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A client wants me to build a Wordpress plugin similar to an app on Windows Phones. Although the app that I will build will be different in many ways (such as the UI, logos, graphics and a couple of more functions) but the basic functions will be similar to the app currently available on Windows Phone.

I am doing this as a freelance project. I would like to know once I complete the development and send over the files to the client, and in case the original owner of the app on the Windows Platform comes out saying that the Wordpress plugin has a lot of features from their app. Who would be the one in trouble?

Can he file a case against me or will it only be my client who will be held responsible as he will own all the rights after I send him the files and he makes a payment.

Update : thank you for all your inputs and help. Much appreciated. To clarify on some of the questions raised :

  1. Yes, this is a work for hire project.
  2. The freelancing contract says that all rights and files including source code have to be transferred to the client after he makes the payment and thereafter he owns all the code and the app.
  3. The app to be made is a utility app, but i am not sure how common such kind of an app is and whether i can really relate it to the accounting app example.
  4. I am writing my own code, I have no access to the original app source
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If it were easy enough just to get sued over functionality, there'd be tons of such lawsuits in the legal system right n-...oh... –  birryree May 15 '12 at 0:08
You are writing your own code, right? You have no access to the original app source, right? If so, you are probably safe. –  Steven Burnap May 15 '12 at 0:10
legality aside - if I had a client come to me and say "we want you to make an app that works like this other app" instead of an actual specification (which might just happen to contain features from other apps), I'd just say "thanks, but no thanks" –  HorusKol May 15 '12 at 1:09
@HorusKol - you can say that again! Not even if it's their own product. Got involved in a rewrite once and the engineers kept saying, "Just do it exactly like the original." OK...was this weird behavior intended or just accidental? "Oh, yeah...don't replicate that." –  Crazy Eddie May 15 '12 at 5:48

5 Answers 5

Nothing is new under the sun (well almost nothing!). Think of all the different basic accounting packages out there. You'll be fine. Also it would depend on what your contract says about IP ownership.

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Copyright copies concrete implementations, such as source code and images. Patents protect specific ways to implement certain functionality, regardless of the actual implementation. If anything, you should be more worried about running afoul of patents.

As for filing a case against you, there's almost nothing you can do to prevent that. The law allows pretty much anyone to sue pretty much anybody. However, by keeping good records of your work, you can make sure that any such case is dismissed quickly. If you have all the different requirements from your clients, and a history of your development, you can easily prove that the resulting work was made incrementally by you, with each small increment simple and reasonable by itself.

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How do you know this is true? How do you know that it is true in the jurisdiction the OP is doing business in? Are you a lawyer? Do you know something about the OP that the rest of us do not? –  Crazy Eddie May 15 '12 at 15:43
I'm assuming the OP doesn't live in North Korea (which is reasonable considering he's developing for Windows Phone). Therefore, the first paragraph is covered under TRIPS (Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). The second paragraph is true regardless of the jurisdiction of the OP, because an infringed party can choose the jurisdiction where to file. (I regularly support our legal department and have received legal training on this matter both in company and in university.) –  MSalters May 17 '12 at 11:15

IANAL, but I would make sure your contract explicitly specifies that this is a work made for hire.

What that clause will do is cause you to loose all legal rights to what you have made, and put it under the ownership of your client, and it will become the client's property. The client will have to assume all liabilities associated with having said property.

Work made for hire is a pretty common clause in freelance contracts, btw.

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How do you know this is true? How do you know that it is true in the jurisdiction the OP is doing business in? Are you a lawyer? Do you know something about the OP that the rest of us do not? –  Crazy Eddie May 15 '12 at 15:43
IANAL, but I have been both on the receiving end and producing end of contracts involving IP. The answer to the rest of the questions is no. –  CamelBlues May 15 '12 at 17:48

Dude! Do NOT trust a question this important to your livelihood to ANY internet website forum, much less this place.

Meet with a lawyer! You can probably get an opinion on this fairly inexpensively, especially when compared to the hurricane of feces that will become your life if you run afoul of copyright law.

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Sorry, but downvoted. You can't realistically expect to consult a lawyer for even the most trivial of questions, that's unaffordable. –  MSalters May 15 '12 at 11:21
It isn't a trivial question, there can be design patents involved (cost Samsung big in Germany recently). The cost of getting wrong could be huge and the law doesn't consider expense of consulting a lawyer as a defence. –  Jaydee May 15 '12 at 12:36
Finding a lawyer that would give a clear cut answers that you could depend on is very hard, there is also the issue of the great cost. –  Ian May 15 '12 at 14:17
@Ian And asking an online forum of legally untrained individuals which can't see the ap or the copy is going to get a reliable answer? –  Jaydee May 16 '12 at 12:16
@Ian: I've gotten answers from lawyers on such matters. They're expensive answers indeed, but lawyers especially are quick to note that you cannot depend on their answers. –  MSalters May 17 '12 at 11:17

Although copyright in general covers concrete expressions of ideas, there are exceptions and are other considerations such as fair use, software patents and design patents.

If this is no a "standard" type of thing like the example of an accounting package, you really would need to ask a lawyer. Call a lawyer and aske then for half an hours worth of advice. They will be able to give you a clearer idea of whether you should worry.

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