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I have been working on a piece of software for a company, that they wish to resell.

There was an mail-based agreement upon a flat hourly rate for my work, and eager me chose to accept a rather low fee.

Due to the stress and tempo of the task, a direct contract was never formed or signed.

The software was developed locally on my machine, and I was pretty much alone with it, except by excellent help from StackOverflow when I got stuck.

Now, the software is nearing completion, I suddenly hear that they have hired a new developer to make the same piece of software as me, and that I was expected to resign within long.

Confused I ask around, and realize that the CEO of the company had informed the rest of the company that I was terminally ill and had cancer, and was expected to leave the company soon.

Since I'm perfectly healthy, this confused me even more, until I realized what was going on. When I confronted my boss with this, I was no longer seen as a member of the company, and I left the same day, never to return.

Later, I raised the question about my missing pay, since I had been working for quite a bit, and not received any payment for my software. I saw that they had already sold a fair copy of my software, and since it's not exactly sold cheap, the company should have plenty of gold to pay me.

The company refused, and said that they owned the software, and everything it contained.

That was a lot of drama, but my question is this:

Who has the rights to the software ?

The source code had my personal watermarks and copyrights inprinted, but they have since simply deleted it. The company claim that they have all the rights, because they have a website made about the product, where they write that they have "All rights reserved" in the bottom.

My instinct tells me that if a company buys a service like this, and then refuses to pay their developer, then they should not be allowed to keep, and much less resell the product.

I have not signed any agreements about giving the company the use of this product, I have made it in my own time and without help from the rest of the company.

This all takes place in Denmark, Europe, but I would guess that the rules about this is somewhat universal.

Im not the strongest person to legal-talk, so I might be wrong.

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closed as off topic by Yannis, Tom Squires, Robert Harvey, David Thornley, maple_shaft Nov 21 '11 at 18:54

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If you have any proof for any of the above, contact a lawyer RIGHT NOW. The cancer part is extremely distasteful (to say the least) and the CEO needs to get punished. If you don't have any proof, be a little more careful who you work for / with next time. – Yannis Nov 21 '11 at 17:19
This is a legal problem, not a technical problem. So it's kind of off-topic here. Yannis is right, talk to a lawyer. – Mike Baranczak Nov 21 '11 at 17:22
Sorry to hear you got screwed over. Voting to close but I hope you talk to a lawer and get it resolved properly – Tom Squires Nov 21 '11 at 17:37
Heya, yes its distasteful, and I have solid proof. The CEO even wrote it as topic for meetings put in a shared calendar, and had it written as topics in the board meeting resumés, plus a collegue is willing to testify that he had been planning this thing, without shadow of a doubt. – Nils Munch Nov 21 '11 at 18:04
Im sorry that this was offtopic, had a hard time finding the right place to ask, and I will contact a lawyer immediately. – Nils Munch Nov 21 '11 at 18:04
up vote 4 down vote accepted

You need to talk to a lawyer to get proper advice about this.

In general if you created it the copyright resides with you until you assign it to someone else. My understanding is that if there is no contract then you can't have assigned them copyright. In many countries if you haven't received any payment, of any kind, then there can not be a contract.

However, I am not a lawyer. Free legal advice on the internet is worth exactly what you pay for it :-)

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It is quite likely that you have a contract with this company. It may be verbal, but as there are emails agreeing terms, they are likely to be part of the contract.

Now the important bit is this, in the UK, just because someone has paid you to do the work does not mean that they own the copyright of the code. Most employment contracts for developers have a specific clause in the contract to grant copyright to the company. Without it, the developer owns the code. This may well be the case in Denmark too.

If you have a record of your development, e.g a source control repository then it's straightforward to prove you wrote the code.

The companies that are using the software product you wrote are also in breach of your copyright. With your solicitor, it may be worth approaching them for your royalties for the use of the code.

You also have separate non programming issues related to the company conduct that should also be addressed.

share|improve this answer
In the US, the OP would probably still have copyright, but it's a bit difficult to tell given the information available. The UK and US systems of law, however, differ significantly from most other legal systems, and I wouldn't assume that any of this would apply in the non-UK parts of Europe. – David Thornley Nov 21 '11 at 18:44
@DavidThornley I don't necessarily see this as an IP problem but a clear violation of employment law. The OP did work for the company and never got paid. The issue of back-pay is one matter, another issue entirely is who owns the IP. – maple_shaft Nov 21 '11 at 19:00
@maple_shaft: Correct; there are two issues although the OP only brought up one (the one closest to being on topic here). The question of who has the copyright is a legitimate one, and so is the question of the missing pay. – David Thornley Nov 21 '11 at 19:06
@maple_shaft: it's not clear that the OP was employed, or did the work under contract. If they did the work under contract, then their recompense is though IP ownership and non payment for services. – Michael Shaw Nov 21 '11 at 19:15

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