One of the things I really like about my current job is that we developers are encouraged to make open source contributions.

However, this encouragement has always been verbal. I've read some horror stories about developers having their open-source work legally claimed by their employer. I'd be more comfortable if we had something in writing from my employer saying that contributions are allowed and not owned by the company.

Understanding that you are not lawyers, does anyone know where to find a boilerplate document to this effect?

  • 1
    Perhaps the OSI has something.
    – Oded
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 11:03
  • 1
    +1, this is actually a very important question for me as well right now.
    – Coder
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 18:51
  • 1
    +1 This is actually important for everybody anywhere, how can you 100% demonstrate you worked on a project on your spare time and not on company time? Spoiler: you can't. (More precisely: it's hard as hell and never worth the hassle)
    – ZJR
    Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 15:05

4 Answers 4


For GPLv2 software they have an example of a copyright disclaimer at the bottom of the license:

You should also get your employer (if you work as a programmer) or your school, if any, to sign a "copyright disclaimer" for the program, if necessary. Here is a sample; alter the names:

Yoyodyne, Inc., hereby disclaims all copyright interest in the program `Gnomovision' (which makes passes at compilers) written by James Hacker.

signature of Ty Coon, 1 April 1989 Ty Coon, President of Vice


You already have permission to work on open source. An employer can't "give" this right to you because they don't control it.


The document you need to find is an Intellectual Property agreement that says "Your employer owns all your intellectual property created at work". If you have signed that, you're in trouble. You agreed that your employer owns your good ideas.

If you have not agreed that intellectual property created at work is the property of your employer, then you're fine. They can't suddenly claim that intellectual property belongs to them.

You have to agree. In writing. In advance.

  • 8
    I've usually seen the IP agreement in the job contract, which makes it difficult to avoid especially in a job hiring situation. Also note that IP laws work differently in different regions/countries and in some the IP agreement can be voided in some cases. To be more certain consult a lawyer.
    – Spoike
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 12:58
  • It depends on contract and jurisdiction. In the UK, for example, employers own all IP unless the contract says otherwise. This applies to IP created outside the place of work as well.
    – rgardler
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 17:30
  • Where is such workplace that pays you without "Your employer owns all your intellectual property created at work" clause?
    – Coder
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 18:50
  • @Coder - most contracts say your employer owns everything you do outside work as well. Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 0:02
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    @coder - depends where you live and how desperate you are for the job. You can sign one in the Eu and know it will be laughed out of court, in California it's just the price of working in the valley. In Massachusetts they will probably enforce it even if you didn't sign one. Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 17:55

I'm not aware of any specific templates for agreements between you and your employer. There are templates for use between employer and project, for example:

You could take a look at the Apache Software Foundations Corporate Contributor Licence Agreement.

For more inspiration see the Harmony Agreements CCLA (for licensing) and CCAA(for assignment)

  • I think those are really aimed more at corporate contributions to OS projects rather than permission for an employee to work on their own Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 17:56
  • In many jurisdictions work done by an employee is owned by the employer regardless of when it is done. The question says "I'd be more comfortable if we had something in writing from my employer saying that contributions are allowed and not owned by the company." That is exactly what the documents linked do.
    – rgardler
    Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 16:42
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    yes, but those documents are about the contributions of the company being open source - which is likely to scare corporate legal people in a company into thinking that it will make everything the company does FOSS! A simple "work I do on this particular named project at home" is nothing to do with my employer letter is probably easier to get Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 16:55
  • That is a fair caveat.
    – rgardler
    Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 16:57

Wouldn't an email or simple written permission suffice? I am about to start working on a project which my employer has verbally agreed is okay to open source. It is related to the work I'm doing with the company so I plan to get it in writing too. However, I do have a similar concern that there's no standard template that covers Permission and Ownership. As in, I have permission to do it and ownership of my work would not belong to the company exclusively (not an OSS company). If I present the Harmony Agreements mentioned above I'm sure it would just change their mind to "No". Also, it's not my company contributing to open source project, just me.

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