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Does your company have a written policy about contributing to open-source projects?

We've been contributing "don't ask don't tell" style, but it's time to write something down. I'd appreciate both full written policy text and bits and pieces.

Update: we've made some progress since I asked this question and now have such a policy - read this.

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Thanks for sharing your experiences. –  Dan Aug 2 '11 at 22:20

4 Answers 4

I am seeing this question now only. Many may have read this slashdot article but if you have not see this: What Do I Do About My Ex-Employer Stealing My Free Code?

Though the slasdot original post is not directly related to this question many of the replies are.

Good that you are thinking of coming up with some formal rules. Here are some of the excerpts from the link I have quoted above, which are experiences of fellow programmers with their companies due to policies regarding contribution to open-source projects. There are lots of nice and eye opening answers but quoting 3 of them:

Quote-1:

It's so standard that you should always ask for permission from your employer before writing and releasing open source software - you might not have the right to do so, even if the software is not related to the business of your employer and even if developed in your spare time; the language in my contract is unambiguous about that.

Assuming that in this case the permission to write and release open source software was implicit, it still does not mean the company has lost it's control of it's intellectual property - they can always dual-license it under a proprietary license. They can't "take back" the already released GPL software, and they can't grab any contribution of 3rd parties to that lineage, but they can chose to develop the original codebase in an entirely closed source fashion - it's theirs.

Quote-2:

It is possible to negotiate with a company to preserve your ownership of your own personal pursuits but you must be proactive and generally have leverage (In my case I was holding up a merger with an entire IT/dev department. Your average shmo only has the desire of the company to have them work there). Also expect that the/any company will do whatever they can to own everything you are and do so presume you are screwed and read any documentation you are asked to sign with that intent in mind.

Quote-3:

learn what MIT licensing means... they're entirely free to distribute under whatever license they choose as long as they cite you. They're not stealing it, they're using it under the free license you provided it under.

As for the GPL – yes, you need to get a lawyer there, that is indeed a violation. Of course – if you coded this GPL code on their time, it's their copyright anyway, and they're free to use it any way they see fit.

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yasourer: Great link but as a suggestion, please try to include some of the key sentiments from links that way these threads on stack exchange remain valid regardless of links changing/moving. –  Chris Aug 2 '11 at 19:36
    
@Chris I agree with your suggestion. I will do it after I get home :) –  yasouser Aug 2 '11 at 19:47

In some states in the US, it violates state employment law for an employer to limit employees' ability to contribute to open source projects or to try to claim ownership of the code an employee contributes, with some restrictions (which vary from state to state). Commonly, this only applies to work done outside of your normal working hours, and the work cannot be done using company equipment or resources (i.e. a company-owned computer and/or software licenses). It also must be something that wouldn't be in direct competition with your employer; for instance, if your employer had a proprietary online content management system, the law would probably not apply if you wanted to contribute to an open source CMS project.

However, I know in CA and NC, the state law explicitly states that it takes precedence over any employment agreements in place.

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We do not have a direct policy regarding this. Long story short: work created at the university is owned by university unless declared prior to start of coding.

I have discussed with my boss from time to time about this and we have not gone far with it as it becomes a political nightmare as the people who need to approve this do not quite understand open source software aside from the "it is usually free" idea.

/me eagerly awaits others responses!

Update: This topic surfaced at work recently, we met with our legal team and all appears well. My understanding (from my employer) is this is a case by case basis but they are willing to work with employee's interested.

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I don't have any situation that I can directly cite, However I imagine that top Engineers and Programmers at major companies are forbidden from writing any other code for any other reason thats not beneficial to the company they work for. Of course this is purely speculative on my part.

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Actually the top engineers and programmers are probably the ones that do get to spend some of their time contributing to projects, if they want to. Also working on an OS project doesn't automatically mean "not beneficial to the company", since it may be an OS project that the company uses. –  Peter Boughton Oct 12 '10 at 17:13
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@pavel - That doesn't make sense as they started codeplex and contribute to jquery. I would like to know where you got that from because it is counter intuitive. –  Tony Oct 12 '10 at 17:27
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@Bryan I would imagine this would be difficult to enforce. Why would a programmer (who normally enjoys programming) join a company that doesn't let him do what he likes to do in his free time? That would prevent the company from getting big and major. Secondly, Google does the exact opposite and is a counter example. –  alternative Oct 12 '10 at 23:45
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@mathepic, MS has many projects on codeplex that are open source. Some are even being actively worked on. My point is that MS is not the same company they were 10 years ago. To be fair they have a long ways to go... –  Tony Oct 13 '10 at 1:53
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From reliable sources: Microsoft has an open-source contributing policy. It cannot be shared, but it exists. It does require LCA clearance to contribute, but there're many Microsoft developers contributing to many open source projects. There's also microsoft.com/opensource, which is more than a marketing site. –  dblock Oct 15 '10 at 12:24

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