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Hey, I've been robbed!

By James Mulholland in Technology
Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 05:24:56 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

Here's something that's been nagging at me for a while: I started an "open source" project about 4 months ago, putting in about 50 hours in my own time. I placed a GPL copyleft notice on it, and showed it to my boss. He liked it enough that he let me put in a further three weeks at work, for pay, with the promise that we could release it as GPL when it was in late beta.

A few weeks ago, he chickened out of this plan. I left last week, and the last thing he wrote me was "I [ie him, not me] shall be retaining the Intellectual Property Rights", in a program which is substantially mine (certainly the design, the basis of the code, etc). So what do I do?

Basically, it feels like I've been robbed - or, more specifically, the free software movement has. Not that the program was anything special, I know it has flaws, and it was really only another slashdot clone - I was just toying with some ideas to see what was possible.

It's now being sold as a "content management" system, which was not in the original plan, and not something I feel it's suited to. I think it will fail in this role. I have the following options, I think:

  • Leave it and walk away.
  • Demand money for what I've done already, then walk away.
  • Release the code anyway, on the basis that the original was GPL and so its modifications must be.
  • Develop something which really would work as a content management system, and release that as GPL software.

What does the audience recommend? Has anyone else had a similar experience?


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Hey, I've been robbed! | 45 comments (42 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Well... (2.37 / 8) (#4)
by AgentGray on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 04:34:12 PM EST

You were already getting paid for it.

Re: Well... (2.50 / 2) (#24)
by Louis_Wu on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 08:57:41 PM EST

I placed a GPL copyleft notice on it, and showed it to my boss.
The point is that the company has no legal feet to stand on. No one can 'own' the IP in GPL'ed code. That's the purpose of the GPL, to prevent ownership of the restrictive nature this company is probably using. (The GPL allows 'ownership' only in that you can claim that you made something. Once your baby has been released under the GPL, you can't prevent anyone from using it. You still get to claim credit, but you can't control it.)

The circumstances the program was made in are irrelevant to the license. Mr. Mulholland put a GPL on the code before he showed it to his boss. If his boss decides to tell him to work on the code on company time, that doesn't affect the license.

"The power to tax is the power to destroy."
John Marshal, first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
[ Parent ]

Well... (2.33 / 6) (#5)
by TheLocust on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 04:37:51 PM EST

Damn. This is a tough one. You haven't released it under the GPL, have you? If not, I think that it's the organization's right to screw you. You WERE paid to develop most of it, right? Well, then whatever you do on their time is THEIRS, i'm afraid.

Releasing it under the GPL is pointless, unless you REALLY want to press litigation, which I assume you don't.

If i were you, i'd drop the project and walk away, or choose option D.

BTW, good topic... +1 to Front.
.......o- thelocust -o.........
ignorant people speak of people
average people speak of events
great people speak of ideas

Re: Well... (3.00 / 3) (#7)
by lo-rez on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 05:29:21 PM EST

hmm...I don't think you have much of a leg to stand on, but hey, you can always conviently lose any documentation you have, right?

[ Parent ]
Learn from it. (4.10 / 10) (#6)
by Grimmtooth on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 04:38:58 PM EST

  • Leave it and walk away.
  • Demand money for what I've done already, then walk away.
  • Release the code anyway, on the basis that the original was GPL and so its modifications must be.
  • Develop something which really would work as a content management system, and release that as GPL software.

You might consider an additional choice: Let it go and resolve never again to accept a verbal contract.

I make it a policy to keep things in writing, not because I distrust my coworkers / boss / partners but because it protects everybody when abiguities arise, as they always do.

In this case, of course, it would also hinder your boss from being a weasel, but that's just a perk as far as I'm concerned.

Of the GIVEN choices, the last is the best: The best revenge is to live a Good Life :-)

// Worst. Comment. Ever.

Depends (4.18 / 11) (#8)
by trhurler on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 05:40:01 PM EST

Since I am not a lawyer, my single-sentence advice is this: if you intend to do anything but forget about this, get a lawyer skilled in the relevant parts of the law immediately. It looks like you have a decent chance to win, but not without spending money.

Personally, I would go the other road: develop a superior alternative specifically catering to the market the idiot is going after and then slam dunk him. Don't mention his product or company by name, but be sure to give him a friendly call after you've beaten him to point out what a dumbass he is. Self-righteous gloating may be infantile, but that doesn't mean it isn't occasionally good for the soul:)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

If it's GPLed, you should be able to release it!? (2.87 / 8) (#9)
by 11oh8 on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 05:41:56 PM EST

Correct me if i'm wrong but,
1) the part you worked on individually (in your own time) was GPLed.
2) Your company paid you to continue working on it (on their time)
3) Since the work from part 1 is GPLed, doesn't the work in part 2 also have to be GPLed whether you worked on it or another employee of the company or someone else... Isn't the one of the basic clauses of the GPL licence...

Now, becuase you didn't "release" the work done in part 1, maybe the GPL doesn't hold.. but if you showed the work to your boss and also showed him the GPL license note, then it should... but since nothing is on paper between you and your boss, it might not be worth it for you to do anything about this....

not the most helpful $.02 i'm afraid,

Re: If it's GPLed, you should be able to release i (3.00 / 1) (#37)
by squigly on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 07:15:06 AM EST

If it was another employee of the company then it would have to have been GPL'ed. Since it was he who asked to work on it, the argument would probably be that he implicitely gave permission for them to use the code as part of their own. Then it becomes a more difficult argument,

But anything based on part 1 could probably be claimed by the author as his own. A new part 2 could easily be derived from part 1.

People who sig other people have nothing intelligent to say for themselves - anonimouse
[ Parent ]
Tricky (2.62 / 8) (#10)
by cpt kangarooski on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 05:43:41 PM EST

You should definiately hire a lawyer if you're interested in persuing this - moping about it won't help.

However, if you released it under the GPL first, and then _as an employee of your company_ continued to modify it, then it sounds as though your company is either 1)Distributing it without a license, which is illegal 2)Violating the GPL (if they agreed to it) by distributing binaries and not distributing source.

You may of course decide to hand off the copyright to the FSF which can probably persue it better than you can, but when you were working on it at your company, I don't think that that consitutes permission by the copyright holder (you) to distribute that work or try to copyright it themselves.

Unfortunately, since you didn't register the copyright, you can't really make any money off of this. I do strongly suggest that the next time that you create a program of any significance that's your own, that you register it. Of course, you can still register it now - it may be very useful for future cases.

Naturally, IANAL - you _really_ ought to hire one.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
Re: Tricky (3.60 / 5) (#14)
by Michael Leuchtenburg on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 06:12:25 PM EST

You don't need to register a copyright. You don't even need to state that something is copyright $YOU for it to be protected by copyright law. Everything you create is protected by copyright law.

[ #k5: dyfrgi ]
[ TINK5C ]
[ Parent ]
Re: Tricky (3.75 / 4) (#20)
by Happy Monkey on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 07:36:40 PM EST

Amusingly, however, in US copyright law,

13.Do I have to register with your office to be protected?

No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, section Copyright Registration.

You automatically have copyright ownership, but if you wish to protect it, you must register. Though even without this rule, I can see how registering could make protecting your copyright easier in court.
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]

Re: Tricky (4.00 / 3) (#23)
by aragorn on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 08:28:21 PM EST

This is true. However, registering the copyright gives you legal proof of when the work was produced. (In case someone else has a surprisingly similar work that they claim they made first.) There are other ways to get this legal proof, but registration is the usual method.

[ Parent ]
He promised already... (3.50 / 8) (#11)
by vsync on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 05:45:20 PM EST

In your employment contract, did you agree that any creations during the time of your employment would belong to your employer? In some states, such as CA, those clauses aren't allowed, so it depends on what you signed and what jurisdiction you're in.

Secondly, did your boss put this promise in writing? (Hint: make sure he does next time.) If not, it might still count as a binding verbal contract. Remembering the exact wording might be useful.

Finally, you had already completed a portion of the product on your own, and it was therefore presumably your property. If you licensed/whatever with your employer based on an understanding and they reneged on it, that means that you have suffered financial loss (or whatever, I don't know all the fancy legal words).

You probably would be able to file a lawsuit without it getting thrown out. (Small claims court is probably out, because the value of the software is presumably higher than $2000 or whatever.) I would suggest muttering the phrases "retaining an attorney", "filing lawsuits", and "personally named" around your boss and see if his tune changes.

In the end, of course, it's all up to how much the principle is worth to you. It sounds like you're not working there any more, so your job isn't at risk. If you start, though, please make sure to fight it all the way to the end...

Finally, can we have some names? Boss, company, software?

"The problem I had with the story, before I even finished reading, was the copious attribution of thoughts and ideas to vsync. What made it worse was the ones attributed to him were the only ones that made any sense whatsoever."

Proof? (2.71 / 7) (#12)
by kkeller on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 06:03:24 PM EST

Do you have solid proof that you developed your software under the GPL before your company allowed you to work on it? If you've got proof, then you should definitely consider asking them to comply with the GPL (since it's already applicable, in theory). You may also wish to release your original GPL source (not the new stuff, since that's still in dispute) so that at least it does get out there.

Has your company already distributed the code as binaries? If they have, and it relies on your GPL'd software, then they are technically in violation of the GPL. If they haven't yet distributed binaries, then they're actually okay, because they can modify the source and not release it if they don't distribute.

If you don't have any proof that you developed under the GPL, then you're out of luck, I would think.

In any case, check with the FSF. Give them a ton of details, so that they can determine whether you have any recourse.

Agreements you signed when you took the job... (3.55 / 9) (#13)
by Miniluv on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 06:07:33 PM EST

IF you signed agreements regarding IP, which you almost certainly did, and worked on this in whole or in part at your job, yer screwed, unless your jurisdiction does not support these agreements.

If you didn't, or you did not do any of the initial coding at work and did legitimately make the code available under the GPL before making it available to your employer, then they're screwed and I'd drop RMS and Co. an email ASAP. I'm sure they'd be happy to help you out.

Good luck...
"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'

Re: Agreements you signed when you took the job... (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by Robert Gormley on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 01:25:52 AM EST

And you are screwed too, probably. Your employer is not likely to look happy at you bringing down legal threatening on their heads. (Whether or not it's their fault is not being argued here ;) )

[ Parent ]
UM, DUH (2.57 / 14) (#15)
by Jack9 on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 06:22:04 PM EST

This has nothing to do with how the software is liscenced. The owners of the code can liscence it any way they want and change their liscencing at any time (GPL or some other liscencing scheme). You agreed to work on it for 'the company' which implicitely made the entire project THEIRS. They can liscence it however they want, but as far as who 'owns it', that is also most CERTAINLY theirs. Do NOT work on 'side projects' at work, much less get explicitly paid by your employer for it!!! Duh.
Often wrong but never in doubt.
I am Jack9.
Everyone knows me.

It's all in the agreement (4.30 / 10) (#16)
by sparks on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 06:28:35 PM EST

Assuming everything you have said here is true, the agreement you came to with your boss supercedes any previous agreement you had with him regarding IP, remuneration etc. So it doesn't particularly matter what your written contract of employment says.

The difficulty is in proving that your agreement actually existed. Was it in writing? If so, that's a start. If as sounds likely, it was a verbal agreement, it's worthless unless you have witnesses or some other persuasive evidence that what you say happened, really happened.

However, even if you can prove that your agreement really existed, you don't seem to have much of a case.

Consider, there are basically two IP components involved here.

  • The stuff you developed in your own time and released under the GPL
  • The stuff you developed in your bosses time "for hire" in the understanding that it would be relased under the GPL.
The first part, the original code, can clearly be used by your boss. I don't think you can withdraw that right from him if you GPLd the code.

Similarly, he has the right to modify that code, and keep those modifications secret and proprietary PROVIDED he doesn't distribute the changed code. So if he only plans to use it directly, there's no way to force him to distribute it under the GPL.

Now, turning to the "in bosses time" modifications that you carried out. I think since the work was done "for hire" he does own the IP - this would be true even if it was to be GPL distributed. The IP owner always gets to choose how (or if) the property is to be licensed and distributed.

Now, if you can prove that you had an agreement that the code was to be distributed under the GPL, you might have a case against him for breach of contract. But winning such a case wouldn't force him to release the code, it would just force him to compensate you for your financial loss under the contract. But, uhm, since you were being paid by him to write the code, I don't see what financial loss you could claim to have suffered.

Sorry, but the civil legal system sees things in terms of dollars and cents. That doesn't fit too well with the world of free software.

IAAPBL (I Am A Part-trained British Lawyer) and you should certainly not rely on my analysis as regards US contract law.

Re: It's all in the agreement (2.20 / 5) (#19)
by h4x0r-3l337 on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 07:33:05 PM EST

The IP owner always gets to choose how (or if) the property is to be licensed and distributed

Not if this was based on GPLd code, in which case the derived code must necessarily also be covered by the GPL. Now, that only means that the code developed in the boss's time is also GPLd, it does not mean that the boss has to give it to anybody. If OTOH this code is distributed (which apparently it now is), it can only be done legally under the GPL, UNLESS the copyright holder (the writer of the initial code) is willing to relicense it under another license. If the terms of employment were such that the employer automatically owned everything the employee wrote, then this application is wholly owned by the employer, who is free to distribute it under whatever license he wants. If the employee still holds the copyright on the original code, then what the employer is doing is clearly illegal.

[ Parent ]

Re: It's all in the agreement (2.00 / 1) (#27)
by Nick Ives on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 11:39:35 PM EST

I think the big question in all of this is:
If you work on something in your spare time and licensed it however you wanted (where spare time is at home away from your company's equipment, just to avoid any possible IP squabbles over your company claiming you used their equipment therefore its their code) and then your company later uses the work you created, is it OK for your company to take your work *as a whole* (i.e. the part that was created solely be you and also the part created by you working during company hours so therefore owned by the company) and release it as a whole under whatever license they see fit?

I think the company is OK in doing this, as by letting them use your work originally you imply that you are giving them your work with permission to modify it. Any modifications done to your work by the company, even if its by you working for them, are owned by the company and so they can do whatever they want to it and change the license they distribute it under however they see fit. Having said all that, you are still free to go back to your original work and modify & release that however you see fit, as long as you do that on your spare time.

That's my interpretation at least. Where did that part-time lawyer go...? =P

[ Parent ]
Re: It's all in the agreement (3.00 / 1) (#31)
by sparks on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 03:45:00 AM EST

> Not if this was based on GPLd code, in which case the > derived code must necessarily also be covered by the > GPL. No.

If you own a property, you have absolute control over how it is licensed.

For instance, if you were to GPL some code you had written, you would still be able to use it in a way which would violate the GPL.

The original code will always be under the GPL, but the modified stuff belongs to the company, and the company can do whatever it wants with it. It could even distribute it under a non GPL license - but it would have to seperate out the GPL stuff first.

[ Parent ]

Possibilities (4.57 / 7) (#17)
by satai on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 06:40:46 PM EST

I think that placing the GPL Copyleft on the original copy would certainly qualify it as being GPLed. What the question here is not whether or not you had properly identified it as GPL -- since the GPL forces all derivatives to be released likewise, clearly any derivative source code *has* to be GPLed.

The question, to me, seems to be whether or not you had the *authority* to place the GPL on it in any binding fashion. This would seem to be an issue you would need to address with, as others have mentioned, a reasonably intelligent lawyer and a copy of your contract. Study whatever kind of contract you are under and determine who actually owns the code you have worked on - whether you had enough rights to place it under the GPL.

I would also attempt to determine whether or not his acceptance of the original, copylefted code, constitutes legal tacit approval of the licensing scheme. I don't know exactly how things like that work, but it seems that any kind of acceptance without a lack of objection, and coupled with the agreement you had spoken of, would indicate that the original licensing plan was acceptable.

Again, it seems to me that the issue is *not* whether or not the GPL is valid in this case; it would have to be. What is the issue is whether or not you had the right to place the GPL on code you developed when under contract for a company.

Re: Possibilities (none / 0) (#32)
by sparks on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 03:51:38 AM EST

> since the GPL forces all derivatives to be released
> likewise, clearly any derivatice source code *has*
> to be GPLed.

But the GPL doesn't force "all derivatives to be released" at all. Anyone is quite at liberty to take GPL code, modify the hell out of it, and use that modified version themselves for as long and in whatever manner they want.

The only time they have an obligation under the GPL is if the decide to distribute the modified code. As long as it includes the original GPL component, the whole thing must be released under the GPL if it is released at all.

[ Parent ]

Let it go; write another one if you have to. (3.25 / 4) (#18)
by Greyjack on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 06:53:27 PM EST

Yes, it's a few week's work. But, in the overall scheme of things, that's not *too* overly massive a chunk of time--certainly not enough time to get into serious legal wranglings.

That said, if you really like the code you were working on, write a brand-spankin' new version. It'll go twice as fast and be twice as good as what you did the first time out anyway.

And, as someone mentioned earlier, *always* get *everything* in writing in the future!

Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

Re: Let it go; write another one if you have to. (2.00 / 2) (#21)
by mihalis on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 08:16:01 PM EST

I agree. As Fred Brooks said "plan to throw one away, you will anyway". His point was that the first cut of a system is often pretty crap. Actually he even points out "2nd system" syndrome too where a junior designer throws everything he ever liked about previous systems into his second attempt. So you're first really great version of this system is still at least one rewrite away :)
-- Chris Morgan <see em at mihalis dot net>
[ Parent ]

Re: Let it go; write another one if you have to. (none / 0) (#29)
by Robert Gormley on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 01:23:29 AM EST

Problem with this is, now he's worked on it in business hours, the company can claim IP (depending on his contract) that was a "product of his employment" (and therefore theirs, rightly or wrongly..

[ Parent ]
Re: Let it go; write another one if you have to. (none / 0) (#42)
by Greyjack on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 05:18:11 PM EST

Duh. That's why he should scrap the whole thing and write a new one from scratch :)

Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

[ Parent ]
hmm, a new robbing scheme? (2.66 / 3) (#22)
by darthaya on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 08:16:25 PM EST

What if he rips out all the GPL license embeded in your code, and claims it non-GPLed?

Re: hmm, a new robbing scheme? (none / 0) (#34)
by vsync on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 04:53:49 AM EST

Aaahhhhh! Why does everyone keep saying this? What's to keep you from mailing empty unsealed envelopes to put things in later if the need arises?

Also, timing is not the issue in this case, ownership is.

"The problem I had with the story, before I even finished reading, was the copious attribution of thoughts and ideas to vsync. What made it worse was the ones attributed to him were the only ones that made any sense whatsoever."
[ Parent ]

It's GPL, is it not? (3.33 / 3) (#25)
by squeakyweasel on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 09:40:08 PM EST

If it's been released under the GPL lisence and it's under your name, you can freely release the source and tell him to go boil his head. I suppose you could rewrite it (considering you still have the source somewhere and the fact that it is GPL), do some fixens here and there and re-release it.

Also, you might want to have your boss look over the GPL.



Mail yourself a sealed copy of your work (2.66 / 3) (#26)
by Helmholtz on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 10:56:35 PM EST

I like the trick many literature authors use ... before you show anybody your work seal it, mail it to yourself, and then toss it in a vault somewhere. If there's a dispute over original content ... you can produce a legally dated orginal document.
...everybody's pinned ya baby, but nobody cares ...
Re: Mail yourself a sealed copy of your work (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by duxup on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 06:54:46 AM EST

I make it my habit of mailing myself empty envelopes for just that purpose on a regular basis. The content can be provided at a later date.

[ Parent ]
Re: Mail yourself a sealed copy of your work (4.00 / 2) (#38)
by caerwyn on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 08:26:19 AM EST

And because of that, the "mail yourself a copy" deal is a popular myth. It won't actually hold up in courts because they *know* that mailing an empty envelope is extremely easy; the envelope date, then, won't hold up in court as proof of a date on your work. The only real way to get legal copyright protection is to officially copyright your work; it's the only solution gauranteed to hold up in court. Annoying for people who would like to use it as an inexpensive way to pove a dating, but for once I can see eye-to-eye with the copyright office.

[ Parent ]
Re: Mail yourself a sealed copy of your work (none / 0) (#43)
by duxup on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 01:32:02 AM EST

Well actually I think that myth is a carry over from people sending telegrams or registered mail where the message it's self is recorded. It wouldn't prove a copyright alone, but it would prove that you had X data at Y time.

[ Parent ]
Re: Mail yourself a sealed copy of your work (none / 0) (#45)
by AndyL on Sat Oct 07, 2000 at 12:52:27 AM EST

Not to mention the fact that the postmark itself wouldn't be terribly hard to fake.

[ Parent ]
This is a myth (none / 0) (#41)
by kmself on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 05:14:50 PM EST

This is a myth, it has no legal standing, and won't stand in court.

Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Doesn't sound too bad (3.00 / 2) (#28)
by royh on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 12:21:03 AM EST

Release the code anyway, on the basis that the original was GPL and so its modifications must be.

This sounds right. The company having the code is no big deal. They can break the no-modification-and-distribution-without-source clause of the GPL, but that doesn't impact anyone else's freedom unless no one else distributes the code. So they get free use of the code. Big deal. The more important consideration is, do you think it's likely that the company will aggressively pursue its *ahem* IP? If you did publish and continue working on your software, would they have the nerve to take legal action? (Would they even know about it?) Unless they do or would, it won't even affect you.

Re: Doesn't sound too bad (none / 0) (#33)
by AftanGustur on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 04:04:03 AM EST

Ehh, ?

Nope, as the sole author of the original code he can personally do whatever he likes with it, the author is not bound by the GPL since he does not need a license for a code he created himself.

If the guy signed his work contract stating that the employer would own any and all things produced while at work, then basicaly, he is screwed.

Ans for exactly the same reason, people get sexually transmitted deseases (i.e. inadeque protection) he is now left a lesser man.

[ Parent ]

Try being reasonable? (3.66 / 3) (#35)
by blane on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 05:42:36 AM EST

How about writing to your boss (and possibly cc'ing his boss or the legal department?) and lay out your claims to the software. Point out that it was started independantly of the company, and you had applied the GPL license to the original version. Put down in writing your recollection of your agreement that you continue to develop the software on company time, and that you had agreed to release it under the GPL license when it was complete, with your company benefitting from the development of the software tailored to it's needs. Ask him to clarify which of the points he now disputes, and on what grounds he now claims IP rights to a work that was originally agreed was yours, and was to be GPL'd.

It might not work, but at least it should force him to put his case down in black and white. If the situation is as you describe it, that would force him to lie in writing - it might be enough to make him reconsider in case you have some proof of your side of the dispute.

Rewrite it from scratch (2.00 / 1) (#39)
by n8f8 on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 10:04:58 AM EST

Your best bet, if you are still interrested, would be to simply rewrite the app. You could probably do better version this time anyway knowing the problems the previous version had. Unless the item in question is worth fighting for (i.e. a method for Cold Fusion or some other equally patentable idea) you really shouldn't burn your bridges. Keep on good terms with you old employer. And, as I mentioned, rewrite a better version.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
Thanks :-) (5.00 / 4) (#40)
by James Mulholland on Tue Oct 03, 2000 at 01:50:30 PM EST

Gee, thanks for all the ideas. There are a number of things which are really relevant (in no particular order):

  • I messed up: I have nothing in writing and no proof of the earlier versions, beyond a few tarballs of the early code. Nothing I can prove.
  • I should have had a written agreement.
  • I'm not motivated to "get back" at my old employer, but OTOH I can't avoid burning bridges, since he burnt them for me. He was furious when I left (for a job at 2.5 times the pay, hmmmm....) and has hardly spoken to me since. But I'd prefer to act like a grown up.
  • The comment about leaving it because I'd need to "throw one away" anyway is one I'd thought about, although I hope to avoid the second system effect when I start the next, all-new version ;-)
  • The important thing is I learned helluva lot from the project, so I guess the journey *is* the reward...
  • On the whole, it would be interesting to test the validity of the GPL, but I don't have the resources so I'll leave it at (probably) writing to him to say that *some* of the IPR is mine and may make an appearance in another product (there are some coding tricks I couldn't do without now).

Again, thanks for some very helpful comments. It's helped to clarify a lot of things for me.

Legally, the code is yours. (none / 0) (#44)
by Madcarrots on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 01:57:48 PM EST


I know that you went into this project with the good intentions of making it a GPL copy-left application - that's cool. But, since you did create it and you started working the code on your own time, in your home, you are also immediately the Copyright holder of the app!

Your boss' use of IP as his claim is what shoots him out of the water. Legally, when you write something, even if you don't place that (c) on it, it is copyrighted as IP and made secure under those provisions. That ownership is what entitles you to distribute it as a Copy-left application.

When he agreed to distribute it as a opensourced application he was acknowledging your ownership of the code. I'm sure that you have some .cpp (or whatever) files saved on your hard drive with create dates and possibly under different names as you advanced in the code and made changes - backups. These things could beintroduced as evidence (though I honestly don't know how well they would be recieved).

You should talk to someone, maybe the ACLU or the local 2600 chapter in your area. You'll probably find a lawyer who will defend you pro-bono. This could be a defining case (should it go that far) of the Copy-left statement and the open-source movement in general.

Good luck!

Thomas Zermeno

Hey, I've been robbed! | 45 comments (42 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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