Software Code: Who Owns It?

software code development and ownershipWhether you’re a developer or a business owner who pays for applications to be developed, it’s important to know who owns the software code.

Many software development agreements don’t properly address this issue. And often both developer and client each believes they own the code.

Sometimes it makes sense for the developer to retain copyright ownership while licensing the code to the client. This is particularly important where the developer plans to recycle the code on multiple projects for different customers.

On the other hand, a business owner may want proprietary rights to prevent development of competing applications. If this is the case, the owner may pay a premium to own the code. And perhaps license some rights to the developer for future non-competing use.

Of course, there’s also the issue of open source code (e.g. GitHub) and code that’s in the public domain (e.g. Unlicense). Because it’s common practice for software developers to “borrow” these to incorporate into a software application rather than reinvent the wheel.

If some of the code is open source, that needs to be disclosed so that the client knows the licensing limitations imposed on its use.

Similarly, if there’s public domain code in the new application, the client needs to know. For example, the application’s end-user license agreement (EULA) will need to address the use of open source and public domain code in addition to the proprietary code created.

Whether you pay for app development or are a developer, an experienced software lawyer can prepare the right legal documents that identify and protect your rights.

Author Mike Young, Esq.

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