I work at a small startup as a full stack developer. We previously used PHP to develop all of our applications and I told my boss we should eventually move to C# which he agreed. Over the coming months, I developed a fairly sizable C# framework on my own time outside of work (I was working on my own side project), including a nice ReactJS front-end with lots of components.

When a new project began at my work, we were in a huge time crunch. I had some fairly nice PHP frameworks I built at the company which would have made things go fairly quickly, but I thought it was time to make the hop to C#. To speed things up, I told my boss I would be willing to donate my C# / ReactJS code that I had been developing for a side project as long as its clear that I am not moving ownership of my code to the company. The company is free to use it however they want, but I cannot be blocked from continuing to use this code on my own side projects now or in the future. I didn't make him sign anything since he verbally agreed so I thought everything would be OK.

I currently have no suspicions that they plan to change their mind and prevent me from using this code in my side projects, but I'm a little bit nervous that I didn't make them sign a written agreement. If they find out I'm using this framework in my side-projects and am making money off of it, can they file a lawsuit against me? I have proof that I wrote the code myself on my own time by looking at GIT commit logs. The code was slowly committed over time in my own personal repository. By looking at the timestamps of the commits, I could easily show that I had developed and commited these files long before they appeared in any of the repositories at my company. Is this enough proof if my company decided to go back on our verbal agreement and claim that they own my code?

closed as off-topic by gnat, Jenny D, Dukeling, Rory Alsop, Mister Positive Feb 19 at 17:02

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    You mention that this was during your own time. Was this also using your own resources? (like, your own laptop, your own internet, etc.). – DarkCygnus Feb 18 at 21:49
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    I also see you have Git logs, so I presume you published this on Github or some other repo. What license did you shared it with? (MIT, no license, etc.) – DarkCygnus Feb 18 at 21:50
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    To be clear - there's a difference between being able to file a lawsuit and winning one. Even if you have evidence, it can still cost you money to attempt to defend. Getting a signed agreement or having it on a public Github repo (before you share with your employer) still may not be 100% bulletproof, but should dissuade most thoughts about filling a claim against you – HorusKol Feb 19 at 3:27
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    @DarkCygnus Yes this was entirely on my own time using my own computer, in my own house on my own internet. I did not publish the code publicly, I have a commit history in my private repo on BitBucket, but the timestamps are clear that I had developed this code prior to using it at the company. – Brad Feb 19 at 4:30

The company could claim ownership of such code if you either did it during work time (which you say you did not) or if you did it using company resources (internet, company laptop, etc.).

Otherwise (I am not a lawyer though) I don't think they have any claim on the code. To be sure, and if you feel uneasy, you could consider contacting a lawyer so they can assist you legally.

Furthermore, if you published your code on your own repository and under some open-source/free/etc. license (like MIT license) then the company would have even less reasons to claim ownership.

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    I want to add that adding an open source license now would still be good if one wasn't done yet. Also, when using your framework, link to the git or fork it, don't copy it. That way there is a clear path to the original git repo. – Trevor D Feb 18 at 22:08
  • excelent points @TrevorD all worth considering – DarkCygnus Feb 18 at 22:09
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    In some countries or US states, and depending on the signed contracts, anything which employee makes during employment may belong to a company, regardless of the time and equipment. – max630 Feb 19 at 3:42
  • @TrevorD I did not publish the code publicly. I was only committing to my own private repository on BitBucket. Currently if someone were to look at our company code, there is no clear path to my private repository (since I had just copy and pasted the code into a new repo), however by actually looking at specific revisions of the code, you would be able to tell that it was copied from a revision in my own repo. – Brad Feb 19 at 4:34
  • In the US if you are 'salaried' they have claim to ALL the things you 'create' wether at work or outside of work. It is part of being 'except' from labor laws and the implication that they are paying you a flat amount for 'creative work'. joelonsoftware.com/2016/12/09/developers-side-projects – Bill Leeper Feb 19 at 18:41

I'd suggest the following steps:

  • Decide on an open source license (BSD, GPL etc.) and add it to the repository
  • Publish the project on GitHub or a similar open source hosting service
  • Make sure the copy used at the company has a proper copyright notice header in every source file, including your name, the license, and URL of the public repository
  • If possible, do not use a plain copy at the company, rather include a fork of the public repository (including commit history) using Git submodules (or whatever technical solution works best)

Ideally, you would also prepare a written statement for you and your employer to sign, that basically says:

"I have developed " outside of my contract with company . I grant to use the source code according to the details specified by the licence . We both agree that holds no other rights to the source code than specified by the licence."

Note: Before doing this, review some common open source license, maybe also talk to your employer to get an idea what license they would agree to. Some licenses require the source code of derived works to be published when other licenses don't. You'll find questions and answers on this topic on SE.

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    Just because OP offers a blanket, say, GPL, license to anyone to use the code, doesn't mean they can't dual license (even under a proprietary license, though I'd advice against that combination for reasons including but not limited to legal ones) to their employer. The copyright holder is never bound by the license. – a CVn Feb 19 at 12:06
  • @a CVn That is indeed an option. Thanks for your comment. Ultimately the OP has to think about what he would like to achieve, what the employer would agree to, and choose an appropriate licensing model. – tmh Feb 19 at 13:54

This is really dependent on the Copyright laws in your Location.

What i can tell you that here (Austria) you still own full Copyright to your Code if everything happened as you described. What you did with "donating" that Code to your Company is you gave them right of usage (Werknutzungsrecht/Werknutzungsbewilligung). Now this is something you might want to be careful about which Kind of usage you gave them.

While the aformentioned "Werknutzungbewilligung" is more or less a "provided as is" with next to no legal responsibility for you, the "Werknutzungsrecht" however can be used against you, especially if you gave them exclusive Rights. While a verbal contract might be as binding as a written one, the specifics are really hard to proof here.

You also might check your regular working contract with the Company if it states anything to that Topic (Clause of automatic Transfer of rights while you are an employee of that Company or similar)

Tl;dr: really dependent on your specific Copyright law

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