Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am looking at my employee contract and I can't seem to figure out where it might say that they own all the code that I write, be it at work or at home.

Any examples of what the wording could be like?

share|improve this question
I'll have to see if I can find my contract. It doesn't have a clause like that, but there's one that's similar. You really can't miss it, though, if it's there. –  Anna Lear Aug 6 '11 at 22:59
@BlackJack: They absolutely can. Read your contract very carefully, because it might very well assert precisely such ownership. –  Aaronaught Aug 6 '11 at 23:27
@BlackJack: There are some jurisdictions that explicitly void contracts that claim the copyright on your works at home, but there are many more jurisdictions where there is no legal limitation, and the employer absolutely can claim ownership of IP. –  greyfade Aug 6 '11 at 23:44
@Blackjack: depends on what country you are in, but as a rough generalisation if you are in a country with a legal system descended from English common law, then if its in a related field the employer owns everything, irrespective of the hours of the day that you do it. Related field is the important bit. –  quickly_now Aug 7 '11 at 10:57
Thanks for the info guys. I had no idea! –  BlackJack Aug 7 '11 at 14:57

4 Answers 4

This clause is normally called Work For Hire.

Joel wrote all about this on OnStartups.

Of course, there's no guarantee that every employment contract will use this terminology. If you don't see the above, look for keywords such as "ownership", "copyright", or "intellectual property".

share|improve this answer
Depending on the country you are in, this will apply whether or not it's in your employment contract. –  quickly_now Aug 7 '11 at 10:58
I have also seen it as part of the Non-Disclosure agreement and Non-Compeat. –  Chad Aug 8 '11 at 13:04

I specifically asked my employer about this when signing a new contract this week.

In my contract, it came under 'Intellectual Property', and the gist of it was that any code I use company resources in producing, or write under company instruction, is owned by the company. Seems fair enough to me.

share|improve this answer

This differs wildly from contract to contract, but I think what you are referring to would be found under an Intellectual Property clause, typically somewhere in the Terms and Conditions (small print) area.

share|improve this answer

Such a claim is very problematic. In Germany, for instance, you need a license for every software you use (but the license needn't be written down).

So if you write a short script at home to rename your vacation photos? Too simple, to be subject of license issues? No, no, no my friend! You don't need much code for copyright.

So you couldn't use your own script without permission from your company! That's ridiculous. If you write something at home but for the company - all right, you get paid for it.

But all your work? I wouldn't sign such a contract.

It wouldn't be a problem, as long as everybody stays fair? Well - you only need contracts to rule what will happen, when people stop behaving fair.

share|improve this answer
Depending on the country and the contract, such a script may be subject to automatic copyright transferral. –  tdammers Aug 7 '11 at 12:06
That's why I wrote in Germany. –  user unknown Aug 7 '11 at 13:33
Even in Germany, it is possible to sell all intellectual property to everything you make to an employer under an employment contract. It's just not the default. –  tdammers Aug 7 '11 at 13:43
The OP was asking for information, not opinions. –  Aaronaught Aug 7 '11 at 14:07
@tdammers: Did I write that it is impossible to sign such a contract? –  user unknown Aug 8 '11 at 16:58

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.