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I have a habit of writing small, reusable components in my spare time. I reuse these components with my clients' code bases. It occurs to me there's a potential issue that using identical code for multiple clients may bite me back in the future. I don't care who uses the code. I just don't want a situation where one company tries to sue another for copyright infringement due to my actions.

I'm not familiar with common licensing schemes. What do I need to specify in my code files to indicate that these protions are copyrighted to myself and usable by anyone, while differentiating them from the code specificly written for the client? Where can I find more information on this scenario?

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Some degree of snippet-reuse is just a part of programming - code from books, web-sites etc is obviously intended to be used that way, and your own snippets obviously aren't so far removed from that. However, you really need to discuss this with your clients before doing it. If they believe they've paid you to produce code that they then exclusively own, you have a problem. If they know in advance that they're only getting the right to use and modify at least some parts of that code, you should be OK. IANAL, though, and you might need to talk to a lawyer if there's a risk of this blowing up. – Steve314 Sep 24 '12 at 4:33
In particular, "individual code files" sounds like more than short snippets. – Steve314 Sep 24 '12 at 4:35
My individual code files generally contain a whole class. For example, a message loop that implements ISynchronizeInvoke, about 500 lines of VB.Net code. – Hand-E-Food Sep 24 '12 at 4:57
that sounds less like a snippet and more like a problem to me. Courts have spent a lot of time and money arguing about the ownership of much smaller chunks of code. – Steve314 Sep 24 '12 at 5:07
Many times contracts will dictate that upon completion of the contract terms all company assets must be relinquished to the company, that would mean even keeping any of these code files on hand would be theft of company property akin to leaving a job and taking the monitor in your office with you. – Jimmy Hoffa Sep 24 '12 at 14:09

First, read this: If I'm working at a company, do they have intellectual property rights to the stuff I do in my spare time?

Now with that information in hand, realize that depending on the property rights contracts you sign with your clients, you may or may not be able to do what you elicit that you're doing.

It depends entirely on the individual contracts you sign, also it depends on the similarity and if each piece is directly copied or written from memory each time. Especially the similarity part. Absolutely identical snippets from one to another when the first client owns property rights, would definitely be seen as a violation of an NDA in court at the least (copyright infringement/theft at the worst) most likely wherein you aren't allowed to disclose proprietary methods from your client to other companies. While you may have written their code, disclosure of said code in identical form from memory would be tantamount to disclosure of a company's strategic advantage from memory which you gained in a privileged capacity.

Again, this all depends on the contracts you sign, but pretty standard contracts would make a complete copy-paste illegal. However state laws may override certain forms of these things so if you are relying on yourself as a business owner to employ you, I would have said business owner consult a lawyer for advisement lest the business that employs you get into hot water.

Make no mistake however, these things are extremely common occurrences, and companies press charges on these things probably as commonly as the legal departments understand what a software developer's job even is :)

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Thanks for that link! That and your answer give me a lot to consider. – Hand-E-Food Sep 24 '12 at 5:23

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