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Author Topic: Rewriting work for hire after the fact...  (Read 2200 times)

cthorpe

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Rewriting work for hire after the fact...
« on: September 18, 2014, 12:00:37 AM »
I recently found myself in the position of writing a small amount of code as an independent contractor.  This code interfaces with a popular platform used by specific academic researchers to provide missing functionality.

Obviously, the code I am producing is "work for hire" and therefore the property of the body that hired me.

While researching the problem, I found that a huge number of people out there want/need the functionality I coded.

So...

The code I am producing under my current contract is written in PHP and uses a MySQL database.

If, after this project is done and I get paid, could I rewrite this in a completely different manner and sell it?

For example, could I create the same functionality in, say, Python or Ruby with a nosql database and then market it as a different product?

I guess the question is this... they clearly own the code I wrote for them... but do they own the ideas I had to solve the problem?

mouser

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Re: Rewriting work for hire after the fact...
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2014, 03:02:43 AM »
I think in this case, as an independent contractor, you should probably feel free to create new code that solves the same problem, without issue.
They hired you to solve a particular problem for them -- unless there is something in your contract that says you can't write similar tools for others, I wouldn't stress it.
ps. If this was for an academic organization, they mostly likely couldn't care less.

Renegade

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Re: Rewriting work for hire after the fact...
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2014, 03:52:30 AM »
but do they own the ideas I had to solve the problem?

No.

Or look at it this way -- If I solved the problem, could they stop me?

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Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong. - John Diefenbaker

MilesAhead

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Re: Rewriting work for hire after the fact...
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2014, 05:39:09 AM »
As far as I know they don't have a patent on your solution.  In the future it may be wise to have an attorney draw up some documents you can append to the contract with some provisos that "reusable code" or callable functions that have utility for similar problems are retained by you for future use.  The use of the functions in the particular code for hire doesn't impinge on your ownership.  Maybe throw in some stuff about programs written in C don't give away printf() etc.. to make the point clear.

If they won't sign the codicil then I would just assume that painting someone's office doesn't preclude ypu from paining other offices for money in the same town.  :)

I think the only time you would worry is if you signed a non-disclosure because your code had the secret how the bank's time lock worked or something similar.  :)

wraith808

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Re: Rewriting work for hire after the fact...
« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2014, 08:12:36 AM »

I think the only time you would worry is if you signed a non-disclosure because your code had the secret how the bank's time lock worked or something similar.  :)


This.  However, none of that helps if you're sued.  The big question is, are they commercially retailing the work that you're doing?  Because, I don't think that legality or how a case is going to be viewed by legal authorities is going to be your problem... it's exposure and risk analysis.

Deozaan

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Re: Rewriting work for hire after the fact...
« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2014, 01:18:11 PM »
Didn't ZeniMax/Bethesda/id Software recently sue John Carmack, saying all the ideas he had about VR Goggles while he worked at id belong to id? He is now working for Oculus Rift/Facebook.


MilesAhead

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Re: Rewriting work for hire after the fact...
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2014, 04:13:14 PM »
Didn't ZeniMax/Bethesda/id Software recently sue John Carmack, saying all the ideas he had about VR Goggles while he worked at id belong to id? He is now working for Oculus Rift/Facebook.

I read advice somewhere that after designing a program of a kind for the first time, make a small prototype to learn how the code would actually function.  Then once you have a grasp of it, throw the original design away since it was conceived before you knew what you were doing.  In these lawsuits I have to wonder how many times the developer got locked into the original crummy design because management wants to start getting a return.  So it's possible rather than theft the "stolen" code may be the new design developed on the programmer's own time.  That's why when he goes to a competitor the new design kicks ass.

I bet it happens frequently.  Then the original sour grapes company wants to cash in on the new improved version it refused to fund.

Just speculation of a fun kind.  :)

wraith808

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Re: Rewriting work for hire after the fact...
« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2014, 05:52:18 PM »
Didn't ZeniMax/Bethesda/id Software recently sue John Carmack, saying all the ideas he had about VR Goggles while he worked at id belong to id? He is now working for Oculus Rift/Facebook.

Yup.  That happened.  And that's risk come to fruition.