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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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  • Wayback machine? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by johnnys (592333) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:46AM (#43952451)
    Would the wayback machine or something similar be able to retrieve the originals? Or, could you get a signed letter from the original client that this was your work? Then you could talk to a lawyer about copyright infringement.

    If the original client won't cooperate, perhaps you could send a DMCA takedown notice asserting your ownership of the copyright for the original digital content.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:11AM (#43952659)

    I just read about this case [geekwire.com] yesterday. Funny.

    One of the undercurrents in this whole thread is that we have no idea whether OP is telling the truth or not. There's a signficant chance s/he's jerking everyone around so s/he can forward this link to a hiring employer. How can we tell the difference? I think OP, if he's telling the truth, has to figure out what can prove they were the real author, besides the obvious of calling the client they did the work for (Duh!). That's something that can't be thought of from a one (long) paragraph summary.

  • Re:I got nothing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:25AM (#43952767)

    Interestingly enough, the new developer is technically stealing from the client. If he is taking the code and claiming it is his own, that is copyright infringement too. If anything I would let the client's legal or other department know that their new guy is stealing from them. If it works, its the best of both worlds, thief gets punished and you aren't the one who has to get him.

  • Re:I got nothing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cob666 (656740) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @11:50AM (#43952967) Homepage

    In cases of works made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author

    Really depends on your contract. My standard contract clearly states that I retain all copyright to my code. If the client is paying for source code and not a finished product then I assign them a perpetual non transferrable right to use and modify the code provided that they attribute my original copyright.

  • No malice needed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @12:26PM (#43953253)

    Simply putting up a copyright, and a name of the current maintainer, _corporate employee_ who is responsible for maintaining the software, is not a large offense where I work. If you did not sign it at all, it could even be unsurprising that a newer developer would do so, to provide a contact point for users of the software, especially if hte copyright is a corporate copyright and not a personal one. They may even think they modified it enough to deserve a new copyright (which can be very easy to do), even if some of the best core components are essentially unchanged.

    So there seems no need to start out heavy handed. Also, you're showing off in your interview that was done as a work for hire? Did you get permission from your former employer to display or share that work? Then you may be violating _their_ copyrights. So be safe: contact them, especially your old manager if you can find them, and ask for permission to show your old work, and see if you can cite them as a reference for doing that work.

    If the new developer is actually plagiarizing your work and re-copyrighting it for themselves personally, your old employer is the one being hurt by this. Then you may need to show some traceable source control or software backups to enforce the claim. And you may be able to get cooperation from supervisors or HR at your old workplace. It could be awfully hard to sue for damages in a situation like this,, especially if you don't have good evidence. But someone who is plagiarizing your work will probably plagiarize other work, and a good manager will appreciate a heads up from the original author. This has happened to me and my colleagues before, and will again. It may be too late for you to follow good source code control practices, but those can be invaluable not only to locate who write the code, but who _broke_ the code later.

    If you've got your evidence lined up, you might even be able to contact this developer directly and give them the opportunity to fix the situation. If they can provide a letter that says "this work was originally developed for Company A by _fill in your name_, and we're delighted with its performance.", I think you'd be in very good shape for the questions you w4ere asked.

  • by tarpitcod (822436) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @12:54PM (#43953467)

    Interviewer - "We checked the source code cited, and your name isn't on it?"
    You - "Thanks for checking the source code, that was work for hire, so it's owned by the company I wrote it for, so while I'm disappointed my name was removed from the source, they own it so they decide, I can cover some of the features if that would help?'

    The above shows that you clearly understand work for hire is owned by the entity that hired you. You expressed your personal opinion while remaining professional about what happened, and providing a reasonable way to prove you at least understand the code.

    If they go so far as to say you lied, then do you honestly, really, want to work for them? Do you want to be dealing with them when you submit your bill?

    If they approached this more professionally and said something like 'Oh we could see how that could happen, maybe you can describe the challenges in that software and the solution' then you should be able to convince any reasonable person that you at least grok the problem, and explain your solution.

    They can then follow up with another question, and you've avoided the pain.

    We've all had interviews where the interviewer was just an incredible jack-ass. They may be intimidated by you, they may be just an incredibly insecure person or having a terrible day and acting poorly. The best way to act if at all possible is always to be professional. Give your answers, they can take them or leave them.

    Remember this part if you remember anything. You are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. Yes you have to pay your bills, and feed yourself (and possibly your family), but don't go into this from a position of weakness. You are a valuable commodity, and it's their job to convince you to decide to spend the finite allotment of time we have during your lifetime working for them just as much as you may want the job.

    Many technology professions and engineers are uncomfortable with negotiating. Don't be. If everyone in IT could learn that one lesson, that being hired whether it's contract or full-time is a negotiation goes a long way.

      If you are dealing with a less tech-savy more 'business' orientated person you will win points (even if grudging) that "Damn this technology person can actually negotiate and isn't a nerd who would work for star-trek lunchtime showings"

    If you are dealing with a more tech-savy person they probably won't be focused at all on the business side of things and you can discuss shop talk - discuss honestly some 'pain' (without dissing any company or individual) and often you can throw in a small amount of humor. When interviewing for a technology position it's a big plus to meet a candidate who can admit things that were tried that were disasters that they worked through.

    If the interviewer has any scar-tissue at all they will understand you have been in the trenches and had things go wrong, and you can explain how you worked around it. The solution may not have been pretty or elegant but it got you and the company you were working with through the problem.

    Someone who can think of their feet, evaluate what's going on, make a decision and adapt to save the ship is worth a ton. There are so many people in technology who search for silver bullets and are so enamored with X, whether it's hardware or software architecture that showing this helps hugely.

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

    by hackula (2596247) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @01:34PM (#43953691)
    This is defined in your contract with the client. It is common for the developer to retain ownership of the code, but to grant an unlimited license to the client. This is common practice, since it prevents a client from suing you when you use similar code or techniques in a future project (perhaps on of their competitors). If a potential client wants me to actually hand over ownership, then they get a different price.
  • by sstamps (39313) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @01:49PM (#43953821) Homepage

    Produce it, along with the specification and the invoice for the work, with irrelevant details redacted (like how much you were paid).

    The fact that you have specific project documentation should be ample evidence that you are the original author. All that needs to be done for verification is to have the new client phone the old client and ask if they had indeed contracted with you for a piece of work. No other specifics.

    You could have even phoned the old client from the new client's place of business and asked the old client to verify it right there, as long as you have good reason to expect the old client to tell the truth.

  • Prove yourself (Score:4, Interesting)

    by orlanz (882574) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @03:07PM (#43954365)

    A name is just a name. The code doesn't belong to either you nor the new developer (most cases). It belongs to the client. If they wanted to change the name or the new developer (agent owner) wanted to; it is completely fine and legal cause they own the work. If you wrote something and you owned it, it is your right to put your sons or wife's name on it.

    Having said that, it has nothing to do with proving you wrote it in an interview. If someone said that you didn't write something, cause another persons name is on it. MOVE ON. Get your head out of your ethical ass and simply say they clearly did a lot of updates and the current version belongs to the new dev but you wrote the original. If the interviewee says you didn't create it, simply tell them you can answer any question about it's early development. Have them prove you didn't do it. If you are that uncomfortable about answering such questions, then don't have it on your résumé. Just your depth of detail in answering any questions will show people that you have intimate knowledge of the program. Let them come to their own conclusions about their developer. Don't be the dumb ass attacking their company by throwing out or implying accusations (however valid) in an interview.

    Remember you DO NOT own the code, but that doesn't mean you can't take credit for your hard work. Two completely separate things.

  • by NimbleSquirrel (587564) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @05:40PM (#43955381)
    Others have correctly pointed out that you were most likely in a situation of work-for-hire and do not have a copyright claim to the work. However you may have a claim under Author's Rights (also referred to as Moral Rights). Author's Rights are separate and distinct from Copyright, and cannot be transferred. It doesn't grant you that much, but (amongst other things) it does grant you the right to be named as author (or co-author) in a work.

    Your best course of action to to write the client a friendly letter or email (I'd lean towards letter in a situation like this), relay your situation to them, and inform them that you wish to be named as author (or co-author) in the work. Be clear you are not claiming any kind of copyright! You also may wish to point out that the other developer is incorrectly claiming copyright, when that belongs to the client. Just be careful of not making this an attack on the other developer. You just want some way of having your work recognised. If you do send a letter, be sure to get a notarized copy before you send it, in case you have to escalate things.

    If you do need to take it further, then I'd suggest to just cut your losses and walk away. The other developer claiming your work as theirs is Libel: it has already harmed your reputation. It will be expensive, and chances are you wouldn't get enough to cover your expenses (not to mention the damage it would do to your reputation even if you are right).

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