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State Trooper Fights For His Source Code

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the man-getting-the-man-down dept.

Software 440

BarneyRabble writes to tell us that a Wisconsin State Trooper is fighting to maintain control of the source code for a program he wrote that helps officers write traffic tickets electronically. Praised by the state just 18 months ago, Trooper David Meredith is now suing the head of patrol claiming that the state is trying to illegally seize the source that he had developed on his own time. From the article: "Meredith, of Oconto Falls, defied an order from his bosses to relinquish the source code - the heart of the program - in October and instead deposited it with Dane County Circuit Judge David T. Flanagan, pending a ruling on who should control it. The case centers on how the software was developed. Department of Transportation attorney Mike Kernats said the State Patrol - a division of DOT - provided Meredith with a computer to write the software and gave him time off patrol duties so he could do the work. But Meredith said in court filings that he spent hundreds of hours off duty working on it, developing it almost entirely on his own time. He noted that he never signed a software licensing agreement."

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Resources (5, Interesting)

lordsilence (682367) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615808)

What if the state claims that he was using their resources and knowledge about how ticket-system works?
Would that affect the case?

Re:Resources (5, Funny)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615922)

Only if Microsoft should be entitled to the source code of every Windows application ever written.

Re:Resources (5, Interesting)

bennomatic (691188) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616194)

Companies have tried this sort of thing before. In the early days of Lotus 123, they realized that people were making pretty good money writing custom applications within Lotus using their scripting language, and so they made some machiovellian modifications to their licensing agreement that made all scripts written in their language their property.

My understanding is that there were some legal challenges to that, but the main thing was that they essentially killed the golden goose. Lotus was (and still is, in it's present incarnation as "Notes" under IBM) a great system, with amazing flexibility. A lot of people swear by it, using it to run just about everything in their business. But that sort aggressive licensing took a lot of wind out of L123's sales--pun intended--and other companies were ready to fill the void, turning it into an also-ran.

Re:Resources (5, Funny)

CaymanIslandCarpedie (868408) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616340)

A lot of people swear by it

Let me fix that for you.

A lot of people swear at it

There, thats better ;-)

Re:Resources (4, Insightful)

Tanuki64 (989726) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616172)

If this works, I hope you did not get your knowledge and education on a public school. Everything you create would automatically belong to the state.

Re:Resources (4, Interesting)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616524)

I worked state gov once, and wrote some very useful code, useful to me and handy for co-workers. But I was never hired to write it,nor was I paid for writing it. When I left, I left the code in a file location that was not archived, was not backed up, and was not saved. Still available, still used and everyone was happy till... 30 days later it went bye bye. I get a call at my new job "Where are those files????" I said: "Gee I am not sure, did you archive them with your other (paid for) important software? No? well then gee I'm not sure, no, I did not keep a copy, no, I don't recall how it worked, but if you pay me a reasonable consulting fee I might possibly could...."

Head Asplode... (5, Funny)

ShaunC (203807) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615810)

For once I find myself actually rooting for a cop! Next thing you know, Microsoft will be giving away Windows, and Wal-Mart will go bankrupt... Someone pinch me before I wake up.

Re:Head Asplode... (1)

KUHurdler (584689) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615970)

I just want to know why he is writing traffic tickets on "his own time"

Re:Head Asplode... (2, Interesting)

Tanuki64 (989726) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616198)

Not that unusual. I also wrote some tools in my free time, which help me doing my work better. Not necessarily because I love my company and want to help, but because it helps me circumvent boring and tedious tasks.

Re:Head Asplode... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616412)

I used to think along the same lines until I realized that it really does affect the ability to properly estimate cost for future work. When the company is preparing bids, they use historical data along with any planned development costs to improve efficiency. Your donating of time essentially threw off the bid system. Most employers would rather know about the amount of effort, even if they weren't directly compensating for your hours. I'm sure you'll also want to ensure that the employer would reward you at the next merit increase too. You'll also want to avoid devaluing your work by at least having the effort recorded.

Jim

Re:Head Asplode... (0, Troll)

darjen (879890) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616032)

For once I find myself actually rooting for a cop! Next thing you know, Microsoft will be giving away Windows, and Wal-Mart will go bankrupt... Someone pinch me before I wake up.

Cops are still agents of an abusive State, even this one. I wouldn't go so far as to root for this guy. Especially since his source code makes ticketing more efficient. Which is bad for the rest of us.

Re:Head Asplode... (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616536)

Especially since his source code makes ticketing more efficient. Which is bad for the rest of us.
I never understand the view that good enforcement of a law is a bad thing. Either the law is just, in which case enforcement can not be bad, or the law is unjust, in which case good enforcement will highlight this to a significant proportion of the electorate, ensuring that it is fixed sooner.

Re:Head Asplode... (0, Troll)

PinkPanther (42194) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616070)

For once I find myself actually rooting for a cop!

Yes, because the vast majority of police officers are scum and out to get us.

That's why those of us in the Free World consider ourselves free.

Hmm... (5, Funny)

Some Clown (586320) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615816)

There's a donut joke in here somewhere...

Re:Hmm... (3, Funny)

x2A (858210) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616120)

what, tastes great with his homemade sauce?!

Re:Hmm... (3, Funny)

mangu (126918) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616530)

You mean, it's all about who controls the sauce code?

Re:Hmm... (1)

fusto99 (939313) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616610)

They could also say the police department supplied donuts to him while he was writing the code. If they didn't supply the donuts, he never would have gotten it done.

the take-away point (1)

uujjj (752925) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615818)

Make sure you know who owns the code you write before you put it into use.

Re:the take-away point (4, Insightful)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615902)

Better yet: Make sure you know who is going to own the code before you write it.

Re:the take-away point (2, Interesting)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616058)

So very true. The mere fact that he was using state resources probably is enough to do him in.

Re:the take-away point (2, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616190)

No, make sure you write the code on your own computer and completely on your own time if you want to own it without a formal agreement.

Re:the take-away point (4, Insightful)

h2g2bob (948006) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616334)

Paraphrasing the FSF's recommendations:
* Write a little bit
* Go to your boss and say "I'll write the rest if you allow it to be Free Software"
* Get that in writing
* Be prepared to say "good luck getting someone else to finish the project" as you walk away

Re:the take-away point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616566)

* Get that in writing
* Be prepared to say "good luck getting someone else to finish the project" as you walk away
Huh? Are you saying get them to open-source your code then screw them over, or hold them to ransom over open-sourcing it?

Either way is hardly good ethics or good press for open source. Or good employer karma when you go back and ask for references.

Re:the take-away point (2, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616634)

Sure...if you want to provide free software. In this case it seems obvious he wants the proprietary source code to be his to sell.

Re:the take-away point (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616246)

I doubt he thought that far ahead, or thought they were gonna screw him over it. Everything's easy with hindsight.

the suspence is killing me (3, Funny)

Falladir (1026636) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615822)

Gee, I wonder which side /. will take...

crap (1)

Falladir (1026636) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615882)

*suspense

He didn't sign any agreement... (1, Interesting)

RexRhino (769423) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615826)

So the source code is his... plain and simple. This is why corporations usually make its employees sign an agreement giving the company all rights to source code developed for the company (and if they don't, it is usually just an oversight - it is not that they want the employees to own the code).

Re:He didn't sign any agreement... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17615958)

That's true for independent contractors but not employees, the rights to their work default to the employer. If he was allowed to work on this using employers time and equipment then they own the rights. That some fool decides to take work home with him is irrelevant.

Re:He didn't sign any agreement... (4, Insightful)

Baricom (763970) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616100)

It's not that simple. Copyright law says a work-for-hire is "a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment." Court cases have determined that an employee that gets time off from other duties, and is provided work space and IT resources by the employer, can be commissioning a work-for-hire, whether a formal agreement exists or not.

Re:He didn't sign any agreement... (3, Interesting)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616552)

It's not that simple. Copyright law says a work-for-hire is "a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment." Court cases have determined that an employee that gets time off from other duties, and is provided work space and IT resources by the employer, can be commissioning a work-for-hire, whether a formal agreement exists or not.

Nor is it that simple either. A key word here is "scope." One important test is whether or not the employer is in business to create such works. So, a programmer employed by a software house and writing software is probably creating a work for hire. But the police are not in the business of creating software. So, even when provided resources and paid time to do the work, it does not necessarily follow that the result is a work for hire.

Re:He didn't sign any agreement... (2, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616230)

Corporations make you sign those agreements just to make sure they're covered. It's legally pretty clear that code you write on work time and on work computers is owned by your employer. These extra agreements cover edge cases and make sure no legal battle can even begin.

Not having a signed agreement does not make the code his. He was given time from work to write it and used his employer's computer. Therefore the code might be theirs.

Re:He didn't sign any agreement... (1)

Carrot007 (37198) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616420)

Hmm so if everything you do on work time is work's responsibility then they should pay for anything I buy online while I am there.

To put it another way, not everything you do at work is anything to do with them. Nor should it be.

Basically if you write something at work without them asking or anything the worst that should happen is you are disciplined for slacking off.

Re:He didn't sign any agreement... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616260)

Work for hire, dumbass. The cop will lose.

Re:He didn't sign any agreement... (1)

overtly_demure (1024363) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616562)

Work for hire, dumbass. The cop will lose.

I tend to agree. The poor bastard doesn't seem to stand a chance. He should have RTF-Contract, and consulted the many "Contracting for Dummies"-type books and web resources. Had he quietly open-sourced it while still an employee and placed it on SF.net or somesuch, the disclosure might have saved the software, but even that is iffy (i.e. lawyers need to make their solemn pronouncements in that regard).

Let the developer beware.

Well... not all of it. (5, Insightful)

paladinwannabe2 (889776) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616314)

It looks like the base program comes from Iowa, which gave the program to Wisconsin under the condition that it not be sold commercially. Thus, the trooper cannot sell this program anymore than Microsoft could sell Red Hat Linux without releasing the source code for free. The trooper quite possibly has copyrights to the changes he made, but if so he can only sell the changes he made to someone who already has Iowa's program.

A fair solution would be the officer gives the rights to his employer, and his employer gives him a nice bonus for overtime work ($10,000-$20,000, depending on the amount of time he spent and the quality of the changes he made). If I were him I'd try to settle out of court.

Work Fore Hire (1)

tempest69 (572798) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616470)

Nope... it was listed as "almost" all on his own time. as soon as he crosses that line and types in jack to that code as a regular employee on the clock he has crossed a line. The code now becomes property of the department.

He is now in the whole "work for hire" category. If he has adequatly spepeated out the code he did at work, from the code that was done at home, he may be able to give them a partial load. But I'm assuming that the effort was less formal than that.

The source code agreement isnt needed in most cases, but is nice to have just so there is no legal way for the coder to hold back a resource file that was coded at home.

Storm

Re:He didn't sign any agreement... (1)

heatdeath (217147) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616488)

I think that a good faith understanding of his work was that he was writing it *for them*. They probably overlooked making him sign an agreement because nobody in the police department knew about how source code rights usually work. I'm sure he'll probably win the case, but it sounds like the police department is just trying to get what they thought they were getting from him all along. "I worked on it mostly on my own time" sounds like a pretty weak argument.

This sounds like he thought he was underpaid after the fact, and is trying to exploit the police department's ignorance.

Re:He didn't sign any agreement... (4, Informative)

k12linux (627320) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616602)

All sorts of problems with this reasoning:
  1. He didn't write it from scratch. He took code given to WI from IA and modified it. Trying to sell it as his own would make him guilty of copyright violation.
  2. If he doesn't acknowledge any kind of license then he has NO rights to use someone else's source code in "his" software.
  3. There IS a license for the code he based his work on... the one from IA saying it couldn't be sold commercially. Either he accepts that or he has no right to make a derivative work out of it. Regardless, the license wasn't with him it was with the state.
  4. It is not legal (in WI anyhow) to profit or operate a business using public assets (the PC he was given to use.) If he wanted to start his own software business he should have bought his own PC.... and written the code all from scratch.
  5. And as others have mentioned, he was given time (and paid) to work on the software. If he needed more time he should have told someone. This code is "work for hire" programming and decidedly not his.

He MAY be able to recover pay (even overtime) if he can show his superiors knew or should have known about the time he spent on it. I can't see him getting anything else. He's never going to be making millions off that software.

He could always destroy the source code instead of giving it to the state... and risk being sent to jail for a computer crime.

The minute they... (5, Interesting)

just_another_sean (919159) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615828)

...encouraged him and offered to let him use their resources (time at work and a PC) he should of asked for some kind of agreement in writing that it was his.

My boss is very liberal about what we do in the IT department as long as things are running smoothly and we get long term projects done on time. But even here I am careful to keep anything I might potentially think of as mine at home and off company equipment.

Re:The minute they... (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615998)

The fact that he did it on their equipment, or that he didn't sign an agreement does not (SFAIK) make the code belong to either him or the State. What it does mean though is that there is a bit of gray area. A nuetral judge will have to listen to both sides of the story and make a decision based on the laws presented under each argument. Even if he did sign an agreement, it doesn't mean that the company 'owns' the code, it just reduces the gray area.

A contract is just a piece of paper until you are in court.

-Rick

Re:The minute they... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616152)

>>>"...A neutral judge ..."

Is that when both sides have bribed him equally?

Re:The minute they... (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616430)

A contract does not necessarily need a piece of paper... but it helps... a lot. He was given time off work and a computer to work on this program by his employers. From the article we are given to understand that this is the only reason he received these things. So they were expecting a program. That is, he was working for them when he wrote the program. So he couldn't get it all done during work hours, or he wanted to do more. It was still for work (the fact they gave him time off to do this AND a computer to do it on speaks volumes to that). I haven't seen any place were someone writes programs that the company doesn't own the source unless there was a verifiable contract to the contrary.

At best he should be able to keep a copy and retain rights to use it. This is like a software case of the spilling coffee on your lap because you were stupid enough to squeeze hot coffee between your thighs in a moving vehicle. It was his responsibility to make sure the boundaries of the work were understood. I would have hoped a police officer would have been capable of better critical thinking that what he displayed. I wonder if he was one of those cops who just won't give anyone a break when he catches someone in a minor infraction, or whether he is a more relaxed kind of fellow.

Anyway, this is a real life lesson that the rest of us should learn from.

Re:The minute they... (1)

smallfeet (609452) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616012)

But his primary job is not to write software, so without something written, I would think he has the edge in this.

Re:The minute they... (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616110)

maybe, but at my workplace, anything I create on company time or equipment is subject to become property of my company per an agreement that every employee has to sign.

(P.S. I am not a programer or developer, and clerical workers sign the same agreement)

Re:The minute they... (1)

shawn(at)fsu (447153) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616196)

I singed the a simular agrement and anything that I write that is inspired by my work is company property (IIRC), but in this case since the developer doesn't work for an IT shop or in an IT field I bet he didn't sign anything like that.

Re:The minute they... (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616270)

That last part of your comment is what I was saying. I can't reveal my employer, but it's in the healthcare field. Even a janitor who uses our network to do some page creation could have the work technically be owned by words of the agreement. (They don't really enforce it like that though, but the wording says it as such) I honestly don't think that is quite fair, nor would most people agree with it.

Re:The minute they... (1)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616054)

...encouraged him and offered to let him use their resources (time at work and a PC) he should of asked for some kind of agreement in writing that it was his.

Not always that easy. Sometimes you start with a module or app that over a period of time with incremental improvements, winds up turning into a commercially viable product. A good corporation will reward such an effort either with a sizable cash reward or making the developer a product lead with his/her own development staff. Unfortunately, this developer works for the state which is full of inept, incompetent and shortsighted bureaucrats. He's probably screwed on the compensation from the state, but he could "redevelop" it and market it elsewhere.

Re:The minute they... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616086)

Agreed. Unfortunately my boss isn't as liberal as yours. She said she considers "any IT projects as unfair competition" which kind of rules out my home projects. My contract and the Finnish laws aren't too specific what is "unfair competition", but I think the law is on my side (since I'm using my own computer on my own time and there's no way for me to compete with my employer). Anyways, I'm checking this with my layer before I continue discussions with her.

And since I'm already forced to make some calls, I'll probably make a few calls to possible employers on the same go. Anyone wanting to hire a JavaEE architect in Finland, leave your message below ;-)

Re:The minute they... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616142)

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, this should be a 'works made for hire' [copyright.gov] ' Once you are paid to work on something, that 'thing' becomes the property of the company (in this case the State of Wisconsin). There is no need for the employer to give notice to the employee that his work is not 'his' since it is clear in the Copyright Act. Once he accepted money and resources, it clearly became property of the State of Wisconsin.

Re:The minute they... (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616160)

...he should of asked for some kind of agreement in writing that it was his.

I think that's the most important point. I work in software, so I have to check the IP clauses in any employment contract carefully. I regard employers claiming rights to the following as fair:

  1. code I write as part of my job (including anything obviously related, for example because it's based on my employer's trade secrets);
  2. code I write on company time;
  3. code I write using company resources (PC, compiler licence, whatever).

Any claims that go beyond the above, I don't sign.

Obviously the law varies from place to place, but I suspect most places have something like the above as default criteria for IP rights for any salaried worker. In this case, if the guy's a full-time cop, using police computers to write the code, using at least some work time to write the code, and writing code that relates to his job, I'm guessing he's stuffed, other than if there is any overtime provision he might claim for the extra hours he put in out of work, which there probably isn't, given on the typical draconian US employment system where any salaried employee is assumed to sell their soul and have no concept of normal working hours. (This paragraph was brought to you by the non-lawyers-who-can't-write-short-sentences-either dept.)

Re:The minute they... (1)

Amazing Quantum Man (458715) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616234)

Ditto.

At my current position,the IP clause included anything I develop during my employment, work related or not.

I explained that I have no problem with assigning work-related stuff to them, but non-work related, on my machine, on my own computer should be mine.

They agreed, we lined out the relevant clauses and initialed them.

Re:The minute they... (2, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616276)

Unless his employment contract specifies that his employer owns any work product he produces while on company time and/or resources, then he owns it, not the employer. It comes down to a simple question - was source code a "work for hire" or not. If the contract does not spell it out as a "work for hire" then it defaults to not and he owns it, even if he developed it 100% on company and using 100% company resources.

However, if his employment contract does contain a work for hire clause, then he screwed himself by giving them all that free overtime developing it at home.

Such work for hire clauses are standard in the computer industry. I bet there is a good chance they are not standard in the LE industry since they typically don't produce any copyrightable works.

That's about the MOST wrong dude to mess with. (2, Insightful)

reklusband (862215) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615838)

Ok, so we've got a disgruntled programmer/cop and he's not getting credit for software the state uses for official business? Hopefully they never notice the Superman 3 code that he borrowed implemented with a deadman switch. Seriously...Don't they know not to mess with guys with guns and nerding skills?

Re:That's about the MOST wrong dude to mess with. (2, Funny)

Lazerf4rt (969888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616036)

Yea, seriously. I mean, just look at the end of Revenge of the Nerds 2. The nerds ended up inside an army tank. We don't need a repeat of that.

*Aways* document it. (3, Insightful)

agoliveira (188870) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615856)

It does not matter how trivial. If you're into something like this, aways write it down and have the other part sign it. Period. I've had more than my share on this kind of issues and even turn some jobs down because of this so, better safe than sorry.

Only with software (1)

EvilGoodGuy (811015) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615874)

If he made a robot designed to do his job, they'd be buying his idea.

Re:Only with software (1)

TheCRAIGGERS (909877) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616510)

Not if they bought him all the parts.

Give it to the government! (2, Funny)

Genjurosan (601032) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615888)

Otherwise private business will implement it and we won't be able to get out of our speeding tickets. In this case we want the government to own it, since we all know how screwed up the source code become.

Tracs (4, Insightful)

operagost (62405) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615890)

I'm wondering if the fact that it may be a derivative work of Tracs could actually be a bigger issue. The article didn't make it clear whether he actually modified parts of Tracs or just wrote an interface to it.

and all I can think of is... (1)

j0nkatz (315168) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615898)

Bad boys, bad boys, what cha gonna do? What cha gonna do when they come for you.

Re:and all I can think of is... (3, Funny)

necro81 (917438) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616446)

Bad boys, bad boys, what cha gonna do? What cha gonna do when they come for you.

In this case, it's "What cha gonna do when they code for you?"

FYI... (4, Interesting)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615908)

1) In most states, the presumption is that work-related inventions by a salaried worker belong to the employer, whether or not an explicit agreement has been signed. (Don't know the specifics about Wisconsin, or about how a trooper would be classified.)

2) Accepting a work computer and other considerations has *got* to seriously jeopardize his claim. For heaven's sake, do *not* accept anything like that for work which you want to own, unless you get explicit acknowledgment that your employer sees it the same way.

Re:FYI... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616302)

Who the fuck told you to talk? I have told you thousands of times to shut the fuck up and here you are expressing your meaningless opinion.

NO ONE CARES MORON.

I hope someone keys your Porsche you fucking lamer.

Re:FYI... (1)

div_2n (525075) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616308)

If they do try to claim it using that logic, he should apply for all the overtime he spent working on it.

Why? (1)

a16 (783096) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616464)

Unless they specifically asked him to work overtime, he can't bill them afterwards. You don't decide to work 50 (undocumented) extra hours per week, then declare that your employer owes you thousands.

If this guy spent any time at work on this thing, or had time off work to specifically work on the project - which he himself seems to be saying is true - then he's screwed. Whether he signed a specific licensing agreement or not, most contracts will state that any work done on company time belongs to the company. And even if that isn't specifically in his contract (why would it be, he's a cop) - I'd find it hard to believe that anyone could argue otherwise. And if they did, surely they can fire him at a minimum for not spending his paid time at work doing something useful for his employer.

Currently he has a piece of software that he admits, and his employer can presumably prove, was at least partially worked on during work hours and using their provided equipment. The fact he decided to do a load of work outside of hours is his fault, he should have got this cleared up before putting any of his own time into it. If he wanted to keep it completely his own project, he should have refused their equipment and worked on it 100% in his own time.

On top of all this, TFA seems to state that this is simply addons for another existing system provided from another state, so I can't see how he can argue any of this is his code to sell.

Re:FYI... (2, Interesting)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616354)

"1) In most states, the presumption is that work-related inventions by a salaried worker belong to the employer, whether or not an explicit agreement has been signed. (Don't know the specifics about Wisconsin, or about how a trooper would be classified.)"

Assuming this is true - please site reference - you pretty much invalidate it because you don't know this about Wisconsin.

It is standard practice in the IT industry to sign an agreement that any work you create as part of your employment is the property of the employer. Because he did not sign such an agreement the state has a very weak case. He is no different from a 3rd party that was hired to write code but keeps the code. Microsoft anyone. IBM thought that Microsoft was writing code exclusively for IBM and that IBM had complete control. This turned out not to be true. Without a signed agreement the state has nothing.

"2) Accepting a work computer and other considerations has *got* to seriously jeopardize his claim. For heaven's sake, do *not* accept anything like that for work which you want to own, unless you get explicit acknowledgment that your employer sees it the same way."

Again, this is no different from a 3rd party working onsite to develop code. This is also standard practice. Unless there is an agreement that states exclusivity and/or ownership of the code, the state has nothing!

Now the one state that does have a beef is Iowa. From the article:

"In 2003, the state sent Meredith to Iowa to get trained on the Iowa Department of Transportation's Traffic and Criminal Software, or TraCS. Iowa gave Wisconsin the software for free on the condition that Wisconsin not develop the application for commercial purposes, said Kernats"

So it could very well be Iowa could sue the cop and the state of Wisconsin for developing this application.

Re:FYI... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616550)

In most states (all, as far as I know), Troopers are HOURLY employees, not salary. They are non management

This is a good one... (1, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615916)

The state should have made him sign an agreement ensuring all code belonged to the state. They have some toe hold because he used inside information.

He should have had written permission to write the code on his own and plug it into the state's system for testing or use.

Both messed up, and I am not sure that there isn't some comeback on the origin of the source before he modified it. If license was on the basis of non-commercial use, he probably can't sell it.

On the bright side, with this kind of publicity, he probably will have no trouble finding a new job.

Government + IT + copyright/IP Law = messy business

Re:This is a good one... (1)

NewWorldDan (899800) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616088)

What I find problematic is that this isn't a black and white issue, but the court is expected to resolve it as one. Both the officer and the state seem to have some legitimate claim to the code. Why can't the court rule that it is owned 70% by the officer and 30% by the state?

Re:This is a good one... (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616174)

It's simple. Humans are greedy by nature. No one wants to accept 30%, or 70% of something they believe is 100% theirs

Licensing (3, Insightful)

kevin_conaway (585204) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615924)

The article says:

Meredith said in court filings that he spent hundreds of hours off duty working on it, developing it almost entirely on his own time. He noted that he never signed a software licensing agreement.

However, it goes on to state:

In 2003, the state sent Meredith to Iowa to get trained on the Iowa Department of Transportation's Traffic and Criminal Software, or TraCS. Iowa gave Wisconsin the software for free on the condition that Wisconsin not develop the application for commercial purposes, said Kernats. At the request of his superiors, Meredith tweaked the program so that it would work in Wisconsin and created a way to import driver information and criminal histories into it. The software that imports data saves time and prevents errors, said Jones, the union president.

If he did indeed base his work off another piece of software (that was given to him on the condition that he not sell it commercially), then I don't think he really has a leg to stand on.

Re:Licensing (1)

CharliePete (923290) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616236)

Amazing...So Iowa could very well have a claim on the source code too! Don't you just love it when the government gets as tangled up as the rest of us in these wonderful IP laws.

Most states have fairly employer slanted work produt laws and there's a good chance the cop'll will have surrender the source code...but will it be to Wisconsin or Iowa?

Re:Licensing (1)

Trails (629752) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616408)

It's not necessarily based on it, it may just interact with it.

If I write a word processor that interacts with a printer driver, I'm not basing my work on the printer driver.

Legality (1)

chiefer (1050460) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615946)

Of course a court will now have to decide what legal standing the officer had pertaining the source code. The absence of any type of proprietary rights agreement may lend a hand to the officer. On the contrary because he used office computers at times may swing the vote against him. A related matter is the legality of issuing electronic tickets in the first place. http://www.legalreader.com/archives/001188.html [legalreader.com]

Moral of the story.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17615952)

Dont car if you work for a Corperation or a Municipality...

Do something good on your own time at home for your employer and your employer will do everything they can to steal it from you.

They assume they own you, not the reality that you are doing them a favor for pay when on duty.

Yes employees are doing the employer a FAVOR by exchanging their skills and time for money. Really bad Managers love to make their employees feel otherwise because they feel that intimidating the employees is a better motivator and it strokes their ego.

Time spent working on the project (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17615968)

So this was a task he was given as part of his regular job.

That makes it pretty clear - the source code belongs to his employer.

The "hundreds of hours" spent working on it in his own time is a fancy way of saying he spent a lot of overtime working on the project in order to make it happen.

IF AND ONLY IF it was a task that was unrelated to his regular job (i.e. he had not been asked to write it at work) could it then be considered "his own" and not that of his employer.

If this decision were to go any other way then it would kill the ability of employers to claim unpaid overtime working on a project as work that they owned. This could have pretty far reaching consequenes (but is also a bit far fetched.)

If any /.'er thinks their employer is not entitled to rights for work done on work based projects outside of normal work hours then said /.'ers need to get a quick reality check.

RTFA? (2, Informative)

dctoastman (995251) | more than 7 years ago | (#17615996)

After reading the article, it seems he didn't develop the software from scratch but instead modified an already existing package. So, in other words he is calling the Wisconsin police department thieves for not letting him steal someone else's work.

Re:RTFA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616496)

Yes, it appears that he was given the TraCS software for free and they most likely provided him with their SDK. The article states he was given the TraCS software and just "tweaked" it. How that would be his actual code is beyond my knowledge. More info on their SDK here: http://www.tracsinfo.us/Tracs_About_SDK.asp [tracsinfo.us]

Plain and simple, they gave him the software to develop for non-commercial purposes. I highly doubt that they gave him their source code. He most likely just used their SDK and is now trying to claim the program as his own with the customizations that he made, but yet it is still the actual TraCS software. This guy should be fired for being incompetent. And he writes tickets?

I'm amazed they're using his software (4, Insightful)

Wee (17189) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616002)

The troubling part is that they're using a program which is inherently unmaintainable. Without the source, or a vendor, they can't really rely on anything. They can't fix bugs, get improvements, etc. I realize that the cop wants to become a vendor, but that's not quite the same thing. What if it's found that his program issues tickets to the wrong person in some cases? Who's liable? Sounds like he wants to be. Is he bonded or insured?

The police force should have never accepted the program without accompanying source code, or (worst case) some sort of license.

-B

The code belongs to his employer. (4, Insightful)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616020)

Why is this even a controversy? The minute they provided him with any resource to work on it (work time, computer, etc...) it became theirs. This is not open to discussion.

In fact, in most cases if the work is any any way related to his work domain it's theirs even if they _didn't_ provide any resources, or at least they have a strong case to argue this.

He's wasting his time and the court's time, he can't win.

Re:The code belongs to his employer. (1)

eyrieowl (881195) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616252)

Agreed. If giving up his "own time" entitled him to the code, then I should own much of the source code at any of the companies I've worked for. But I don't believe my volunteering an 80 hour week entitles me to the code I write in the extra 40, and I don't believe any employer I've worked for has lost sleep worrying about that either. He doesn't have a leg to stand on.

hmm... (1)

Viceroy Potatohead (954845) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616034)

I'm obviously not a lawyer, but I doubt he'll win this. It doesn't sound like he had any problem with things when he was recognized for going beyond and above... I would think that would make it look like he recognized that the code belonged to the police. It certainly gives that impression.

Still, I feel kind of disgusting.... I'm siding with a cop.

Re:hmm... (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616490)

IAAL (but not one licensed in Wisconsin) and I don't think he'll win this. Though if I were his lawyer I'd sue for all his overtime he spent at home, and try to get them to stipulate that he spent hundreds of hours of overtime at home, then use that stipulation at a later lawsuit.

Standard Operating Procedure (2, Informative)

mpapet (761907) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616042)

It is pretty much always the case, the gov't will own the source on this one for many reasons.

1. Body of Employee Law
Since most employer/employee law leaves no room for interpreting "spare time" vs. "work time" other than how much money you have to lawyer-up he'll lose on this one because he'll run out of money defending his position.

2. Body of State/Fed Law
I know the Feds have a policy whereby they own the source on things written for them. It would not surprise me to hear this used as the "authority" whereby the code is taken.

What's sad is the guy has committed career suicide at this point and, if he hasn't already blown a bunch of money lawyering-up for the pricipal/principal(sp?) that this is his code.

Developers please note: This kind of theft of useful code/ideas is SOP in public service. If you have a great idea, develop it on your own time and find a completely unrelated avenue to promoting it. GPL is one way to go about this.

Re:Standard Operating Procedure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616212)

Exactly :-) The Cop is greedy, the Police department is greedy.

Taxpayer money paid for it so it should be Open sourced ASAP and placed on sourceforge.

If the cop wanted 100% control, he should have not done the work on a Taxpayer owned PC.

If my employer gives me a company car and I make money doing business as a pimp out of that car after hours, The company can demand the cash I made pimping hoes out of their car.

Re:Also... (1)

symbolic (11752) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616352)

WATCH OUT FOR PATENTS!

Consider this scenario...someone decides to work in a sweat-equity arrangement, whereby he creates a tangible and functional piece of software in exchange for future interest. He by default owns the copyright, since there are no work-for-hire issues (i.e. no compensation is involved). Despite ownership of the copyright, it's entirely conceivable that the code could be rendered useless if someone else patents any of ideas used in the software. (Whether they merit patenting is another issue entirely- we've seen what a mess software patents have become).

It's just another way you can get screwed if you're the one producing the code.

Re:Standard Operating Procedure (2, Interesting)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616590)

Normally I'd side with the cop simply out of /. priorities (YEAH! Stick it to them MAN! Information just wants to be FREE!)

But really, let's look at this from a semi-objective viewpoint.

  1. He was provided resources and training by the state
  2. He didn't write the program, he wrote the interface to allow Wisconsin to use a program created by Iowa.
  3. Wisconsin received a free license to the program from Iowa, specifically if they promised not to modify it to use commercially.

Now, I realize he'd really like to be able to take this modification he made to the original program and sell it, but really do you honestly think he has a leg to stand on?

He's created a modification to a program using Wisconsin state resources, of which the license for the program itself specifically states that it can't be modified for commercial use. The fact that he was able to get this into court is the saddest part of the story. And while it's sad that he's commiting career suicide here, it sounds more like Social Darwinism taking it's due than the mean ol'government running him over.

Donut know if there is a solution . . . (0)

hduff (570443) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616050)

I donut think this is a trivial matter and I donut think that there is a clear resolution of the issue. Perhaps the officer can release claims to the code in exchange for an employment contract to continue development of useful software for law enforcement focusing on interoperability and information sharing. The office sounds like a smart and resourceful fellow. That way everybody wins.

Re:Donut know if there is a solution . . . (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616206)

Meh, you Dohgnut know what yer talkin' aboat.

Not as bad as it 1st sounds, still messy though (3, Interesting)

Fox_1 (128616) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616092)

FTA Eighteen months ago, the State Patrol praised trooper David Meredith for going beyond the call of duty by developing time-saving software that helps officers write traffic tickets electronically.
In 2003, the state sent Meredith to Iowa to get trained on the Iowa Department of Transportation's Traffic and Criminal Software, or TraCS. Iowa gave Wisconsin the software for free on the condition that Wisconsin not develop the application for commercial purposes, said Kernats.
At the request of his superiors, Meredith tweaked the program so that it would work in Wisconsin and created a way to import driver information and criminal histories into it. The software that imports data saves time and prevents errors, said Jones, the union president

Dang, on the one hand he's praised for going beyond call of duty (great game too) and on the other he was assigned to the project by his bosses.
This Trooper isn't a programmer first, he's a cop, who does cop things like write speeding tickets (over 2k a year FTA).
He screwed up by doing what his bosses asked him to do without having paper in place to cover what would happen to his work.
They screwed up by asking a non-programmer (I sure he is a code wizard but he was hired to be cop first) to do something beyond their job description using personal skills and ultimately personal time.
Interesting enough, if I read it right, if the State gets control of the modified software, they won't be selling it for commercial gain, whereas it seems Mr Meredith is interested in making money off of his work, fair, but Iowa originally provided the software with a clause preventing that.

modding overrated (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616166)

modding overrated is a cowards way of dealing with posts that they have a problem with but no rebuttal for.

letting the overrated mod exist is cmdrdildos way of letting all his worthless drones continue to be cowards while not facing the facts.

boycott meta-modding. its a waste of your time since the existing system is corrupt.

bayond the call (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616182)

If it a derivitive of software from Iowa, and Iowa gave it on the condition of there not being a commercail product made from it, then the officer has not ground to do anything commercial with it anyone.
However, for who owns what he wrote, that state already praised him for going "beyond the call of duty"
If that's how they wanna describe it, then it is not theirs by their own admission.

Can't he just Open Source it? Especially if the derivitive of something that says no commercial?

Grasping? (4, Interesting)

coldfarnorth (799174) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616192)

So, he was asked to write the software for work, he was given a (work) computer to develop the software with, and he was told to do it on the clock. That sounds to me like developing this software was part of his job descripton. If my boss put me in the same situation, I'd say the software was goes to him, no question.

The fact that he did it off the clock hardly seems like his boss' fault.

If I had to pick based on that info, well, he'd need to turn over his code. Regardless you can be sure that neither party will make these mistakes again.

It's In the FA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616300)

Nobody has yet noted that the software was originally written by the state of Iowa, and given to Wisconsin with the proviso that they would not commercially market it?

If he'd written it from scratch, at home, and the state was suddenly saying 'Oh, yeah, that's ours now', I'd be behind the guy.

However, he's essentially trying to claim total control over a derivitave work that he only wrote part of.

almost... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17616368)

"developing it almost entirely on his own time."

almost. And there's almost a story here.

Always clear this with your boss... (4, Informative)

Qubit (100461) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616384)

The trooper's program is not FOSS, but I believe that the FSF's advice to Free Software developers who work for universities is appropriate:
http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/university.html [gnu.org]

Whatever you do, raise the issue early -- certainly before the program is half finished. At this point, the university still needs you, so you can play hardball: tell the administration you will finish the program, make it usable, if they have agreed in writing to make it free software...

Work out the arrangement with the sponsor first, then politely show the university administration that it is not open to renegotiation. They would rather have a contract to develop free software than no contract at all, so they will most likely go along.

I work for a university, and I have explicitly talked to both the senior programmer and to our boss about developing FOSS on my own time (Do it both in person and over email -- so you have a record of the conversation).
If you write computer code and want to make sure that your company/university does not try to take it from you, you need to have that conversation. Send an email today!

Overtime? (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616450)

I would think that if the state claims the software as its own, he would have a pretty good claim for overtime. All those hours working on the program for the state's benefit -- well, he should be compensated.

If he wins Iowa will nail him (1)

lokiz (796853) | more than 7 years ago | (#17616586)

Wisconsin was only given access with the understanding that they do not develop it for a profit. He got his hands on it through Wisconsin. He can't make a dime off the software itself. Best he could do is claim unpaid overtime, but I am sure he is salaried and he choose to work on it, he wasn't made too. So probably nothing to stand on there. All in all just a big mess of people not understanding the huge mess of IP laws. Which most people don't. Hell I wouldn't be surprised if anyone truly understood everything. I know I don't.
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