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I have written a small application to offer a service to all employees where I work. This was done outside of work almost 100% using my personal laptop (only small fixes were done at work mostly related to deployment on company's servers).

This application is used by several dozens persons, but it is just out of convenience (it aggregates some information from multiple systems in easier to consume format).

Since this was done outside of existing projects and it is far from being important, there is no paper trail related to copyright, documentation or similar for this application. Some presentations were made, but it basically just works without any copyright information.

I am wondering if I can reuse parts of this application's code base.

The context is an European company operating in an Eastern European country within European Country.

Question: Can I reuse the code of an application written in my spare time if it has been deployed and used in the internal company network?

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    I think you should get digital trails ASAP that your code was yours before being deployed to your company. Was your code on github for example (with committing dates out of work time)? Do you inform your managers before deploying it? Had the small fixes during your work time been tracked somewhere, this could play against you. – Bebs Oct 4 at 7:54
  • @Bebs - the code is also on company's own git repository and it shows that commits are done outside of work time. A few managers know about the project (the bigger picture, my code just covers the technical part), but I have never spoken to them about the technical part. And nobody asked about it. – Alexei Oct 4 at 7:58
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    But was if on your personal git, committed with your PC during your personal time? – Bebs Oct 4 at 8:05
  • @Bebs - no, it was company's git. – Alexei Oct 4 at 8:20
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    I also live in Europe (France) and there are laws for this kind of situation. I don't know if they're on the EU level or just the France level. But At least in France if you can prove that you're responsible for all the code, then you can claim property of it. – MaxouMask Oct 4 at 8:21
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I am wondering if I can reuse parts of this application's code base.

Given the information presented, I would just go ahead and use it. Legal problems over it seem very unlikely and easily met if they occur.

Check your contract though, there may be something along the lines of 'all code you produce during your term of employment belongs to the company'. If not then you're safe.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Oct 8 at 18:28
  • @TheAnathema Yes, I saw your well received answer, and links don't demonstrate a basic understanding of the subject, much less knowledge or expertise. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 8 at 18:28
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Rewrite it.

This is a "small application" written by you so it should not be that much work to rewrite from scratch. This is typically one of the most rewarding exercises for a developer because you can revisit all your architectual choices and hopefully make an even better application.

To be sure you do not accidentially copy from the existing application, don't look at the old sources and use a newer implementation language. Learn C#. Or F#. Or a web framework. Have fun 🙂

  • Yeah, every time I think, "I did that 5 years ago, I'll just reuse it." I end up rewriting it because more tools are available and I'm better at using them. – Wesley Long Oct 7 at 17:19
  • My code quality also improves significantly after 5 years... I mean, straight out of college, I used to love the ternary operator. It's... uh, very hard to maintain when you run it with couple of regex functions... of course I do web development, so I'm practically obsolete every 5 years anyways... – Nelson Oct 7 at 17:47
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tl;dr Have a conversation with your supervisor and ask.

"It won't be a problem if I provide versions of that XYZ program to other people, will it?" If your supervisor says, "go for it...." you're done.

If your supervisor balks, then you have some really strong arguments in your favor.

  • You made it on personal time to "scratch a personal itch", to make your own work life a little easier
  • It was a gift from you to your co-workers "hey, hey, try this ... you'll get the thing done quicker." and it has spread. That's good!
  • It doesn't relate to your company's core businesses, only to its handling of necessary administrivia.
  • People outside the company have heard about it and want it too.
  • (say this one subtly) "Boss, is it really your preference to get into a legal arm-wrestling contest about this? It isn't my preference. Let's just say OK and move on.

If you still don't get the OK, you probably never would have gotten it from this company. They've told you they're rigidly possessive. It's better to know that about them now rather than five years from now.

If they say "go for it" you can just jump in.

If they don't go for it, you can think through how to proceed knowing they lay a claim to some of the intellectual property (the source code).

Finally, a suggestion: Please consider releasing your stuff under an open-source license, and uploading it to github or somewhere.

  • +1 for Finally, a suggestion: Please consider releasing your stuff under an open-source license, and uploading it to github or somewhere. This is really the only correct approach. Write your code that you'd like to use for work, and license it to your company for use. – The Anathema Oct 8 at 14:32
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Disregard all the other answers posted and immediately consult a copyright lawyer before you do anything. Have him or her review your employment contract. You may be perfectly in the clear. However, wording in your employment agreement, that you agreed to by signing,and the fact your work is using the code might give them a legitimate legal claim that they own it.

  • This is not true. An employment contract is not one of the primary means a judicial body makes a determination in a copyright law case. If the author provably owned it prior to its existence in the public domain, a contract does not overrule the copyright law of that country. It can't. Contracts do not overrule law whatsoever. A software license for/against the author would sooner be considered than an employment contract. – The Anathema Oct 7 at 16:50
  • @TheAnathema Unless you are a licensed attorney in the jurisdiction of the original poster, your comment is merely an opinion and holds no water. – Keltari Oct 7 at 17:02
  • Your statement is false. You can be a licensed attorney and be completely incorrect, and you can work at a deli and be completely correct. I have extensively studied copyright law in the US, EU, and Russian Federation. None of them will say that your employer has the ability to break the law with a contract. – The Anathema Oct 7 at 20:57
  • @TheAnathema You are incorrect. I have seen this very thing come up with coworkers who have lost in US Federal courts. – Keltari Oct 7 at 21:41
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    Why do we need to "consult a lawyer" - I really wonder that. When I have a programming problem I'm also not "required" to consult someone doing a phd in cs or a guru at a language. Anyone can give advice and through extracting bits I can form a well rounded view of how it really works. Why would laws be any different? – paul23 Oct 8 at 1:26
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Disregard all the other answers and talk to your manager.

It seems you wrote an application in your own spare time which would make you the copyright holder.

You then took your code to work, fixed a few bugs at work, and my be your colleagues will fix more problems. So now this is a bit messy.

The best outcome would be that you and the company agree that you are the copyright owner, and by using that code at work you gave the company an irrevocable license to use it. Anything where you don’t agree might become ugly, for both sides. Best to talk to your manager before this happens.

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It is not the case that a contract would make it their code and not yours.

The other answers suggest that a contract would make the code belong to them and not you. This is not the case. Contracts cannot break the law, and to my knowledge that's the case in US law, EU law, Russian Federation law, and Australian law. If a contract states that you will be compensated for running a gambling service, and gambling is illegal, you are not protected by that contract.

EU - Unfair Contract Terms

National Labour Law Profile: Russian Federation

Copyright law is no different. A contract cannot circumvent the copyright laws of your nation. Your employer does not somehow overrule the law, though they like to believe their contracts can. Over and over, this has come up in multiple countries. Contracts such as "Do Not Compete" or "We Own Your Creations" have been fought in court, and have been struck down by judges very quickly.

There is an exception: If the origin of that code is under your company, then in most jurisdictions, that code would belong to your company, unless it's licensed in a manner where you can take it elsewhere. However, this is not your situation.

See: Article 22 of the Labour Law of the Russian Federation, Part IV of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation, 17 USC 101 for US Law, and Part 15 of Directive 2009/24/EC (European Union Computer Programs Directive.)

You created this work out of the scope of your employment, in your own time, on your own computer, out of the scope of the work you were employed to do. This is yours.

Copyright law is almost universal on one thing: If you created a thing, and you have proof that you owned it prior to its existence in the public domain, that thing is yours. You can provide proof simply by timestamps of Git repos, e-mail transfer, hosting, and sometimes even file timestamps (although this is weaker, as one can modify these timestamps if they wanted to.)

This does have its limits, though. As far as I know, US law, EU law, and Russian Federation law states that it will observe contracts such as software licenses. This can protect you, if you put your code in the public domain under a specific license and license it to your company.

In effect, I would do this if I were you:

  1. Keep a chain of custody on the code.
  2. Maintain timestamps and proof of ownership of your code.
  3. Do not simply copy and paste your code. Pull it from an online source if it makes sense (such as a package), or ensure the chain of custody was put into the source control of your company, so there's a trail. An author note, a license, something.
  4. Include a license on your code that outlines the agreement of its usage.

This would ensure you're covered.

  • Copyright law is not quite so cut and dry as you are asserting, which is why Mickey Mouse is a trademark and not a copyright. Take the claims being asserted by SE right now. It is unwise to dole out legal advice unless you are an employment attorney with experience with copyright. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 8 at 4:38
  • @RichardU Sources are provided. You can disagree all you'd like but you'd be incorrect. People here are stating that a contract allows them default ownership of creations made prior to or outside of work, and unlike me, they did not provide any legal source for their assertion. – The Anathema Oct 8 at 14:22
  • You've prrovided nothing but links to legislation, and not how it's enforceable, or provide any case law or adjudications to back it up. You are conflating criminal and civil law, and ignoring tons of legal precedent. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 8 at 16:24
  • Are you an attorney by trade? – Mister Positive Oct 8 at 16:33
  • @RichardU Look up void-ab-initio. Article 22 of the Labour Law of the Russian Federation. It states in the first line that a contract of an employer must follow all other federal laws. That includes Part IV of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation where it outlines copyright ownership. – The Anathema Oct 8 at 19:06

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