. 
>Obviously my client should consult a lawyer if things get hairy, but 
>this seems like a good starting point.
>As for my own policy, I'm leaning towards Ken's suggestion of 
>retaining all copyright over the code, but providing a perpetual 
>license for the client to use, and copy/modify/extend without resale.
>While it appears there's lots of room for debate here, this sounds 
>like the safest way to me, and I suspect that the client will be 
>satisfied as long as their license doesn't restrict their own 
>ability to use and extend. This appears to sidesteps most the murky 
>waters where things can get unpleasant.
>-- Dell

Dell et al:

Considering that many responded, so shall I.

For the last 30 years, I've always been a consultant, never an 
employee. When I was hired to do application software development for 
the Mac ( and before that Apple ][ ), there was no question that the 
code I worked on was owned totally by my client, period! When I 
finished a project, all my code and documentation was transferred to 
my client and everything I had (except for business correspondences) 
was destroyed. There were no exceptions.

However, since working on the net, my focus has been on solutions, 
not software. I use software to solve problems, but solutions are 
what I sell.

 From my perspective, no client has any rights to resell any of my 
software other than with their entire business. In other words, if 
the client wants to sell their business, then everything goes with 
it. I don't have any problems with that as long as the buyer is not 
going to resell my contribution. However, my control over what the 
client and buyer does is next to nil.

Do I care? Not really. Most of my efforts are specifically designed 
for each client. Each client has their own special needs and "custom 
work" is really the soup of the day. If another programmer is hired 
to change my code, then that's fine. If he wants to rip-out some 
technique that I discovered and use it for himself, then that's fine 
as well -- for I have no control over it.

If I post something on this forum, or on my web site, or do something 
for a client that is exposed in some fashion, then so be it -- 
because I have no control over it.

Do you see the common thread here? There are things you have control 
over and there are things that you don't -- and, you don't have much 
control over the net. So, if you're going to work on the net, then 
stop worrying about your code, let clients do what they want (in most 
cases they don't know anyway), and get on with your life.

Sure, you can (and should) address the ownership aspect of your work 
product in your contracts, but realize that it's nearly a moot point 
when it comes to enforceability.

Besides, I've lived long enough to see that no one really comes up 
with a "new idea", it's just variations on a theme that started long 
ago. The only reason you can do what you do now is because of the 
people who came before you. And tomorrow people will be looking to 
stand on your shoulders as well. The cycle continues -- it's best to 
gracefully accept it.



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