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SEANT

Who owns your code?

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SEANT

Much of the custom routines written for AutoCAD have some development done while at the office. In many regions of the world this creates questions about ownership. Does the code belong to the writer, or is it the intellectual property of the company.

 

Often that ownership question persists even if the writer can demonstrate that they were never hired due to their code writing ability and that their job description has no specific mention of programming.

 

To make matters even worse, depending on the nature of the software, documentation showing that all code development happened away from the workplace doesn’t necessarily clarify the situation.

 

Has anyone run into that issue? Are there preventative measures? I suppose talking to the boss beforehand would make sense. Getting paid upfront for the skills would be nice. Perhaps a split of the proceeds, should the code ever prove marketable, would make all parties happy.

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Tyke

I suppose it depends on in which country you are because national laws are different around the world. Personally I feel that the code belongs to me if I have not written it specifically for the company that I work for. If I've cheated on them by developing my code in works time, then they have the right to punish me not to take from me what I did in their time. Does that mean if I make a phone call on my own private mobile phone during works time that the phone belongs to them. Taking your point a step further, if the company expect to share on any profits, must they also make a contribution to the development costs or should the software cause substantial damages to someone should the company also pay part of the damages? My view is that either full involvement from the company or no involvement.

 

It would be extremely difficult to prove anything beyond reasonable doubt, which appears to be the deciding factor here in Germany and the UK. I believe that in the US it is quite different and would be easier to prosecute, what's your thoughts on that Sean?

 

Ben

Edited by Tyke

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SEANT

It is definitely a gray area. Nobody has a problem with the company claiming ownership of the work produced by a staff programmer. Likewise, a chainsaw operator on a logging crew should be pretty secure in ownership of their pet social app. The AutoCAD programmer, though, sit’s right there in the middle of that gray area.

 

And there’s no question that the US has lawyers o’ plenty waiting to exploit the gray areas.

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SEANT
. . . . Does that mean if I make a phone call on my own private mobile phone during works time that the phone belongs to them. . . . .

 

That's interesting. I've never worked for a company that had any formal B.Y.O.D policy. Would that policy typically address issues of ownership? For a cellphone, could a phone owner look to be reimbursed for minutes on their phone?

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tzframpton
Much of the custom routines written for AutoCAD have some development done while at the office. In many regions of the world this creates questions about ownership. Does the code belong to the writer, or is it the intellectual property of the company.
Interesting topic!

 

First off, I've always been perturbed by the whole "intellectual property ownership" mentality. The reason being is that there is no such thing as an absolute original thought. All thoughts, ideas or any cognitive activity for that matter has always been built off existing conscience and sub-conscience experiences in some form or another. Not only that but lets not forget to include the progression of past ideas and tools to facilitate things such as writing code from people of past. In other words if it weren't for those who created artificial language and the computer to begin with, people wouldn't be writing code today.

 

So, in regards now to the question at hand, I'd say that a company would be at least entitled to say they facilitated some level of inspiration and/or environment in which allowed that person to create whatever they created. If I create a custom Revit Family, complete with never-before-seen mathematical formula equations that drive the parametric family, you'd better bet my company facilitated my drive, passion, inspiration, challenges and mistakes... mostly on their dime. It would be the original cultivating experiences that set the foundation, then leads to continue development, further increasing epiphanies and revelations then finally the emergence of a great harvest of ideas or code or products and so forth. But for either party to claim that one "owns" something 100% outright would be fallacious in my opinion.

 

Now insert potential financial gain. This is where it gets complicated. If something is created that holds no potential to financial gain then ultimately does it matter? I don't think so... it becomes community property, like that of Lee Mac's superb collection of code. If there is potential financial gain, then owning it wouldn't be the word, I'd say a mutual benefit between employer and employee would be the right term. There are simply too many factors that come into play in which hypothetical situations can argue for or against the code. This is where it gets nasty, all because someone used a single word: "own". Lawyers and greed probably is the driving force behind people thinking they "own" an idea, which led to owning all kinds of metaphysical things in today's metaphysically-rich economy.

 

So the answer would be a pre-existing contract.

 

Often that ownership question persists even if the writer can demonstrate that they were never hired due to their code writing ability and that their job description has no specific mention of programming.
To build off my points above, again, one would have to present an argument that the company did not facilitate any form of tool, environment or inspiration. I believe this will always be hard to do for the author of the code for many reasons I sated above.

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BIGAL

My $0.05

 

Regarding ownership of software my interpretation is if I write at home copyright is mine, if I do something at work it is the companies. This was pushed by 1 local government authority when a couple of guys many years ago wrote a Total station stringing program, Council said great lets sell it to others, cutting the guys out totally, they just stopped doing any more to it straight away, it died a quite death.

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SEANT

Yes. Ownership is a sticky question.

 

I personally do not have much problem with ‘Intellectual Property’. I do see how everything is partially derivative from something earlier, but someone should be able to own the 'value added.'

 

Authors, Musicians, Process Engineers, etc., deserve whatever proceeds the market is willing to bestow.

 

As a matter of fact, the ‘value added’ may be more restrictive than what was required with ‘Tangible Property’. We like to think we own our real estate, we paid hard earned money for it. Yet someone, way back when, didn’t buy it, they just claimed it, quite possibly by force. We home’Own’ers could conceivably be charged with receiving stolen property.:ouch:

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ReMark

If you created the code on company time using company resources they have a valid claim of ownership.

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