04 December 2010 by Published in: rants 1 comment

This commit is terribly troubling. Google is asserting copyright over a software product that an employee wrote using his own time and equipment.

Now Google may have very liberal open-source contribution policies, and this one copyright assertion may make very little difference to this open-source project, but the underlying principle–that a company owns code that they didn’t pay you to write–is very, very morally wrong.

Now I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even begin to understand the legal landscape. It varies state to state. Even superficially-identical statues can have a vastly different meaning about whether your work is similar enough or not to an employer’s business (or if that even matters in your state). And at some point, non-compete laws and agreements, which are sorta a separate thing, enter into the discussion. And a noncompete is something that you should never, ever sign.

Coincidentally enough, today I executed a contract with a subcontractor who will join me at DrewCrawfordApps for a few projects, and I had an opportunity to write my version of this very clause. The highlights are this:

  • Don’t use company source code on non-company projects, or use company tools on non-company projects
  • Any source code written on company time is owned by the company
  • Don’t use any of our plans, product concepts, etc. for personal gain for a year following your departure
  • Don’t walk out with any code or documentation after your departure

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I think it provides a very clean and fair line between company property and your property.   For instance:

  • You can leave and even compete with us, you just can’t use our awesome tools, tell people about our product roadmaps, or clone our unreleased projects.
    • We’re investing a ton of time into building really great tools that make us much more productive.  Once you get used to our workflow, you never want to go back to the workflow that ships with XCode.
    • We’ve designed some very cool libraries, frameworks, macros, and reusable app components.  Some of our libraries have faster algorithms than what is publicly known for well-studied CS problems.
  • You can do whatever you want on your own time as long as it doesn’t touch our code

I would never, ever sign a contract that purported to own what code I wrote on my own time.  And as I’m rapidly approaching becoming an employer, I believe pretty strongly that I would never ask an employee to do the same.  Any employer that needs to rely on owning people’s side projects to avoid turnover is a very poor employer indeed.  I’m confident enough in my own ability to create an awesome work environment that I don’t need to fence employees in.

If you’re an employee staring down one of these “we own your soul” contracts, why don’t you e-mail me your resume instead?

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  1. Rhema Linder
    Sun 05th Dec 2010 at 4:09 am

    I like writing code. If an employer takes away my ability to make my own code and release it, they don’t just take income out of my pocket. They take the most expressive medium I can use; they take a part of my soul.

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