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545 comments

Talk to Tom Hudson (5, Informative)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944680)

Search out the journal of /. user TomHudson for one person's experience with this (ongoing, last I heard).

Re:Talk to Tom Hudson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944888)

If you provided a link, i'd mark this as informative.

Re:Talk to Tom Hudson (5, Informative)

adycarter (261257) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945014)

http://slashdot.org/~tomhudson/journal/ [slashdot.org]

Sadly I had to resort to Google as slashdot doesnt like searching itself...

Journal enteries related to this are all a fair bit back in his Journal.

Re:Talk to Tom Hudson (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36945044)

Maybe you're referring to this link (gotten from "Tom's" Journal):
http://starmedia.trolltalk.com/ [trolltalk.com]

Personally, I'd get Anonymous involved. The police generally only want to persecute victimless crimes like drug use and prostitution. Anonymous are the ones to rely on when it comes to exposing corruption of businesses and government.

Lawyer (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944682)

Get one.

Re:Lawyer (5, Informative)

rbrausse (1319883) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944760)

Get one.

if you are honestly interested in claiming your copyrights this is the best (and arguable only) way to enforce the license. when you are "only" trying to get this known in the community you could describe the issue at the mailing list of gpl violations [gpl-violations.org] .

Re:Lawyer (4, Insightful)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944794)

Or... learn what MIT licensing means... they're entirely free to distribute under whatever license they choose as long as they cite you. They're not stealing it, they're using it under the free license you provided it under.

As for the GPL – yes, you need to get a lawyer there, that is indeed a violation. Of course – if you coded this GPL code on their time, it's their copyright anyway, and they're free to use it any way they see fit.

Re:Lawyer (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944914)

>

As for the GPL – yes, you need to get a lawyer there, that is indeed a violation.

Says who? It's only a violation of GPL if some part of the program uses GPL code.

eg. If the libraries it uses are MIT license then it's not a violation, they're perfectly free to switch from GPL to 'closed'.

Re:Lawyer (5, Interesting)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944938)

Huh... the poster is asserting that they're distributing his GPLed code as proprietary. That certainly is a violation. But it rests on the fact that it actually is his code to GPL. If he did it while he was at the company, it's theirs. If he did it at home, and then he integrated it into their code without them having a license for it, then they have a pretty good case for saying "either you were screwing the company over or you implicitly licensed this to us".

Re:Lawyer (2)

alostpacket (1972110) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944992)

I dont think where he wrote the code plays a big a role as people think it does. Rather what matters more is whether he was in an employer-employee relationship with them and if this was work that was part of that. Even though it appears he was freelance, if he worked onsite on company equipment for 6 years they may very well be enough to show an employer-employee relationship. Especially if this code was a part of one of their projects. It sucks, but now he knows what he needs to do legally next time.

Re:Lawyer (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944886)

If 100% of the code was written inside the company then they own the copyright and can do whatever they want with it.

GPL only comes into play if part of the code is GPL, eg. a library used by the program. In this case they're required to either publish their source under GPL or stop using that library.

Obvious (2)

black mariah (654971) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944684)

Have a lawyer send them a lovely letter telling them to cease and desist. If they do neither... sue the fuckraping bitchpiss out of them. What else?

Not so obvious (5, Informative)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944810)

Obvious. Have a lawyer send them a lovely letter telling them to cease and desist. If they do neither... sue the fuckraping bitchpiss out of them. What else?

It is not obvious. Who owns the copyright? He said he was an employee, so *IF* the code was "work product" he may only have had the right to GPL the code as an agent of the company. Since he is no longer with the company he no longer would have such authority. If the company is the copyright holder they are free to "fork" it and go proprietary. It is not clear if the code is employee work product so nothing is obvious.

Re:Not so obvious (2)

chrb (1083577) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944918)

According to the article (see comments section):

I have no such agreement. It was done on my own time with the company’s full support. They knew it was open source. I think now that I’m not at the company, they want to “control” it. As far as I understand it, they need to abide by the license.

If that is the case, and the employment contract does not have some absurd "we own everything you do, including in your spare time" clause, then the employer will need to obtain a license for redistribution - just like with any other copyrighted code.

Re:Not so obvious (2)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944986)

I've seen plenty of bullshit both, from employers but also from employees in my time and I can easily imagine that this guy does not in fact have "company's full support". He might have asked one of the managers and gotten an 'OK', but that does not equate to full support, etc., as it's unlikely this went through the legal department and the higher management.

The guy says he spent 2 years building his framework while working for the company for 5 years. It's most likely that he built this 'framework' as part of the project that he worked on for the company. The most likely explanation to this story is that the higher management found out about him releasing the code under a Free license and enforced their copyright (and if it's written under contract for a project that company pays for, it's likely he signed away his copyright.)

If the guy does not have copyright, he can't release the code under any license, it's not his code to release.

Re:Not so obvious (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945036)

According to the article (see comments section):

I have no such agreement. It was done on my own time with the company’s full support. They knew it was open source. I think now that I’m not at the company, they want to “control” it. As far as I understand it, they need to abide by the license.

If that is the case, and the employment contract does not have some absurd "we own everything you do, including in your spare time" clause, then the employer will need to obtain a license for redistribution - just like with any other copyrighted code.

Those clauses are not absurd if the work done at home is related to the company's business or in the same industry. When you are an employee you are not paid merely to type, you are paid to design or improve the company's product. This may include good ideas. If you work at home on something related you may be effectively competing while you are an employee. The argument you are making generally assumes that the stuff you do at work and at home are unrelated. It is not clear that this is the case here. If work done at home is related to the company's business or in the same industry then you generally need to get a waiver from the company.

Such waivers are about as common as the spare time clauses, things are not as absurd as you are suggesting. All the companies I've had contracts with were pretty good at issuing waivers.

Contact a lawyer (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944690)

Seriously. Contact a lawyer.

SOL (1, Insightful)

sourcerror (1718066) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944692)

If you wrote that thing while you were working there, then you're out of luck. (I.e. company own the copyright and they have the right to change the license.) Even publishing the original opensource version might cause you some trouble if you can't prove it was originally oss, and you weren't changing the license.

IANAL

Re:SOL (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944722)

Depends whether he wrote this in his own time and then used it in projects in work. Just because you work for a company doesn't mean everything you produce is theirs.

I just checked tfa, it turns out he did write this on his own time.

Re:SOL (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944754)

IANAL

Also depends on whether or not he did it on a company machine and if his contracts state that any work done on company machines/with company software/etc is company property.

If he did it on his own time, in his house, with his own computer and software, contributed it to oss, and THEN took it for use at the company after that, then probably yeah. He can probably get them to stop it. But if they can prove that either A: It was used by them before it was contributed as OSS aka they can say it is theirs or B: That any of the work done on it was on company property with reasonable doubt (assuming that clause is in their contract) then you sir are SOL.

Welcome to the world of legal tricks and minor clauses. Where a tiny bump in the road can wreck your car.

Re:SOL (1)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944852)

He developed an OSS framework on company time, on company machines, within the company offices, and was then laid off. The company (who owns the copyright) has now decided to change the license under which it ships the code (with the hope of productizing it in future). I think the guy somehow believes that if you choose to release code under a GPL / MIT, you should be shackled to that license for the rest of eternity. The copyright holder can do what they like. This guy is just pissed he can no longer use the fruits of his labour.

Re:SOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944952)

Wait, if it was GPL/MIT, he could just grab the last version of the source and still distribute it around... the copyright holder can do anythign they please, but the last version still using GPL/MIT can't be taken away from him, and they can't prevent him from distributing it under the original GPL/MIT license.

Re:SOL (2)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944806)

That very much depends on your contract. My contract clearly states any code written at work (or at home) belongs to the company. If that isn't something you're willing to agree to, don't sign the contract. (I actually had a couple of clauses added to my contract to cover one or two of my projects - which is also something you can do!)

Re:SOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944874)

One of my law professors told me that, if someone asks you to do a "little something extra" or to "change things a bit" for a project, you'd better get that shit in writing with a completely new contract to cover the new/different work.

If you don't, you will get *fucked* when it comes time to get paid. Which shows you were damned smart to get clauses in your contract to cover specific jobs as necessary.

Re:SOL (1)

Jimbookis (517778) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944960)

Well, right, I had a similar "all your base are belong to us" clause in my contract and I changed it to only cover work items I did at work for work. Anything else was mine. Seeing as my projects had nothing to do with what the employers line of business was there would be no confusion if there ever was a problem.

Re:SOL (2)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944872)

You didn't check the article. Note the use of 'we'

I was terminated from a company that I worked day and night for for about 5 years. During the last 2 years of that time, I created a simple web framework and contributed it to open source. We had always used open source, so it was high time we became a contributor!

Re:SOL (4, Interesting)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944876)

    I think the key part of that was the first line of his statement on his site. "I was terminated from a company that I worked day and night for for about 5 years."

    So, he says right there, that he worked for the company day in and day out. There was no segregated personal time.

    He appears to freely admit that he worked on company time. The project was made available during company time. It's also quite likely that he used company resources to develop, advertise, and distribute the project.

    The first reply on his own site, dated two days ago, gives the correct answer. Contact a lawyer. They were kind enough to guide him in a helpful direction. I'm sure his employers already discussed the matter with their attorneys.

    It basically comes down to this. If you worked on it while you were employed for a company, the project belongs to them. If you worked on it in your free time, with absolutely no company assets or backing, *AND* you have documentation to prove that, you have a chance.

    I was told by the COO at one employer that he ran into exactly that. His previous employer sued on the grounds that the project was done on company time, even though it was while he was off the clock. Those fuzzy gray areas don't matter much when it's a project that isn't going anywhere, and it's not interfering with company time or assets. The moment you sent an email from work, logged in to write some code, or even mentioned it on work time, they have grounds to say it belongs to them.

    I had one employer who was very much confused by this though. I did send an email up to the Apache group years ago, and my change was reflected in the code. I don't know if it was because of me, or someone else. It was a pretty trivial change to help in high load environments. My bosses thought that since I had written part of Apache, they owned it in some sort of way. It took me a while to get them to understand that they only "owned" my couple lines of code, and it wasn't clear if they used my code or someone else's.

    Needless to say, since you haven't heard of me or the company I worked for, suing the Apache group, I managed to get them to understand. It took a while though. They also thought we owned part of Sendmail, because I was always tweeking our configuration.

    What they did get me on was an internet mapping project that I was working on. I wasn't trying to find every branch out to every backwater nowhere, it only looked at the important nodes where traffic was funneled through. I worked on it after-hours, but I did the preliminary demonstration on their web servers. I didn't personally have web servers in 4 different states, but they did. This was before the average Joe was hosting his site for cheap, and most of us were still on dialup unless we were working out of the office. Their lawyer was kind enough to offer me a percentage of the profits. When he spelled out the terms of that, it was clear that they had absolutely no intention of paying me anything ever. Beyond that, if the project were not to be profitable, I would be responsible for my percentage of the losses, which would come out of my paycheck.

    I ran into a "technical problem" a few days later, which was never resolved. Eventually the domain (which I had paid for) expired, and later on we pruned the site as a dead hosting site. Since there were no costs incurred by the company, they couldn't take anything from me. They did try to get the "hosting fee", which I calculated out based on the usage by all the sites over a period. Those pesky sites with over 1 million hits/day really overwhelmed the little site with just 3 IP's ever looking at it. I offered to write them a check for $0.35. I was feeling generous. They weren't really very entertained.

    The moral of my story? Don't work on it during work time. Don't involve it with work at all. Work under a pseudonym, or under the name of a trusted friend. If it becomes something, cool. If not, it can die quietly without involving lawyers. :)

Re:SOL (1)

chromeronin (914748) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945038)

But if he did it on his own time, he should have removed all personal documents and code when he left. If it was done on the companies equipment, it's still going to be theirs, not his to do with as they wish. If he wrote it on his own, and used it at work, under the GPL, then he might have a leg to stand on, but it will come down to the fineprint in his contract who owns code he wrote while employed full time by that company. Take it as a learning lession: Make sure you get signed contracts for everything. Also, it he still has the source written under the GPL, simply fork it and upload to source forge under a new project name. But then comes th ugly case of patents. If he used any proprietary technology, or systems similar to that of his employer, they may hold patents for that invention. Even if he wrote the code, tough. Here in NZ, we have specifically dissallowed software patents in out patent law. The belief is that copywrite is sufficient to stop blatant ripping off of your work. We have no patent trolls in the NZ software industry.

Re:SOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944724)

...only if (s)he had a contract that stipulated all work was done as a "work for hire [wikipedia.org] ", in which case all copyrights would be owned by the employer. Otherwise, copyright would be owned by the person who created the work. Given the comment "It was done on my own time with the companyâ(TM)s full support. They knew it was open source" in the comments, I'd say this was not a work-for-hire and what we have here is plain ole copyright infringement.

The other comments are right. Time to get a lawyer... (and disclaimer: I am not one.)

Re:SOL (1)

alostpacket (1972110) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944894)

Given the comment "It was done on my own time with the companyâ(TM)s full support.

Depends if he can prove that. "On company time" is not something that has held in court from what I remember. And to show they supported him owning the copyright, he would need a signed legal document (I think). I do agree he should consult a lawyer though if he really thinks he has a shot at this.

However from: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ09.pdf [copyright.gov] (Emphasis mine)

These factors are not exhaustive. The court left unclear
which of these factors must be present to establish the
employment relationship under the work for hire definition,
but held that supervision or control over creation of the
work alone is not controlling.
All or most of these factors characterize a regular, salaried
employment relationship, and it is clear that a work created
within the scope of such employment is a work made for
hire (unless the parties involved agree otherwise).
Examples of works for hire created in an employment
relationship include the following:

  A software program created within the scope of his or her
duties by a staff programmer for Creative Computer Corporation

Re:SOL (1)

zacs (12785) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944908)

This is generally true right up until you accept patches from outside the company. At that point, unless there was copyright assignment, you need to get those contributors permissions to switch their code over to your new proposed license. That's usually a dicey process as half the time you can't reach the people in question at all and there's usually not a big incentive for them to allow you to close source their works. This is one of the big that larger projects are more often making contributors sign copyright assignments prior to allowing their code to be committed to the tree.

Re:SOL (1)

fru1tcake (1152595) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944924)

If you read the comments on TFA, it appears it was written in the author's on time.

profit??!!?!? (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944698)

1. make sure the code is separately documented with the GPL licences in place, or they could claim it belonged to them in the first place and it was you that stole it.
2. contact the EFF
3. sue for copyright violation
4. profit?

something like that. step 2 is probably the most sensible part.

Re:profit??!!?!? (1)

beef3k (551086) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944728)

the thing is that the company this guy used to work for is most likely the copyright holder in this case

Re:profit??!!?!? (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944774)

the thing is that the company this guy used to work for is most likely the copyright holder in this case

In that case if they agreed to it being GPL'd they can make and sell a commercial fork, but cannot stop anyone from using the original version.

Re:profit??!!?!? (1)

Yaur (1069446) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944870)

anyone that they distributed it to. If that's no one then the GPL fork is dead.

Errm... what? (5, Insightful)

Splab (574204) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944704)

So you worked for them and where paid by them. You decided to release something as GPL (your post doesn't say if this was sanctioned by the powers that be), but considering your termination, one would think you stepped out of line?

But, the fact is, you where working for them, earning money producing something *they* own. If they decide to revoke a license on something *they* own, they are squarely in their rights to do so.

Re:Errm... what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944802)

You don't know that. He could have been a waiter at a restaurant or providing a service that does not produce anything that can be copyrgiht'd.

Re:Errm... what? (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944814)

So you worked for them and where paid by them. You decided to release something as GPL (your post doesn't say if this was sanctioned by the powers that be), but considering your termination, one would think you stepped out of line?

But, the fact is, you where working for them, earning money producing something *they* own. If they decide to revoke a license on something *they* own, they are squarely in their rights to do so.

Depends on teh employment situation and agreement. I work as a contractor so what I create is mine, per my contract.

Re:Errm... what? (1)

bjourne (1034822) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944882)

That's not always the case, probably not even most of the time. Consider someone enlisted in the army who at the same times writes a journal. Is the journal the property of the army? Nope. Is this silly slashdot comment the property of *my* employer because I'm writing it at their computer? No again. It all depends on in what effect the asker wrote his framework. Was it his main job to develop a web framework for the companys new product? Or was it something he was having fun with at breaks and in the downtime between tasks?

Re:Errm... what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944958)

(1) If you join the infantry, and are paid to fight, but you write a journal between battles, the army doesn't own the journal.

(2) If you join the army journalism corps, and are paid to write newspaper articles, who owns the articles?

Now ask you self, this guy was paid to program in his employment, so is this more like (1) or (2)?

MobyDobie

Re:Errm... what? (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944994)

Is this silly slashdot comment the property of *my* employer because I'm writing it at their computer?

Yes, it absolutely is.

There are plenty of employment contracts out there that specify that even work done outside of your duties, on your own time, and with your own resources is theirs (though I would advise against working under one of those). Work done with company resources? Forget about it, of course it belongs to the company.

Re:Errm... what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36945056)

That depends on which country you're in. In the US, your employer usually owns you. In other countries you're still a free person.

Re:Errm... what? (4, Informative)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944930)

From the author's comments on his blog, he claims the GPL project was on his own time and not owned by the company, but known by his company.

Re:Errm... what? (3, Informative)

Splab (574204) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945064)

Yes, but from the same article and comments, he refers to the project as WE where working on.

He also writes the last two years of his employment was spent on this project - by his own statements, he at least worked some of the time on company time on this project.

They cannot revoke, that much is certain. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944942)

When you publish code under the GPL, you cannot revoke that licence.
Also, the author claims he wrote the code in his free time, uncompensated. That would, in most jurisdictions and under most work contracts, mean that it isn't in fact work for hire. He should probably first talk it over with the company, explaining the legal situation, and if they don't comply send them a DMCA notice.

Publish the proof (1)

grouchomarxist (127479) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944706)

If the code is compiled (say from C, C++ or whatever), there will be telltale signs of its origin in the binary (unless they removed symbols). Something similar is true for Java. If they're distributing sources then it should be even easier to demonstrate.

Publish your demonstration that they're using OpenSource code, then send notices to various tech media and open source advocates. That might be enough to get the ball rolling.

They own it... (1)

Stone Rhino (532581) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944712)

...They can do what they want with it. Generally, code that you created while employed by a company, on their time, becomes the property of the company. Because they own it, it's their choice whether to license it out as open source or hold it as proprietary. You're not at the company any more, so you have no leverage of being a part of the company, leaving your complaints as your only tool at this point. You can approach your former bosses and coworkers (assuming you left on good terms) and remind them of why you thought it was valuable to release it in the first place. You can go public with a name-and-shame campaign. (but that may burn bridges) Or you can fork the old version (since they can't retract the license already granted) and move on with your life.

Wages? (1)

lechiffre5555 (1939278) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944716)

Didn't they contribute your wages? Was it your job to write the code? Was the code written on work time or in work premesis? Most companies own any code written by their employees written on work time or using work rescources ( e.g. software licenses ). Some companies even own code you write at home on your own time on your own computer because you were employed by them at the time - then they truely contributed nothing, but you accepted those terms when you signed the contract.

They own the copyright (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944718)

You created this open source code for them, on their dime, on their equipment, as part of your employment for them, right?

That means they most likely own the copyright, as you created it as a work-for-hire. Check your employment contract.... or even if it doesn't say, it may nevertheless be the case.

If they own the copyright, that means they, as copyright owner, can issue the program under any license or trade name they like..... just like any other GPL copyright own can dual license their own code.

Tough luck

MobyDobie

Re:They own the copyright (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944948)

You created this open source code for them, on their dime, on their equipment, as part of your employment for them, right?

You know how I know you didn't read the article...?

Re:They own the copyright (1)

MobyDobie (2426436) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945008)

I read the article

But he is contradicting himself.

In the comments, he says he the project by himself at home.... and even then says he did it with the company's support - indicating some level of company involvement.

In the article, the guy refers to releasing back code, make a contribution, - was done by "we" - i.e. him and the company. THAT IS AN ADMISSION of the their ownership interest.

It's pretty clear the company would believe they had some involvement, and probably ownership of the code. And he believes it too -- And even when later the guy tries to remove the company's involvement from development, he does equivocally and in contradiction of his own earlier statements,

Just fork it (3, Interesting)

dingen (958134) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944720)

Why don't you just fork it from the latest version when it still had the GPL/MIT license and release it in a new project? This should be even easier in your situation, because the company decided to change the name of the software, which means you can simply keep using the old name for the new project. This also doesn't confuse users, as they will probably remember and recognize the software by name.

Once you've got the new project up and running, you can of course sue your old employer for distributing open source licensed software without the proper licence and source code.

Re:Just fork it (5, Insightful)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945000)

Why don't you just fork it from the latest version when it still had the GPL/MIT license and release it in a new project? This should be even easier in your situation, because the company decided to change the name of the software, which means you can simply keep using the old name for the new project. This also doesn't confuse users, as they will probably remember and recognize the software by name.

Once you've got the new project up and running, you can of course sue your old employer for distributing open source licensed software without the proper licence and source code.

First paragraph is golden. If the code was at one time released open source, then you can totally fork it.

Second paragraph is however wrong. If the company owns the copyright on the work then they can relicense it all they want, even if it were previously open source.

As per someone noting below: if you want to know your legal rights and what you can do, talk to a lawyer. What you'll get here is a bunch of IANALs telling you bullshit, and IAALbInYl (I Am A Lawyer, but I'm not YOUR lawyer) telling you generic advice that possibly doesn't apply, and that you need to speak to a lawyer who represents your interests.

Re:Just fork it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36945070)

Good lord, a girl AND a lawyer wrapped into one on SLASHDOT?!?

You'd think it was April 1st or something!

Re:Just fork it - and wait for the lawyers to sue (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945072)

The code appears to have been written on the company's time. No matter what license the guy chose to put on it, it seems he overstepped his authority (if he actually had any authority) and had no right to call the stuff GPL'd. Just because someone puts a GPL license on a piece of code doesn't make it GPL'd. You have to have the right to do that, and merely being the author doesn't make you the owner and doesn't confer that right on you.

Never, ever make the mistake of thinking you own any code you write, just because you created it.

What was in your employment contract? (3)

alostpacket (1972110) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944738)

Standard practice when hiring any employee is to write a legal agreement stating that any work you do there is "work for hire" and they own the copyright, not you. I *think* this can even be implied just by the fact that you were an employee, Unless you took specific action before writing this code, such as giving the company a specific license, or requireing them to let you contribute it, I think you are the one in *possible* legal danger here. (I am not a lawyer etc blah blah).

This is unfortunate but you need to get over the fact that work-for-hire does not belong to you and drop this quickly. The more you drum up publicity around this the more danger you could be in.

Chalk it up to a learning experience, and take solace in that you know what to do next time.

At the last company I worked with I asked my boss (a SVP level executive good enough for legal purposes) to sign a small contract with me that would allow me to bring in my own open source libraries I had built up over the years in exchange for letting me take code written on company time and contribute it back to the library or to an OSS project. I of course said this would not include anything proprietary to a client or any program as a whole, but rather utilities such as a date converter class or caching system. And that it was at my sole discretion to determine as best I could in good faith what code qualified to be contributed to open source.

Re:What was in your employment contract? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36945030)

While in school for photography this is basically what we were told. As an employee, they own it. Contractor, check the contract as it can be murky, but generally it is you. Freelance, you own it and are licensing it to them.

Basically imagine that Disney is writing the copyright law (I know, I know). Would they allow the copyright and ownership go to their employees worming the stills or certain scenes in the movie? Not identical, but a comparable analogy of what you are looking at. You want to know if you own the whole movie, not Disney, because you filmed it to include "open source" characters. Would it be your program even if it lacked those bits?

Who owns it? (1)

Yaur (1069446) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944748)

If you did it on their dime they most likely own the code and can do whatever they want with it. Even if you didn't, they may still own it depending on what your contract says.
Out of curiosity what is the project?

is this the project? (1)

Yaur (1069446) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944932)

Is this [google.com] the project? and if so are you calming that code in the gov.nj.framework namespace wasn't written for anyone in particular?

You need a good lawyer (2)

Karl Cocknozzle (514413) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944750)

A shark. The sort of guy that makes lesser lawyers wet their pants in fear. Seriously.

With that said: If you worked in the United States and were paid on a W-2 you're basically fucked. Unless you can prove every single keystroke of development on this product was done on "your time" with your own equipment it's almost certainly a work-for-hire under U.S. law, and therefore they own the code, not you.

On the other hand, if you were a 1099 "perma-temp," or selling your services to them as a corporation (i.e. a corp-to-corp arrangement) then who owns the code is an entirely different matter. In that scenario, you would need to look at your contract with them (you did sign a contract, right?) to determine whether you "own" the code you wrote for them. Generally speaking if you're not an employee (and you didn't sign anything giving them rights to your code) then you still own it.

If you live in another country then I have no idea what you should do. Good luck, though. Hate to see people ripped-off by their employer. What this really should be is an object lesson in why any coder with even moderate skill should be insisting on corp-to-corp arrangements. It's extra paperwork for you, and a PITA at tax-time, but if you invent something really revolutionary it's one of the only ways to keep your employer from stealing your idea under the "Work-for-hire" provisions of copyright law.

Of course, as always, IANALBIPOOS.

Re:You need a good lawyer (1)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944900)

Hate to see people ripped-off by their employer.

The guy spent 2 years of company time developing some code which the company paid him to develop. If I were working in a car factory, I would not expect to take all the finished cars home with me at the end of the day....

Re:You need a good lawyer (2)

Karl Cocknozzle (514413) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945026)

Well, I wouldn't expect free cars working at a factory either, but clicking through to his blog and responses reveals that he's a 1099 perma-temp (or was) and did the work on his own-time at home. Unless he signed something, he's probably got a right to his own home-brew code. In some cases, he may own a share (or all) of the copyright of the code he wrote as a 1099 "perma-temp" as well: Some consultants and consulting firms will quote two prices. The "We retain copyright" price is significantly lower than the "You're buying the copyright and own all code lock-stock-and-barrel" license, which will typically represent whatever the firm thinks they'll lose in long-term dollars on the project by no longer having the right to sell this product to somebody else later.

Unless he's lying about not signing anything, this dude probably has a case with a lawyer competent in similar cases and case-law.

Re:You need a good lawyer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944928)

According to comments in the linked article he was not being payed under a W-2 and they have no rights at all to the code.

Re:You need a good lawyer (1)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945018)

With that said: If you worked in the United States and were paid on a W-2 you're basically fucked.

You later state that you're not a lawyer (but you play on on slashdot). "Play" at being a lawyer is a good call. If the company released the code open-source while you're employed under a W-2, you can obtain the software under the open-source license, and that license continues to apply to the code that you obtained. They can relicense the code all they want, but they cannot revoke an open source license once already granted.

A good way to look at this is to forget the employment part, and just pretend that the individual is a completely independent party. I can fork a F/OSS project all I want, even if I never contributed any code to the original source. Even if the company later relicenses and the project is no longer being offered as F/OSS software, I can still fork off the code that I had from the original source.

Nothing about doing the work-for-hire means that the company could exclude you from the rights afforded all others in the open source license.

Re:You need a good lawyer (1)

Karl Cocknozzle (514413) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945084)

Nothing about doing the work-for-hire means that the company could exclude you from the rights afforded all others in the open source license.

So true, they can't stop him from forking the latest version they (he) released as open-source. However, I think the guy is more pissed-off about them claiming ownership of the original copyrights to the code and is indignant about having to fork his own software when the "employer" may not actually be an "employer" and so doesn't by default own the copyright to his work. According to the linked posting the OP was a 1099 "perma-temp" and didn't sign any documents relinquishing copyright on his code.

This is a non-trivial point: Companies take an expansive view of "their-time" when it comes to their actual W-2 employees, and the courts have, sadly, tended to side with businesses taking ideas from employees who moonlight as brilliant entrepreneurs on the side.

However, these companies are very careful about not characterizing outside contractors as "employees"--making each "perma-temp" sign a document acknowledging they are NOT an employee of the company and don't have the same rights as employees, and by not paying them "employee benefits" like health care and retirement, as examples. They can't then turn around and argue "Oh, but even though he's not an employee, we own all his code written at home on his own machine because he's a "full-time" employee and therefore all of his thoughts belong to us.

re (1)

Sl0vi (1994584) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944776)

Did you do this as a part of your job, or was it something that you developed in your own free time? If you did this as a part of your job, then they own the code, NOT YOU! Even if you developed it in your own free time there are still some situations where your employer can claim ownership of your work. If you are certain that they have no right to claim ownership of your work then I suggest you get some legal help. The best thing to do, if you want to make sure that your employer can't just take your code and claim it as their own, is to never actually bring your code in to work. Work on it at home on your own computer. Don't put it on any computer or server owned by your employer. You might just as well not even tell them about it.

They may own it. (1)

Elbereth (58257) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944778)

I didn't read the linked article, but I did skim the summary. Depending on the contract that you signed and the local laws, that may legally be their code. If I were you, I'd consult a lawyer familiar with intellectual property before I did anything else. Make sure that you have a copy of the contract. If, in the opinion of the lawyer, the code is actually yours, then you should probably follow up with a cease-and-desist letter, courtesy of the lawyer. This won't be all that expensive. Hell, even if the situation is muddier than you'd like, they may still back down, if you can get your lawyer to send an appropriately threatening letter. Depending on the size of the company, they may not be financially capable of defending themselves from a lawsuit. Depending on how ethically challenged you and your lawyer happen to be, this may actually prove to be your best bet, if they are legally in the right. If they blow you off (which is very likely, unless they're very small), then you're going to have to actually bring them to small claims court. A lawyer is not strictly necessary here, but, again, you'd be foolish to avoid using one.

I mean, seriously, what do you expect people to say, other than "consult a lawyer"?

Learn from it (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944782)

Learn from it. If they pay, its theirs.

Not Legal Advice, but just general ideas. (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944788)

File a formal Copyright registration with the Library of Congress

Do that first.

Then file a DMCA takedown.

Then sue.

Use the resources of the EFF to back up your case. Even if they won't take it on, at least they can point you in the right direction.

--
BMO

Re:Not Legal Advice, but just general ideas. (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945034)

Then file a DMCA takedown.

A DMCA takedown notice sent by someone who is not the copyright holder is a criminal offense. CRIMINAL. Which everyone should remember (including nasty buggers who think about sending them out to restrict someone's free speech. You better own the copyright before you do that).

Re:Not Legal Advice, but just general ideas. (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945058)

>A DMCA takedown notice sent by someone who is not the copyriofght holder is a criminal offense. CRIMINAL

Yeah? So? We're going on the assumption that the OP is the copyright holder - he owns the copyright by virtue of writing the code in the first place.

Registering the copyright is a more formal process but not having registered does not mean that copyright was not granted. In the US, copyright is granted merely upon putting pen to paper (or hands to keyboard). The benefit of registering (you can do this later) is when the issue of damages comes up. There are fewer damages awarded before registration date, and more after.

Which is why I said he should register the copyright.

--
BMO

ANOTHER PARK !! ANOTHER SUNDAY !! MOVE ON !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944790)

Ain't nothing good gonnna come from it, dude !! It is, as you say, "FREE". You lost nothing !! Hold on if you have nothing to lose, otherwise !! Move on !! Move ON !! MOVE ON !!

Post the code, with the licenses (1)

bugnuts (94678) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944792)

You stated you did this separate from work...that makes it yours. If you invented it on their time and dollar, and you were hired as a programmer, they probably own the copyright. But if you did it on your own time, even if you signed some sort of contract, if you invented it on your own time and hardware, you likely have a claim to the code. And if you also GPLed it and made it public, they can't really get rid of it. If they have a claim to the copyright, they certainly can make a proprietary version of it, though, even if it's also GPLed. That's the crux... do they have claim to the copyright? If so, it can be both GPLed (by you) and proprietary (by them).

But if you just post the code, what's the problem? You claim it's GPLed, so posting it is not an issue.

Seriously, what's the problem? Post the code, make it public. Then when they try to make GPL code proprietary, you can simply let someone else go after them. You're whining like you're being harmed. You're not. You're simply trying to prevent someone from stealing, even though nobody is really being harmed. Sticking your neck out for justice reasons is not an issue, as long as you realize you're just trying to "stick it to the man".

Re:Post the code, with the licenses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944850)

If from the company's POV they own the copyright and they didn't distribute it to the OP i don't think he can redistribute it. Also keep in mind that he was terminated and its not inconceivable that he was terminated for open sourcing "company code". He should probably just walk away from it, because doing anything else could get real messy real fast

In the future if you want to do GPLed work while you are employed, publish it under a pseudonym or corporate name and suggest to your client that you use it without mentioning that you are the primary dev on the project.

What proof do you have? (2)

Teun (17872) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944812)

1.) Fork the already public/ published part.

2.) When you get proof they publish/sell your work you get a lawyer to write them a notice of infringement.

When no 1. never happened you are probably out of luck and only an expensive lawyer could help you.

Re:What proof do you have? (2)

dingen (958134) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944842)

When no 1. never happened you are probably out of luck and only an expensive lawyer could help you.

If the software was never publicly published, it wasn't really open source software to begin with. You release early and you release often, also for these sort of things.

MIT License = EITHER WAY YOU LOSE (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944818)

Quite aside from the fact they may own the copyright under the Work for Hire doctrine, you said the code's under the MIT License anyway.

That allows them to distribute the product, or its derivatives with or without source code, under any product name they like!

So:

if the code is a work-for-hire = you lose, they own the copyright

if the code is your copyright = you lose, you've already given them permission to take it proprietary

MobyDobie

Contributing or stealing? (4, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944822)

FTFS:

I was terminated from a company that I worked day and night for for about 5 years. During the last 2 years of that time, I created a simple web framework and contributed it to open source. We had always used open source, so it was high time we became a contributor! Recently I found out that they have removed all of the licenses from the files (GPL and MIT), gave it a silly name, and have the intention of marketing it as a product. What should I do? I am trying to get past the fact that I am upset that I was terminated â" that pissed me off â" but the fact that they are taking credit for my work and making it proprietary is really bothering me! What should I do?

I just might have found the reason for your termination. Were you doing things that went beyond what your employer allowed you to do? You were employed and you were so called 'contributing' code under GPL without your employer explicit permission to do this, and from the text it looks like you have so called 'contributed' the code that you wrote for your employer.

This is like saying: I took this guys stuff and 'contributed' it for the good of the public, but I didn't ask the guy if he is OK with it and now he is forcing everybody to return the stuff I 'contributed' to him and he called the cops. I am really pissed off, what should I do?

Yeah, I think I did find the reason for your termination.

Re:Contributing or stealing? (1)

cheeseandham (1799020) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944940)

From his reply on http://frameworkdev.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/my-open-source-dilema/ [wordpress.com]

" I have no such agreement. It was done on my own time with the company’s full support. They knew it was open source. I think now that I’m not at the company, they want to “control” it. As far as I understand it, they need to abide by the license. I think the tricky part is compelling them to abide by the license."

and

"I was not paid on W2, and I never signed the rights away. I think your right, that the code is GPL. It’s out there. It is what it is. I’m going to report this to GNU project and warn them that if they don’t bring to code back in-line with the license, that I will send a letter to their customers to make them aware of the situation."

Re:Contributing or stealing? (2)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944962)

I have no such agreement. It was done on my own time with the companyâ(TM)s full support. They knew it was open source

- right, but is this code something that he built for company, as in is this code that is part of code that the company is building?

As to "company's full support" - this also can be questioned. One manager's verbal agreement to something does not equate to "company's full support".

Depends (1)

TheSpoom (715771) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944824)

Did you do work on the project while on the job or on your employer's premises? Then likely you ceded copyright to them automatically. Anything you do while on work time is a work for hire (and this is generally explicitly spelled out in employment contracts). This means the employer owns it, to their benefit and your detriment. If they own the copyright, they are free to relicense code as they see fit. If you have an old copy of the code licensed under MIT, GPL, or another free distribution license, you can redistribute that code on your own website and they can't do a damn thing about that version, but absolutely nothing is forcing them to continue hosting the open source version, and nothing is preventing them from relicensing the open source version to proprietary as they own the copyright and thus have the right to do so.

Now, if you didn't use your employer's resources to work on the project at all, you might have a case. That's not what your blog post would lead me to believe, though. Your best bet would be to fork the last available open source version and continue working on that. They still own the copyright but they can't do anything about continued redistribution of a fork, assuming it was ever authorized to be licensed as open source at all.

It is their code, not yours, if they paid you. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944830)

So its up to them what they do with it.

Bide your time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944834)

Wait for them to start earning money on it, then sue them. This way they waste more resources. For bonus points, try to make it into a commercial product, then you can include the money they unrightfully took from you in the suit.

IANAL and you should obviously consult with one before doing anything silly.

Did you work.. (1)

cpscotti (1032676) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944858)

..for Oracle/sun/MySQL?

That's the risk of being the sole FOSS advocate (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944866)

***Assuming*** the code in question was employee work product and the company is the actual copy holder this incident raises an interesting issue. If you are the sole FOSS advocate at your company, and you get company approval to release code under FOSS, your "mission" seems to not be over. It seems you have to advocate/convert others if you wish the code to remain FOSS after you leave. If there is no one around who cares then the company is perfectly within their rights to fork the code and continue in a proprietary fashion.

Fuck'em (1)

Demonoid-Penguin (1669014) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944884)

If they didn't agree to the license in the first place... you're screwed. But if they did - screw them. Assuming you made a point of getting your employers approval in writing for the original license - tell them to give you a hefty pay rise or you'll move Richard Stallman and an aviary of his favourite parrots into the lobby, and introduce him to all the major clients as the new Sales Manager - then, take the money and get yourself a job with a future.

Seriously.

Check you contract ... (1)

rrey (1886420) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944902)

Man ... I don't know where you worked (country) but in my French contract it is specified that everything I create in the company is owned by the company. Seem fair to me, they employ you. In fact I wonder if you are not the one who made a mistake by making the company stuff opensource without their consent ... But as I'm really not sure about this, I agree with previous comments, contact a lawyer ...

Warning, grave danger ahead. (2)

jimicus (737525) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944936)

I not only RTFA, I also read the comments.

And to the OP, I say: tread carefully. Not only is there a possibility that your work would be considered "work for hire" (and hence not yours to decide how to license), you should be careful about making threats. Saying things like:

I’m going to report this to GNU project and warn them that if they don’t bring to code back in-line with the license, that I will send a letter to their customers to make them aware of the situation.

To me, that reads an awful lot like extortion. Not only is that not going to win any friends with your former employer (So what if they fired you? For all you know you'll run into the same people again in the future, don't give them a reason to fire you again), publicly announcing this as your intention is a really bad idea when you've just been sacked and are looking for work.

I also RTFA's comments (4, Insightful)

ericvids (227598) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945004)

The OP also said, in response to the first guy who asked pretty much everything that has been asked here in the slashdot thread:

Hi Llama, I have no such agreement. It was done on my own time with the company’s full support. They knew it was open source. I think now that I’m not at the company, they want to “control” it. As far as I understand it, they need to abide by the license. I think the tricky part is compelling them to abide by the license

Assuming this is all true (that he had no agreement with the company to cede over his rights to work done on his own time), I seriously doubt that it is legal for the company to do this. It seems to me that he was pretty careful from the outset to ensure that no such agreement was in the contract -- and in that case, by default, the copyright remains with him as the original author.

I’m going to report this to GNU project and warn them that if they don’t bring to code back in-line with the license, that I will send a letter to their customers to make them aware of the situation.

To me, that reads an awful lot like extortion.

How exactly is this extortion? Mere coercion is not extortion. He's not asking for money, property or services in exchange for all of this -- he just wants the source code (assuming it's rightfully his) to be licensed properly and that the company may not sell it as proprietary.

Re:Warning, grave danger ahead. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36945094)

Plus: why the hell is he going to the GNU project? unless he signed copyright over to them (which of course he likely couldn't do since it was likely WFH), they can't and won't do anything. He needs to call FSF (GNU's parent org) -- after he reads up on WFH [wikimedia.org] , and assuming he still believes he retains copyright to the work in question...

Eat him. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36944954)

Eat him.

Re:Eat him. (0)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944968)

Eat him.

He'd only enjoy it

Give up - inappropriate (1, Interesting)

mister2au (1707664) | more than 2 years ago | (#36944996)

Simplest problem ever ... it is not your code, it belongs to the company that employed you Sorry to blunt but it is attitudes like that causing issues for IT folks progressing through companies - no other profession (eg engineers, marketing, finance, etc) would dare complain about "not getting credit" if a company went in a different direction with their work after they'd left.

what should you do? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36945020)

suck it up, and write some new code.

I smell troll... (2)

Catnaps (2044938) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945046)

You guys? Not so much.

Who has the copyright (1)

xonen (774419) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945052)

From this information, it seems they are regarding themselves as the rightful copyright owner. If this is the case, nothing can stop them from re-licensing it as they please. That said, code released as GPL should remain GPL, simple as that, but duel licensing is pretty common.

So the real issue is: who is the copyright owner. The outcome of that depends on the local laws and the contract you had. If you sincerely think you are the copyright owner, you could claim the profit they make from it. Proving you are the copyright owner might be harder, and most of all, costly.

If i were you. I'd just work on your own GPL'd code. Continue to distribute it. Maybe on your webpage dedicate a page to this very issue. And, apart from gathering as much proof as you can to protect yourself from a potentional lawsuit from their side, do exactly entirely nothing, except working on your project and make sure it's better than their product. Making your GPL code better than their commercial code seems to me the best way to get back on them.

Communism died in 1989 (0)

alex67500 (1609333) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945062)

Communism died with the Berlin Wall being torn down. Why the hell did the GPL and FSF not follow? Will they never learn?

In my opinion (1)

airfoobar (1853132) | more than 2 years ago | (#36945078)

If the company agreed to open the code under the GPL and is now backing out, then there's a problem. The GPL is non-revokable, meaning there's no way for them to release the code and at some later point change their mind and slap a proprietary license on the same code: that code is open forever. Moreover, there's the viral aspect of the GPL, so if they are using GPLed code in their proprietary product, they still need to release the entire source under the GPL!

However, where the OP may have gone wrong is if he was working on a work-for-hire basis (check your contract), which means he wasn't the copyright holder and wasn't allowed to release the code in the first place.

Please stop (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36945092)

It was not your decision to make the code GPL. It is our code to do with as we please.

Take these 7 bitcoins and STFU. Loser. Things like this are why we fired your neckbeard ass.

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