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What Do I Do About My Ex-Employer Stealing My Free Code? 545

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-a-meeting-with-the-bobs dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I recently found out that the company I used to work for is removing all the open source licenses (GPL and MIT) from my work, distributing it as proprietary software and taking all the credit despite the fact that they contributed nothing to it. They are even renaming it something really silly. What should I do?"
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What Do I Do About My Ex-Employer Stealing My Free Code?

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  • Talk to Tom Hudson (Score:5, Informative)

    by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:10AM (#36944680) Homepage Journal

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

    • by adycarter (261257) <adycarter.gmail@com> on Monday August 01, 2011 @06:20AM (#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.

  • Lawyer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:10AM (#36944682)

    Get one.

    • Re:Lawyer (Score:5, Informative)

      by rbrausse (1319883) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:25AM (#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 (Score:5, Informative)

        by Stellian (673475) on Monday August 01, 2011 @09:44AM (#36946558)

        if you are honestly interested in claiming your copyrights this is the best (and arguable only) way to enforce the license.

        Assuming you actually own that copyright. 99% of the work contracts out there have a clause where you are ceding all intellectual property to the employer. It's so standard that you should always ask for permission from your employer before writing and releasing open source software - you might not have the right to do so, even if the software is not related to the business of your employer and even if developed in your spare time; the language in my contract is unambiguous about that.

        Assuming that in this case the permission to write and release open source software was implicit, it still does not mean the company has lost it's control of it's intellectual property - they can always dual-license it under a proprietary license. They can't "take back" the already released GPL software, and they can't grab any contribution of 3rd parties to that lineage, but they can chose to develop the original codebase in an entirely closed source fashion - it's theirs.

        So spending 10 minutes to read your contract might save a butt-load of lawyer fees.

        • Re:Lawyer (Score:5, Interesting)

          by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Monday August 01, 2011 @10:35AM (#36947230)

          this. 100% this.

          most employment contracts let the company OWN YOUR ASS, even outside of work hours and using your own equipment, even doing work not related to the core business of the company.

          I had to turn away job offers (in this economy!) due to their 'we own your ass' language.

          during the last year or so, I have been working on my own opensource (both hardware and software; its arduino-based) project. I was also interviewing at various networking companies (my background is network management) and while my DIY audio projects have *nothing* at all to do with netmgt, all the contracts the companies would have me sign allow them to own or take over my projects if there is overlap in employment time and my project time!

          believe it. I was somewhat sharp about noticing this (I have no background in legal matters but the contract terms seemed fishy to me) and when I mentioned this to the recruiter I was going thru, he agreed and we tried FOR A MONTH to negotiate some contracts that would allow me to work on my DIY audio hw/sw/fw stuff and not have them own it. we tried being a w2 fulltime employee; and we got a 5 page contract. most items were not acceptable to us. we tried being a direct contractor, that had more pages to it! we tried my working for the recruiter and having him be the actual contractor to the employer. neither side could agree on the other's proposed contract terms.

          this went on for a month and finally I was advised to just walk away.

          and I did. I still have not found work in quite a long time but at least I do have ownership of my (now shipping) hardware and firmware. I released it, its ftp-able, its copyrighted with headers and my name on it, and at least there wasnt' employer 'time overlap' on any part - ANY - of this project.

          but you better believe that any contract that an employer attempts me to sign will TRY to take that project away from me if I even mention I'm working on it.

          I have been harping a lot, lately, about software guys needing to unionize, like the turn of the century america. if we DID have a large software workers union, we'd at least have someone on our side to bargain for fair contracts.

          right now, you and I have zero 'pull' when it comes to crossing out line items or making revisions on contracts for employment. companies both large and small try to steal your work.

          be careful, guys! these days, you are smart to have a laywer look over your employment contract. not that you can alter it, but you can either accept it or walk away. sometimes walking away is the best move (sad to say).

          • Re:Lawyer (Score:5, Informative)

            by Matheus (586080) on Monday August 01, 2011 @12:25PM (#36948780) Homepage

            A company I worked for a while back was purchased shortly after I started working there. The original company had required no NDA/Non-Compete/etc but when the new management came in they distributed new paperwork for all of us to sign (whole company from HR to IT).

            I read over this paperwork and it did exactly as you describe. It gave the company complete ownership over anything we did at work or at home, during work hours or during free time. I told our management that I would be unable to sign such a document and my fellow developers and IT agreed.

            As it is, IANAL, but the company allowed me to enter into negotiations with the chief legal of the purchasing company. We hammered out a new version of the document that preserved our rights outside of the workplace and off hours. It was this revised version that roughly 30% of our company signed (Basically everyone tech related) and is a somewhat proud moment for yours truly. It is worthy of note: Neither company was inherently a technology company. The business cases actively pursued in no way coincided with any interests we had outside of work. When the negotiation process began I noticed the fairly internet form letter nature of the document and allowed that maybe they didn't intend to be so overly broad in their charge of ownership. I was told quite directly by their legal that the intent was clear and intentional.

            Long story short: It is possible to negotiate with a company to preserve your ownership of your own personal pursuits but you must be proactive and generally have leverage (In my case I was holding up a merger with an entire IT/dev department. Your average shmo only has the desire of the company to have them work there). Also expect that the/any company will do whatever they can to own everything you are and do so presume you are screwed and read any documentation you are asked to sign with that intent in mind.

          • Such a union is completely unnecessary. It's really simple: Don't agree to bullshit contracts. Cross things out, walk away if the potential employer won't accept that.

            I'd be rather skeptical that such a contract would be enforceable in court anyway, since it is just another potential means for the company to go after you if you siphoned-off their intellectual property or worked on their nickel for your own stuff. When you sign something like that, it makes it that much harder for you to claim something as

    • Re:Lawyer (Score:5, Insightful)

      by beelsebob (529313) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:31AM (#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.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        >

        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 (Score:5, Interesting)

          by beelsebob (529313) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:57AM (#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".

          • 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 (Score:4, Informative)

        by xelah (176252) on Monday August 01, 2011 @06:54AM (#36945154)

        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.

        Probably but not necessarily; it depends on contracts and jurisdictions. In the UK copyright transfers and exclusive licences can normally only be made in writing and if your employer doesn't get their paperwork sorted out you might find yourself the owner of the code. There would almost certainly be an implied licence to your employer to allow them to use it - you can't happily allow or assists someone in using your code and then complain later you didn't want them to - but those are determined by courts and supposed to be as small as possible as to legitimise the behaviour you allowed. It may be possible to revoke that licence and tell them they can't use it from now on. If it's like that here then I imagine there will be other places in the world where it's true.

        Contracts with employers seem to vary - some claim copyright on everything you do, technically including things like hobby projects or personal correspondence (no idea how enforceable that is, though). Others specify 'in the course of your employment' or somesuch.

        Even if the copyright IS owned by his employer it doesn't mean the GPL licence doesn't exist. The employer wouldn't be breaking it, of course, but they couldn't stop others using it. Not anyone prepared to see a case through to the end, anyway (which is quite possibly nobody). Did his boss agree to licensing them? Did he himself have the power to issue licences on behalf of the company? I'm a director where I work, so any contract I sign on behalf of the company is (almost) automatically legally valid whatever anyone else in the company thinks. AIUI, where I live contracts can be valid if someone who you'd expect to have the power to enter in to them on behalf of their employer has signed them...but if that employee was exceeding his powers it's possible he could be sued by the company. I don't know how it works for licences.

        Very very much lawyer territory. Certainly, at a minimum, do a lot of research on your local laws and how they're enforced territory.

      • by ByOhTek (1181381)

        IANAL, but the MIT license states, in no uncertain terms, that it may not be stripped.

        Copyright (c)

        Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

        The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

        THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.

        Emphasis mine. They are explicitly prohibited from stripping the license, they may only add additional licenses beyond that.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      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.

    • Get one.

      or not. just let them get on with it. If the work was really clever and complicated then they'll fail eventually because they haven't got the original contributor on board. One other idea is to take a non-aggressive stance and say to them that you've heard that they are doing this and if they ever need any help then you'll be glad to help out (for a price & understanding of conditions, of course).

      However, perhaps I'm exposing a regional difference in attitude - If this is a USA originated problem th

      • If this is a USA originated problem then "getting a lawyer" seems to be the default approach to everything rather than actually solving the problem.

        It's a sad result of the fact that trying to resolve the problem amicably, and without engaging a lawyer first, can result in you making all sorts of mistakes which will leave you unable to resolve the problem in the courts later if it has to go that far.

  • SOL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sourcerror (1718066)

    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

  • 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.

    • by beef3k (551086)
      the thing is that the company this guy used to work for is most likely the copyright holder in this case
      • by Chrisq (894406)

        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.

        • by Yaur (1069446)
          anyone that they distributed it to. If that's no one then the GPL fork is dead.
  • Errm... what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Splab (574204) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:14AM (#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.

    • 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.

    • by bjourne (1034822)
      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 downt
      • by glwtta (532858)
        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? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ecuador (740021) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:56AM (#36944930) Homepage

      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? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Splab (574204) on Monday August 01, 2011 @06:38AM (#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.

  • 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 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

  • Just fork it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dingen (958134) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:17AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by snowgirl (978879) on Monday August 01, 2011 @06:16AM (#36945000) Journal

      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.

    • 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,

  • by alostpacket (1972110) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:20AM (#36944738) Homepage

    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.

  • 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?
  • 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.

    • 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....

      • 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

    • by snowgirl (978879)

      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

      • 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 w

        • by snowgirl (978879)

          All quite very true, and the precise reason why he should consult with a lawyer with whom he can lay down the details and untie the rats' nest.

  • 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 t

  • 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

    • 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).

      • by bmo (77928)

        >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 t

  • 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 i

  • by Teun (17872) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:34AM (#36944812) Homepage
    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.

    • by dingen (958134)

      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.

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:36AM (#36944822) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • 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, y

  • ***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 p
  • 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.

  • by jimicus (737525) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:56AM (#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.

    • by ericvids (227598) on Monday August 01, 2011 @06:17AM (#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.

      • by jimicus (737525)

        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.

        The fact that he's not asking for money, property or services is neither here nor there. He is asking for something that he perceives to have value and he is threatening to harm his former employer in a fashion outside of the established legal system if they don't give it to him.

        There are lots ways this could be tackled that don't require going outside the established legal system. The OP could (and I would argue should):

        - Write a polite letter explaining the situation and ask for it to be resolved.
        - Assumi

      • by cgenman (325138)

        How exactly is this extortion?

        Any future employer is not going to want an employee that has sent negative letters to the customers of a previous employer. Period. Debate it, bring in a lawyer, litigate it, fine. The moment you go after the customers, you are no longer hireable.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    suck it up, and write some new code.

  • You guys? Not so much.
  • 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 ar

  • 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

  • by Qbertino (265505) on Monday August 01, 2011 @07:30AM (#36945334)

    You are a professional? Then act like one.

    1st of all: Don't get all worked up. Nobody cares squat about your or your former employers web framework, of which there are literally thousands out there. Take the best parts of it, refactor them and contribute them to Zend, Symfony, Cake, Joomla, Drupal, Typo3 or some other big-time project that actually matters (asuming you wrote it in PHP) or something simular for the language chosen. If your Framework is worth anything, you'll be able to do that quickly and join the coreteam of some big-time FOSS webkit in no time and your credit will gain in weeks by orders of magnitude compared to working semi-free for some crappy freeloading web-outfit nobody has ever heard of for the last 5 years.

    2nd: If they paid you to write it, chances are they own it, and can do with it as they like.

    3rd: If you wrote it on their contract and in your free time and commited significant parts of goodwill into it without getting paid, chances are it's legally dual-licenced ... or some equivalent of that. That means they can do with it whatever they want and you can go on and continue publishing it however you please.

    But once again: Nobody gives a shit, so I wouldn't risk legal action from some small-business asshole I once was dealing with if they discover you and think it's sporting to go after some sorry-ass developer who has even less money and power than they. Unless, that is, you have money and time to spare and like to send a small private army of lawyers of yours their way - for fun or profit or both. In that case, be my guest, fetch a lawyer or two and sue them into next wednesday. And please keep us posted on our blog. I, in that case, for one, am going to sit back in my deckchair, grab a bag of popcorn and watch with joyfull glee and delight as some sleazy web-sweatshop gets what they deserve as they are gutted and torn to chunky kibbles by a righfully enraged FOSS deveper. :-) ...

    Yet again: Since I guess you've got neither money or extra time to spare, I'd let it be, cover my ass with legal statements on your ownage of the code from some buddies in case they want to get pissy with you in the future and then just carry on with your life. Preferably as a core member of some larger web project actually doing something usefull.

    My 2 cents.

    FYI: I too developed a FOSS product for a partner pulling in big time projects. We published it as FOSS and, since they brought in fair money, I agreed to dual-licence the code, which they didn't understand at the time. When we parted, they rebranded the product, removed my name, claimed an advancement over the old version - which didn't exsist, aside from a new logo and a flashy website - and disappeared into insignificance two years later. The codebase still is GPL 3 and I'm ready to continue with the product whenever I feel like it. I have witnesses to back my claims should anyone come after me. Which I really don't expect to happen, since I'm halfway cool and professional with my former partners. And I'd redo the codebase completely anyway if I should ever consider picking it up again.

  • by TemporalBeing (803363) <bm_witness@NOSpAM.yahoo.com> on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:01PM (#36950062) Homepage Journal
    Talk to the Software Freedom Law Center, and an employment lawyer. You may also want to review your employment contract with both of them as well, and request a copy of the company's Intellectual Property policy as related to the employment contract - including any changes to it between when you were interviewed and when you were let go. Be prepared, though, to find things not to your liking.

    Personally, one thing I always do during an interview is check on the company's IP policies. All companies I have worked for have thus far can be summarized by the following:

    any work done on using company resources (time, equipment, etc.) belongs to the company

    However, some employers (and academic institutions) take anything you create in any manner while you are employed with them (or are a student at the institution).

  • by WhiteDragon (4556) on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:02PM (#36950068) Homepage Journal

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation [eff.org] has a history of providing legal assistance in GPL violation cases.

  • by cartman (18204) on Monday August 01, 2011 @05:02PM (#36952546)

    IANAL, but I don't think he has a leg to stand on. His claim appears baseless to me.

    Everyplace I've worked has an employment agreement which all coders must sign, and which cedes all rights to all software they develop during the term of their employment. Such agreements usually contain a way for new hires to declare pre-existing projects they were working on beforehand, but I'm presuming that he never declared this project. In which case, the software belongs to the company entirely and they can do whatever they want with it.

    The code author may have been a contractor rather than an employee (it's hard to tell because he omits important details on his blog). If he was a contractor, then he still signed an agreement with the company, and whatever he did is still their property.

    It even seems possible that they can revoke the GPL license if they wish. He says on his blog: "We had always used open source, so it was high time we became a contributor!" which suggests that he made the decision to attach a GPL license by himself, on his own authority, even though he was not the copyright holder. In which case, the GPL license document was invalid, and the software was never really licensed under GPL. Especially if he was a contractor, in which case no employee of the company has ever released the software as GPL, or attached a GPL license document to it.

    Of course I'm not a lawyer and he should hire one if he wishes to pursue this, but if I were him I'd just drop it.

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