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I work for an IT company as a developer. We are currently working on a large software project, a multi-vendor automatic database clustering solution. We've upheld good coding standards and as a result our code is highly modular and reusable. Many of the modules we've developed could be of great benefit to the open-source community.

There are quite a few developers on our team that contribute to various open-source projects but so far we have not been successful with persuading the employer to consider open-sourcing some of the modules.

A few of us decided that we'd like to contribute code to open-source community while at the same time develop code for the company. Since our employer is not sympathetic towards this cause, contributing code we write during work hours is probably not an option. We have decided to take an alternate approach, write code during our spare time that we can use for both the company and open-source community.

We would like to know what are the caveats of this approach, pottential legal issues and whether someone has a similar experience so we could elaborate our plan further before putting it on the table at work.

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closed as off topic by Jim G., maple_shaft Aug 7 '12 at 19:10

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sounds interesting, but skip doing that during work hours. –  Yusubov Aug 7 '12 at 16:34
    
It is an interesting question but unfortunately off topic for this site. Legal questions are not in the scope of Programmers.SE. If you would like to discuss the potential legal ramifications with other developers then I invite you to try the chat feature and see if you can get a discussion going there. –  maple_shaft Aug 7 '12 at 19:12
    
"We have decided to take an alternate approach, write code during our spare time that we can use for both the company and open-source community." - This means anything you write become the property of the company, and now will cause for anyone who actually uses the code, because your company paid you to write it. This sounds like a legal minefield and a great way to be fired by said company. –  Ramhound Aug 8 '12 at 12:37
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3 Answers

Your contract probably says something like "we own you body and soul hah hah" (in slightly more legal language)

How enforceable this is depends on where you live and how many lawyers your employer has. But generally the courts have ruled on the: "job uses computer, hobby uses computer, therefore job and hobby are some thing, therefore employee steal from company" logic.

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If you have any sort of non-compete agreement with your employer, inform your employer of your intentions before creating anything and get your outside project excluded from the agreement (in writing, please). IANAL, but this seems especially important if you'll be doing this project with some of your co-workers. (Your co-workers should make the same arrangement with your employer.)

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If you were a lawyer, would the same principle prevent you from giving free legal advice here? :) –  Fiona Small Aug 7 '12 at 17:05
    
@FionaSmall It might. Either way, if you need a legal opinion, you should talk to your lawyer. –  Caleb Aug 7 '12 at 17:25
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It is not uncommon for a company to have a statement claim they have copyright of all code you write while working for them, this has been allowed in the U.S. other countries may differ. In order to legally write code and release it as open source you would need permission in writing from your employer stating you have the rights to X code, or you would have to verify your employer has no such claim to your code.

Including open source code in your work code is also problematic, many companies have a no open source rule or a formal review process for including third party utilities. This is because software licensing can and has ruined companies, and software rights are still pretty grey in some cases so companies often elect to avoid the chance of getting burned by just using a blanket no outside code policy. Even if you company allows third party code you still would have to do your research on what license to release your open source code under, and there are many different options with varying degrees of corporate friendliness.

Unless you have a burning desire to contribute to the open source community and utilize that code in you job it would be best to avoid the potential mess or look for a position at a company more open to allowing you to work on open source projects.

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