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A few years ago, during my apprenticeship years I wrote a confluence plugin (server), that was later released under the MIT license and published on Github. My employer has since lost interest in the project. For a while I maintained it during my free time and it had a small user base. But when the GDPR was established the project was pulled from the Atlassian Marketplace and I stopped maintaining it. Since then it is basically abandoned.

In the following years I finished my studies, switched teams and became a full time employer with the same company. ~A year ago I reduced my hours, to have more time for private projects and private stuff. Which they weren't cheering about, but also agreed to, without making any issues. There are a number of part time employees at the firm, tough most of them are a lot older than I am.

A few month ago I founded a web agency with two friends, that I work on during my off hours. My employer is aware of that and fine with it. Also by German law I'm allowed to do so as long as it does not effect my main work and my employment contract contains no clauses forbidding for me to do so.

Me and my friends have ported the concept of the original server plugin to a confluence cloud plugin and added a few features. For this we incorporated a small part of the original code (as a maven dependency). We now want to sell this plugin on the market place. If this turns out to be profitable we would also like to overwork the original server plugin, rebrand it and sell it with support on the market place.

Now my question: Should I inform my employer of my plans?

The relationship between myself and my bosses is very good. But I'm afraid of waking a sleeping dragon, by asking for permission. And if they say no I have to either comply with that or openly refuse to do so, potentially even quitting my job.

On the other hand if I just go ahead with it, I doubt anybody will notice or care about it. And I don't think that I'm legally obligated to do so.

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    Talk to a lawyer – jmoreno Jun 6 at 13:18
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    Open source does not mean royalty free! – user82352 Jun 6 at 14:26
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    @KingDuken well the MIT license explicitly allows everyone (free of charge) to sell and modify the code to their needs, without needing to publish the source. Only requirement being to include the license for the parts that are being used. And there are no software patents. So it is royalty free. Otherwise basically every project that pulls in popular open source libraries would need to pay royalties. There are other open source licenses of course. But that's irrelevant for my case. – seg Jun 6 at 14:49
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    Assuming your use of the code conforms to its license, there is an intermediate position of informing your employer without asking for permission. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 6 at 16:34
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    The MIT licence does not require you to inform the copyright holder that you are using their work. I don't see how informing them could achieve anything here. – Simon B Jun 6 at 17:15
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Your company holds the copyright, but since it is published under an very permissive open source license (MIT license has very few strings attached), anyone getting their hands on a copy can use it. That includes you (the original author). You can modify it, publish it, and sell it, as long as you conform to the license - being the original author gives you no special rights. Most licenses allow you to sell the software for money (but allow others to take a copy and sell it for money as well). So you are legally fine.

But you asked about the workplace. So if you think there is a chance that you would want to return to the same company, some overzealous manager might (incorrectly) think that you stole from the company, and that could cost you a job offer. So you should either inform them (and make it very, very clear that you do this out of courtesy and they have no rights to stop you at all), or publish it in a way that doesn't mention your name.

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    Since I had to to write a formal letter to HR anyway informing my employer of the formation of our business. Which I already told my supervisor in person. I've decided to add a passage informing them (not asking for permission) of the usage of the code. And I made sure to clearly formulate that our usage is in accordance to the license under which it is released. And that we will not use trademarks, names or imply any connection to the company, besides as is required by the license (license file). I think this is the best course of action, as I don't want to hide my name. – seg Jun 7 at 16:38
  • "Being the original author gives you no special rights". As the question notes, German law applies, so that's not true. You have the right to be claim authorship. This is independent of commercial ownership, but it is relevant for this purpose. As the original author, you're the obvious party to provide commercial support. – MSalters Jun 9 at 15:03

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