From this question and others, it seems that it's not totally unheard of for some companies to try to get free work out of job applicants by having them submit projects that would otherwise be done by paid staff. My question is, does a company have any legal right to sell/use that work as if it were done by an employee?

The job applicant has no agreement with the company that would cause their work to be owned by the company. There likely can't be any contract between the applicant and the company to say otherwise, because the company offers no consideration for the application project. If a company sells an applicant's web page to a client, for example, are they violating copyright or otherwise breaking the law?

  • Have you been provided with any context for the work you are going to be doing? For example, I once in a 'technical interview' was told 'we'll look at what minor bugs we've got and see if there's one you could tackle, or at least give an overview of how you would investigate it.". IMOE they've been quite obvious with what they will use my work for, if anything. – user34587 Nov 8 '18 at 13:46
  • Own? Yes. Can make money out of it? Also yes but they are, depending on local laws, in for a lawsuit. – SZCZERZO KŁY Nov 8 '18 at 13:48
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    This will likely depend on local laws and regulations, and doesn't have a broad answer. – Erik Nov 8 '18 at 14:09
  • In most places, including the U.K., this would be copyright infringement. Also likely fraud against the client. And assuming the company are crooks, but the client isn’t, this gives you a very nice angle to hurt the company. – gnasher729 Nov 8 '18 at 14:58
  • This would be better asked at law.stackexchange.com, with a jurisdiction tag attached. This is a legal question. – David Thornley Nov 8 '18 at 16:27

Usually, when you are given take home work, the company also has you sign documents. If the company give you starting code, there is usually an NDA involved.

In my experience, the company will usually have the candidate sign a waiver saying that they do not own any code produced in the interview stage. Even if they don't, would the candidate have the funds or resources to go after the company and be able to definitely prove that company stole their work? I think you would have a hard time proving that the code you wrote was not for that company, considering it was done in their interview.

The short answer is, yes, they can do that. Most companies will make sure the candidates know they are not entitled to anything they code, but at the end of the day it really doesn't matter. The onus is on you to not do it.

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    If a company asked me to sign a waiver that I have no rights to the code that I wrote in an interview, I would strike through that paragraph. And if there are more red flags, they don’t pass the interview. – gnasher729 Nov 8 '18 at 14:56
  • @gnasher729 I agree. Personally I wouldn't work somewhere that has people code for them in an interview, but when a company does do that, from what I have seen they do ask the applicant to waive the right to the code. You have a right to not sign, or attempt to make an amendment (crossing it out), but they can also choose to stop the interview. I would assume someone using an interview as free labor would probably just move on to the next person – SaggingRufus Nov 8 '18 at 15:21
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    And sometimes they pay you, too. I've only ever had that happen twice, but it can happen. One was more formal that included signing a thing that said the company would own the work (and it was a "take home" task, though I also added it to my portfolio, which is still valid: work for pay is still work you did), the other was less formal with no signed agreements (other than the company agreeing to pay for my time coming to their office for a day, during which I produced work). Assume that if your being paid, the company owns it. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Nov 8 '18 at 17:35

If a client commissions a work (even for no pay), they own the work

In the case of an interview, the client is commissioning a bit of work from you to help with your interview. They set the terms and the commissioned individual agreed to them. It was work done for the client, and therefore the client owns it.

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    This is not true for all locations (speaking for my location, Bulgaria, in particular). When it comes to written work (such as source code), it is often the case that copyright belongs to the person writing it, unless a contractual obligation states otherwise. You don't usually have such a contract with companies you interview at, so they can't claim ownership. – JohnSomeone Nov 8 '18 at 14:06
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    Not true in germany either. Unless you sign a contract saying so, I think you remain the copyright holder. – mag Nov 8 '18 at 14:07
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    Nonsense. With no contract in place, the author is the copyright holder. – gnasher729 Nov 8 '18 at 14:54
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    In the US, copyright goes to the company in the case of work-for-hire done by a bona fide employee (not an applicant), or in case of a written transfer of copyright. I'm not entirely sure an up-front contract would work for the employer. It could be taken for a promise to assign copyright, not a copyright assignment. The legalities are not necessarily obvious. Ask on law.stackexchange.com or see a lawyer. – David Thornley Nov 8 '18 at 16:25
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    @520 And if the company insists on that kind of exploitation then they will never get any decent employees because everyone decent will run away. – gnasher729 Nov 8 '18 at 19:33

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