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Upfront info:

  • I'm a UX Developer.
  • Employed for a year and a half at my current position.
  • I didn't sign any sort of contact/non-compete when I started my employment.
  • My employer said I could include any projects in my portfolio when I leave as long as I'm open and honest about what my role was in the project.
  • My employer said they don't care if I work on projects/moonlight during my free time.
  • The projects in question started as personal open source projects that I developed during my weekends/free time.
  • The company did not ask or require me to start or maintain the open source projects.
  • All projects are/have always been licensed under the MIT License

Background info:

During my employment, I've been building a front-end framework and a few simple npm packages to be used asa boilerplate for my personal projects along with work projects since the company didn't have a boilerplate/framework until they adopted mine. I've been developing these projects in my free time as open source projects and I've been hosting the repositories on my GitHub account. My employer has noticed the framework and wants to implement it as our companies official boilerplate. They've asked me to move the development of the framework and packages to the companies organizational GitHub account. I've moved the projects and I have been using the new repositories but I'm curious as to how it looks from an outside perspective.

Questions:

  1. Is it unprofessional or inappropriate to maintain open source projects linked to a company after I leave the company?
  2. Do I maintain private versions of my projects on my account (the original repositories) so I can continue development on the off-chance that I leave my current employer?
  3. For future employment/project opportunities is it better to contribute and manage several open source projects associated with a current/previous employer or is it better to have a list of open source projects linked directly to my account?
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    Some aspects of this question might be more appropriate for opensource.stackexchange.com – Philipp Mar 5 at 14:54
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    I would keep the original as it is yours and let them develop a derivative copy as their own version... – Solar Mike Mar 5 at 14:54
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    Since you moved your ownership of this repo from you personally to your company, now your company have full authorization about who to maintain the repo. Heck, they can even make it no-longer opensource and even change license and charge for it if they wanted to. Rule of thumb is always fork instead of move (unless it's truly your intention to give away the ownership of the repo). – tweray Mar 5 at 14:58
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    @tweray "they can even make it no-longer opensource if they wanted to" That would be a copyright issue, not a workplace issue. – a CVn Mar 5 at 15:01
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    @aCVn Agree, and tbh it is something that probably some copyright lawyer need to screw around with. But if the question is (I know it's not, that's why I comment instead of answer) Should I transfer my personal opensource github repo ownership to my company when they asking so? then it's a perfect workplace questions, and the answer is a screaming NOOOOO. – tweray Mar 5 at 15:06
14

As far as I understand it, if the project is truly open source then the company has created their own private fork of the project. A lot depends on what license you placed on the original open source project.

Only if you did something foolish like giving away the rights to the project to your employer for free should there be a problem with you still working on your original open source project in your own time.

  • 10
    When mixing private and work programming it is very important to be clear about the license. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 5 at 14:54
  • Sorry for the confusion but the question wasn't actually about the legality of licensing open source projects. All projects are created under the [MIT License(choosealicense.com/licenses/mit). When the projects initially started to transition over I stated clearly that I would only work on them if they remained under that license. The question I was hoping to have answered was: is it better to have a portfolio of projects directly associated with a previous employer or should (future) projects I start be directly associated with me and my account, or doesn't it matter? – Kyle Andrews Mar 6 at 13:32
  • @KyleAndrews you're approaching this from the wrong direction. You are the author of open source software which is being utilised by private businesses. Advertise that fact. If you want to create new open source software in your free time, own that. IMO you should never have relinquished control over your repo, and either let the company fork it themselves or buy the rights to it from you. I think you've been taken advantage of. – user1666620 Mar 6 at 13:38
  • @user1666620 Thank you. This answers my question and gives me the guidance I needed for moving forward. I'm not concerned about the ownership of my current projects since I have a few new ideas for future projects that could turn a profit and I don't want to make any mistakes before I begin. – Kyle Andrews Mar 6 at 13:50
2

Too late now, but personally, I would never have moved the project in house. I would have left it on public GitHub, suitably licensed and made company specific changes there - on company time ...

... until/unless, the company requested features would change your view of the core project, in which case you fork it, again suitably licensed. Even then, I would consider asking the nice sounding company if I could leave the fork public, if I thought that it might be of use to others.

And, of course, you get all of those "agreements" that you listed put in writing.

  • Why is it too late now? What stops OP from forking the code now back into their own repo? – 520 Mar 6 at 8:59
  • Maybe nothing - maybe whatever license the company has slapped on their fork? – Mawg Mar 6 at 9:48
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    @520 That "if" of yours is the big question. And the GPL is not be all and end all of licenses. – Peter M Mar 6 at 12:29
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    @520 I believe you are mistaken about GitHub having a default mode of GPL for licenses. See Licensing a repository and "You're under no obligation to choose a license. However, without a license, the default copyright laws apply". And again you are making assumptions about what the OP did on their repo. – Peter M Mar 6 at 12:53
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    I didn't intend for the question to be about the legality of open source project licensing. All projects are under the [MIT License(choosealicense.com/licenses/mit) and I've stated I'll only work on them during my off-hours if they remain under that license. I was hoping for an answer as to if it's better to have a portfolio of projects that are directly hosted and linked by a previous employer or if for future projects I should keep them on my account. It's possible that it doesn't matter, what's important is being able to clearly show that I've maintained or contributed to it. – Kyle Andrews Mar 6 at 13:38
-1

People work on company sponsored open source projects all the time (many of the biggest front end projects, for example,) so that's not a big deal.

There's also nothing inherently wrong with working on a former company's open source project. One caveat is- it depends on how they're using the open source project. If it's really just a community project that they just happen to maintain and discretely slap a logo on somewhere in the footer or just note it in the copyright field, then it's just part of the normal open source ecosystem and that's fine. If it's not, and it's really tied with a company's product or is a heavily branded exercise, then it's less clearly fine. A personal example- I helped maintained the Isobar Front-end development coding standards for a while after I left because they needed the help, but I also chose to get myself off of the project as soon as possible because it was a clearly branded project and I wasn't associated with the company anymore. It was a little weird, even though I was still friendly with the team.

As for your second question, I just poked around a little bit and it appears to me you transferred ownership over to the company and they're not working on a fork. It would have been better to keep ownership of the projects and leave it at that. If this gains traction that repo will be the one with the stars and watchers. Your private repo will just be another fork.

For your final question, if you're interested in open source, then you should maintain your own repos. You will gain more benefit, exposure and experience cultivating your own open source projects, following your own interests and working with the organizations that you choose. If you work for Google or whatever, then there is the possibility that you could launch the next Angular, React or Bootstrap with their blessing, but you could also do the work independently and control your own work down through the years.

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