Yesterday my boss fired me (I'm still in for one or two days) because of a pretty heated discussion that involved management steps and ideas. We are very far into the beta development stages. I programmed the project components, assisted by two designers. The working group is managed in sort of an Indie environment that reminds of a start-up. We are people from all over the world that work for an hourly wage.

But because I now have to leave the project repository where all my written source code is stored, I get the feeling that there won't be any credit for me (I wrote about 2000 lines of code for the project, mostly stuff that's finished and remains untouched) concerning all of the work I did. Therefore I do not want that the future team members use my code for the project if I don't get credit which I don't think will happen as I cannot control this if I finally leave. So simply communicating this will not help, as the situation in the team is in more of an anger state, split into two parties.

I did not sign any contract (non disclosure agreement/employment contract) which speaks even more for the independent style of this project, whether or not it's unprofessional.

Is it possible to secure or remove my work from further usage? If yes, how? I'm more or less asking for legal advice, just because I did not sign any contract. But I would be interested in solutions that involve other ways as well.

EDIT: I work in Germany, like my boss does. I did speak about non disclosure and payment with my boss, so you could count this as a verbal employment contract.

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    Did you get paid for your time working on the project? In most parts of the world, payment is considered "credit" for work. – Joel Etherton Sep 15 '15 at 13:01
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    I suggest you migrate this question to Law.SE, since this is largely a legal issue. The very, very short answer is If they don't owe you money, you cannot stop them using your code. – mandy Sep 15 '15 at 13:06
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    @kevin Even if they owe him money that's most likely a separate issue from who owns the rights to his code, though whether it is or not is yet another legal question. – Lilienthal Sep 15 '15 at 13:11
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    @kevin Hence why I mentioned that's another legal question: that definition will vary by locale, plus you have to consider whether the OP really counts as a freelancer or would be considered a de facto employee. – Lilienthal Sep 15 '15 at 13:32
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    @DoctorNiklas Normally you would flag the question for moderator attention with a custom reason and request migration. As the OP you'd presumably add that you created the question and agree with the migration. However, Law SE is still in public beta and as such is not a candidate for migration (paths). Manual migration is always possible but many moderators apply that clause to manual migrations as well. You may instead want to delete you question and recreate it in polished form over on Law. – Lilienthal Sep 15 '15 at 13:35

You are indeed asking for legal advice here. You should contact an lawyer or post this on law.stackexchange.

Also I would advice you, to not act any further before you have proper legal advice! Doing something without it now and you'll maybe later regret it - deleting the source when you are not the legal owner may lead to you paying damage compensation for doing so.

I am not a lawyer, but I think you are really missing some basics here:

I did not sign any contract

Contracts don't have to be written. Verbal contracts are still contracts - it's just harder to proof their contents if you have no witnesses.

that work for an hourly wage.

Germany and most other jurisdications basically distinguish between employment contracts (Dienstleistungsvertrag) and contract for work and labour (Werkvertrag). Beeing paid by the hour most of the times (not always!) means that you have an employment contract. In that case you don't have ANY right on the software (if not otherwise specified in the contract!). Not even to be listed as an author.

You need to get that basics straight first, to know in what kind of contractual relationship you are with your boss.

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    I'd suggest not answering questions that you know to be off-topic as it sends the wrong message. If you want to caution the OP then you can just post that as a comment. Posting your comment as an answer may complicate automatic deletion of off-topic questions. – Lilienthal Sep 15 '15 at 13:09
  • If offtopic counts as posted on the wrong Stackexchange I surely understood the message. Anyways his answer was helpful and already brought up- some information. But before ticking this as the final answer, though im pretty happy with it I will try to migrate the question to Law.SE. – Doctor Niklas Sep 15 '15 at 13:14
  • @Lilienthal You are surely right, but I still wanted to give some "first aid" support in this case, which propably wouldn't have fit in a comment alone. – s1lv3r Sep 15 '15 at 13:49
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    @s1lv3r Understood, but keep in mind that there's nothing wrong with posting multiple comments. – Lilienthal Sep 15 '15 at 13:51
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    @lileanthal: Half the time when I post a nontrivial comment, someone grumbles that comments are transient and anything useful should be an answer. Half the time when I post an incomplete answer, or an answer to something the other person felt was off-topic, I get flamed for not making it a comment. My conclusion is that Stack Exchange's guidelines on thus are fundamentally broken. – keshlam Sep 16 '15 at 5:33

As a freelancer, I take the following philosophical position, which helps me immensely:

You are paying me for my time, whether I write code, give you advice, or try to solve a problem that remains unsolved. You own whatever is so created.

This may or may not be the law where you live, or be the terms of your contract, though there's an excellent chance it is. I simple adopt it as a way of living. This means that when I leave a project (and as a freelancer you always leave eventually) I leave behind my code, my plans, my diagrams, my brilliant explanations and fantastic ideas. They have been paid for.

In a startup, you don't usually get paid what you're worth. There may be some money so you can live, but really you're all trying to build something together that you all own. When you leave that arrangement, you typically are compensated for what you leave behind. Emotionally, you seem to feel you're in this position. Yet you speak of your boss, and of being an employee.

I suggest taking a big breath, and thinking of this whole thing as a great learning opportunity. Chances are they will not benefit from what you leave behind, since you feel they are so wrong on management and such. You will benefit from being seen as a generous and helpful person. If they turn out to be the next Facebook, you can tell everyone you helped to get that going.

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  • Very informative. Also I got no problem with leaving my work and stuff I created for the team behind me. My personal problem lies with people claiming they wrote code they really didnt, publishing the source under their name, which has happened to me in the past. That was the first reason why I started to write this question. Anyways thank you too for your answer! – Doctor Niklas Sep 15 '15 at 15:08
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    In that case, German Urheberrechtsgesetz is totally on your side: If you wrote the software, you have the right to claim that you wrote the software. Nobody else can legally claim this. And you cannot transfer or sell the right to claim you wrote it. (However, that doesn't stop them from using or selling the software you wrote, and not allowing you to use or sell the software. And no contradiction to §69b below, since this right is not a financial right). – gnasher729 Sep 15 '15 at 21:51


Sorry, but your situation is actually very simple:

§ 69b Urheber in Arbeits- und Dienstverhältnissen

(1) Wird ein Computerprogramm von einem Arbeitnehmer in Wahrnehmung seiner Aufgaben oder nach den Anweisungen seines Arbeitgebers geschaffen, so ist ausschließlich der Arbeitgeber zur Ausübung aller vermögensrechtlichen Befugnisse an dem Computerprogramm berechtigt, sofern nichts anderes vereinbart ist.


§ 69b Copyright owner in employment contracts

(1) If a computer program is created by an employee as part of his job or following the instructions of his employer, only the employer is entitled to all financial rights of the computer program, if there is no other agreement.

A clause earlier states that a 'computer program' is not just some kind of executable, but also includes just code and design. Also a clause states that this is true for both employment contracts and contracts for work.

You cannot legally prevent the use of your code.


You were removed for a real reason. Your employer didn't wake up one day and threw a die to determine who gets fired.

Your question should have been:

I'm a freelancer and was fired, because I pissed my boss off. How can I resolve this issue professionally, to reduce the hard feelings and maybe get a second chance for a paycheck in a few years?

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  • Okay, thank you very much for the info about the german laws on this issue. – Doctor Niklas Sep 15 '15 at 19:32

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