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The problem: I am working on a freelance marketplace, and I decided to cancel project with one of my clients, because client is impossible to work with with limitless delays and lots of bugs in his backend. I want to give him a partial refund (partial because I worked for two months and there is 3k lines of code, though application still not working due to problems from his backend).

The question: who is "owner" of code which I have wrote? We did no agreement about it upon project was started. Can I tell him to not use my code? I understand, that he can ignore my forbid anyway, I just want to know if I have formal "right" to say so.

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+1 for nice question. I faced similar issue. –  Md. Mahbubur R. Aaman Apr 9 '13 at 13:54
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2 Answers

This is best something you'd contact a lawyer for. It depends on your country and what's in the current contract, but I suspect the following would be relevant:

  • As you wrote the code, it should be yours (this is true for any written text, even if you don't explicitly mention copyright stuff, as far as I know)
  • On the other hand, if you've already given the code to the customer in the past, I believe you'd give him the right to use it

Once again, certain wordings in the contract may give you or the customer different rights, and local laws will apply. I definitely recommend you contact a lawyer for a definite answer. If you can't or don't want to pay a lawyer, I'd assume the code isn't important enough. So you'll have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages.

On the other hand, think about how important it is if he does use the code. You wrote it so you know the most about it. He'll have no support, no further development (unless hiring someone else who has to work himself/herself in), etc. You on the other hand could use the code going forward.

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… may be relevant –  jk. Apr 9 '13 at 13:48
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"Give out the source code = losing copyright ownership"? Copyright doesn't work that way. You retain ownership of the copyright even if someone reads your source. –  Philip Apr 9 '13 at 14:17
    
Well, my code is a JavaScript, and to work properly it should be integrated into his Java application, so, this code can not be not given. –  ED503 Apr 9 '13 at 14:27
    
@Philip: true, but what about the right to use it, as I mention? –  Peter Apr 9 '13 at 16:22
    
@Peter, using copyrighted material without the copyright holder's permission is the definition of copyright violation. It's currently not a crime to simply be in possession of copyrighted material (barring certain porn and government secrets, in the USA). Distributing copyrighted material (such as when someone downloads a webpage with code on it) without permission valued in excess of $10,000 is a felony. It's also as sue-able offense, but EVERYTHING is a sue-able offense. –  Philip Apr 9 '13 at 16:43
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This would be the issue of work for hire. Typically*, if you're employed by someone and they have you make something, they own it. But you're a contractor/freelancer so that shouldn't apply to you. Which is why most contracting work mentions something about this in the contract. If there was literally no contract and you just kinda legally eyeballed it, I believe you still own it.

I don't say this often, but in this case, yeah, you should probably go talk to a lawyer if you really want to apply any legal pressure on anyone.

Also, it doesn't matter at all if you've given him the source code in the past. Copyright doesn't work that way. Even if we all had the source-code to Windows8, it wouldn't mean anyone but Microsoft owned the rights to it.

*In most states of the USA. Offer not available in Antigua, who is specifically ignoring all US IP laws right now.

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