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Ask Slashdot: What To Do When Another Dev Steals Your Work and Adds Their Name? 480

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-due-credit dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I have had an interesting situation arise where I built some web apps for a client about 2 years ago. I have no longer been working with the client and a new developer has taken over purely for maintenance work. Currently I have been looking for new work and have used the said apps as part of my portfolio. During one interview I was informed that I not telling the truth about building the apps and I was then shown the source of a few JS files. It seems the new developer had put a copyright header on them, removed my name as the author and put his own. Now this is grey territory as it the client who owns the source, not the contracting developer. It put me on my back foot and I had to start explaining to interviewers that the developer stole the work and branded it. I feel it makes me look like a fool, having to defend my position in an interview with a possible client and I feel I had lost the chance of directing the outcome of the interview. I have cut the apps from my portfolio, however they are some of my best work and a real testament to my skills. I decided to cut my loss and move on, I am not looking for a fight or any unnecessary heartache. So what you do in my situation?"
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Ask Slashdot: What To Do When Another Dev Steals Your Work and Adds Their Name?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:44AM (#43952409)
    Most of the people here don't give a rats about intellectual property unless they are ranting about how Hollywood and proprietary software's model is broken. When it's one of our own though, it's pitchforks and torches. Without some sort of intellectual property law enforcement, any intellectual property can be misappropriated. You can't have "anything goes, except programmers always get properly credited, because programmers are cool while recording artists, movie makers, novelists and all other non-programmers need a new business model"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:44AM (#43952423)

    summarizing the work you did, and identifying you as the original author of the code.

    This isn't hard. Yahoo career advice stuff.

  • Re:version control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by emilper (826945) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:45AM (#43952427)

    will not help with changing what already happened, but for the future put your work on github or some other similar service, keep the project private, then you can use that to prove precedence.

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:46AM (#43952439)

    ...and inform them of the unethical behavior of the new developer, the situation it put you in and how shocked you were to find that they had deprived you of the opportunity to take credit for your work. Somebody at that company hired you and knows what truly happened. Hopefully that person is in a position to put the situation right and give you the credit you are due.

    That said, relying on your code being still accessible after you have left it for a while is not a situation you want to be in. Your former clients can take that code down and replace it any time they want, with anything they want. You should have checked to see the status of that code yourself shortly before you tried to present it as an example of your work.

  • by stanIyb (2945195) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:48AM (#43952465)

    Most of the people here don't give a rats about intellectual property unless they are ranting about how Hollywood and proprietary software's model is broken. When it's one of our own though, it's pitchforks and torches.

    Have you considered that the people who argue the former aren't always the people who are upset by things such as this?

  • Smart move (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:48AM (#43952471) Homepage Journal

    I have cut the apps from my portfolio

    Smart move. Because that doesn't look like an admission of guilt at all.

    Seriously, how difficult is it to prove that you were there before him?

  • by neonmonk (467567) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:48AM (#43952479)

    Inform them of what's happened. Get them to send you a written & signed confirmation that you are the original author.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:49AM (#43952485)
    Damnit, this is not off-topic, it's a quote of Thulsa Doom from the original Conan the Barbarian, or are you kiddies all too young to remember that?
  • by multimediavt (965608) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:54AM (#43952525)

    ...and inform them of the unethical behavior of the new developer, the situation it put you in and how shocked you were to find that they had deprived you of the opportunity to take credit for your work. Somebody at that company hired you and knows what truly happened. Hopefully that person is in a position to put the situation right and give you the credit you are due.

    That said, relying on your code being still accessible after you have left it for a while is not a situation you want to be in. Your former clients can take that code down and replace it any time they want, with anything they want. You should have checked to see the status of that code yourself shortly before you tried to present it as an example of your work.

    I agree with most of what you said and I would add that I would explain to the client that the actions of their new developer have put them in an actionable (take you to court) position as well as the new developer that is clearly in deep to the count of fraud and copyright violation. You need to speak with a copyright lawyer, pronto, to understand what your options actually are. I know you're not looking for a fight, but it seems one that's worth fighting has found you. As a developer the most important thing to you is your code. If someone is stealing that and claiming it as their own they are burying you if you don't fight. I assure you if the places were reversed you'd be hearing from a lawyer.

  • by digitalhermit (113459) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:56AM (#43952551) Homepage

    Pull the logs and other supporting information including client notes, change orders, SOWs, source code revision history, etc. and present it. . You can explain that it's a matter of principle that you're doing it because you value your good name. I think it's unlikely that you'll be retained by that company, but clearing it up may give the thief a bit of heat.

    It has happened to me while working at UPS. One of the admins there stole my training guides and put his name on them.

  • by pongo000 (97357) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:01AM (#43952581)

    The code you developed for your client was most likely never yours to begin with. Despite well-meaning suggestions made here, you really have no right to go back to the client and demand anything. Present the code as your own to prospective clients, explain the situation, and leave it at that.

    We all have fantasies of getting back at assholes like the one you described, but in the real world, you just need to take the high road and let it go. From the description you gave, it sounds like you're new to the game. Focus your creative energies on your work, not on vengeance. Your integrity and professionalism will remain intact, which is much more important than striking back at some perceived slight.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:03AM (#43952593)

    Yeah, because when I download a movie, I replace all of the credits with my name and try to pass off to potential employers that I was wholly responsible for the film. Unless it's an Abrams film... he can keep those.

  • by maxwell demon (590494) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:08AM (#43952637) Journal

    I cannot remember anyone claiming that artist should not be credited. There have been arguments that you should be allowed to copy their stuff for free, but I've never ever seen anyone claiming that you should be allowed to claim you had written that stuff if you haven't.

    Or in short: There's a difference between copying and plagiarism.

    What the submitter complains about is plagiarism, not copying. From his submission, there's no indication about how he thinks about copying.

  • Re:version control (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:30AM (#43952801)

    Don't put it in a public repo, that's likely to seriously piss off the client. Instead, do the work in a local git repo on your machine (committing from there to your client's repo, if they use one) so you can show the whole development process. When the project is complete, burn a copy of the repo to cd and get it notarised, or maybe use a CA's time-stamping service on the repo file.

  • by Shark (78448) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:44AM (#43952927)

    Information, when copied at one's own cost, does not take that information away from the original owner. Credit, when taken, is taken away from the original owner. Your notion of intellectual property falls on its ass when you try to to equate it to material goods. Credit, however, maintains the same basic rules as physical property: Claiming it for yourself, even at your own cost, does take it away from the original owner.

  • by Rhacman (1528815) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:49AM (#43952957)
    In the context of an interview the fact that the source was presented could be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the code by offering to explain its operation and the design decisions that came about during development. Your skills are better proven in how you articulate your knowledge and ideas rather than just pointing to a name on a comment banner. A major lesson learned would be to expect this and to keep cool and not look flustered when someone tries to call you out on it. If you had an amicable relationship with this former employer you might even touch base with them ahead of time to ask if you can list them as a reference so they can corroborate your authorship.
  • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:51AM (#43952975) Journal
    The guy doesn't need copyright (which he probably doesn't even have in this case), he just needs credit for his work. I'd be very careful to even mention the word "legal" or "copyright". Imagine that you, as a manager or an employer, get a phone call about disputed copyright on a bit of software you had done way back when. What do you do? That's right, you refer the matter to your lawyer/legal department. Nothing good will come of that.

    If you parted ways with your former employer on good terms, just call them and ask they they would mind giving you a nice written reference, specifically mentioning your contribution to that software.
  • by NormalVisual (565491) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:55AM (#43953015)
    the company who contracts always owns the copyright in a work-for-hire and thus can do with it however they want

    No, that's not how "work for hire" works. If he was an *employee* of the company, it would apply. If he was an independent contractor, however, he would retain the copyright unless the contract explicitly transfers copyright to his client, explicitly states that it's a work for hire, or is a contribution to an existing project that the company already holds the copyright on. See 17 USC 101 [cornell.edu] for details.

    Not a lawyer, not legal advice, etc., but have been doing contract development for more than a couple of years.
  • Re:version control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gerzel (240421) <brollyferret&gmail,com> on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:00AM (#43953053) Journal

    The server itself is still public and it isn't your code to commit. You are being paid, generally, to create code for someone else; thus it is their code. This means that you are putting the code on an outside host of unknown security, and is still wrong.

  • Re:version control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by UnknowingFool (672806) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:04AM (#43953091)
    When you work for someone else as a contractor, you can't just do this. You should spell it out in your contract or whatever before you work for them that you will be archiving your work for reference material for the purposes of demonstrating it to future clients.
  • by KWTm (808824) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:12AM (#43953137) Journal

    Agree: this is more about credit than about copyright.

    If you had built a bridge for your city, you should be able to list that as one of your accomplishments. It does not mean that you can walk off with the bridge. At the same time, you'd be perfectly justified in getting pissed off if someone else said that it was they, not you, who had built it.

  • by seeker_1us (1203072) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:19AM (#43953201)
    No. This is not a matter of copyright. Copyright is the right to copy. The former client owns the right to copy. This is about plagiarism. When you sell your book to a publisher you generally sell the copyright. You do not sell the right to have your name replaced on the cover.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:23AM (#43953225)

    Even then: there is a difference between "ownership" or "intellectual property" (what many here dismiss) and getting credit where it is due (this case).

    It's like in science: scientists (many /. posters among them btw) don't care about who copies their work, as long as their name is in the history books. Most free/open source software: the same story.

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:25AM (#43953251) Homepage Journal

    If copyright law is anything like patent law

    It's quite different. Copyright can be assigned to the author or to the payer in full ownership - depends on how the contract is written. In many places, if it's not otherwise described in the contract as a work-for-hire, then the copyright stays with the author. Employment contracts can have something to say about it as well.

    The OP doesn't tell us how his contract is structured, so there's not too much we can say about it specifically. That means we can only really offer advice on how to ask nicely, which is always the preferable method anyway.

    It also reminds me that we might want to get some testimonials now from clients who were happy with work we've done in the past. I've met some of these jagoff developers of the type the OP has encountered. In my ethics, every contributors' name stays on the project forever, even if his code has been rewritten because it was that old code that got you to the place you are now in the first place. Attribution begets reputation, which is essential for a well-functioning society.

    Oh, one last thing OP - if the new people you're talking to are the type who won't believe you that you've done the project and are showing you .js source to "prove" that you're not being honest - run away. Fast. They're going to fuck you on the payment for the project as well. Take a job via a word-of-mouth reference.

  • Re:version control (Score:4, Insightful)

    by noh8rz10 (2716597) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:30AM (#43953297)
    wtf is this? fair use? we're not talking a copyright of a book, we're talking somebody's property. do I have fair-use rights to use your house for educational purposes?
  • by talldean (1038514) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @12:45PM (#43953799) Homepage
    Much more useful than seeing code with someone's name on it is hearing that person describe the code. If someone calls you on it, offer to explain the design of the code, the decisions and tradeoffs made along the way, and what you'd improve next, or how you left the code in a state to be more easily maintained (by you or others) in the future. That would feel *much* more useful than seeing your name on it, and would take you a fraction of the time invested to get it done.
  • by Capt.Albatross (1301561) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @12:54PM (#43953851)

    ...explain to the client that the actions of their new developer have put them in an actionable (take you to court) position

    I would avoid any hint of an adversarial position between you and the company unless one already exists. Instead, see if you can get a reference that includes a statement that you developed the code in question.

  • by meerling (1487879) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @07:46PM (#43956781)
    Basically he's like the architect and builder of a beautiful building, and was bragging about it to a prospective employer, to suddenly find out some asshat that got hired to do maintenance after he left changed the dedication plaque and blueprints to have his name instead.

Business is a good game -- lots of competition and minimum of rules. You keep score with money. -- Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari

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