A client I did a project for accidentally ended up with the source code of said project. Stupid i know. The arrangement was that they would get the product, never the source code. However, obviously, they are now trying to pull a fast one and use the source code to create their own products for other clients.

Now i don't want to make a huge deal out of it, but i am contemplating releasing the code as an open source project for anyone to use so that their 'unique' selling point (my code) is moot.

What do you guys suggest i do / release the code under if they decide to be *ssholes about this?

  • 1
    Hmm. What sort of arrangement was there? You may not necessarily retain the rights to release the code as open source. Apr 15, 2011 at 8:10
  • I have done business with the guy over a course of 5 years. The deal always was he'd get a product, never the source. He brought it up again recently where i stressed that the source is my property.
    – Zophiel
    Apr 15, 2011 at 8:17
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    If you have a written contract that proofs that you have the intellectual property for the source code, you can sue them.
    – a_horse_with_no_name
    Apr 15, 2011 at 8:22
  • 6
    What does your lawyer say about the contract terms?
    – user1249
    Apr 15, 2011 at 9:39
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    If this is in the US, the source copyright only changes hands with explicit transfer or if the project is "work for hire", and "work for hire" can't exist in a consultant-client relationship. (IANAL, TISNLA, and if you rely on what I say without consulting a real lawyer you deserve what you get.) As long as you hold the copyright, and you have no contractual obligations to the contrary, you can re-release it under any license you choose. First, however, get all the paperwork together and organized, and consult a lawyer to make sure of the details. Apr 15, 2011 at 15:17

4 Answers 4


You might want to consult with an attorney in your legal jurisdiction to see who a court might decide really owned rights to the code if it came down to that. Even if you think it's your own code, you don't want to be on the losing side of a lawsuit due to whatever your local law says and whatever evidence is actually available and admissible.

  • 3
    Definitely. If you release the code, what's to stop the company from turning around and suing you? After they pulled this little stunt, do you trust them?
    – Ant
    Apr 15, 2011 at 10:40
  • You really don't want to be on the winning side of a lawsuit, either. That can cost you a large amount of money, time, and stress. You want to avoid doing anything that isn't clearly legal. Apr 15, 2011 at 15:19

You should think how you can defend yourself if they decide to blame you that that was you who stole the code. Maybe you should publish it ASAP to get a proof that you had that code before they had it...


Release it under the GPL, then you should be able to get their changes to your code as well as your own :)

As it is, unless they have an agreement to transfer IP of your code, they do not have any right to use it - you still retain copyright. Your problem is of proving that its your and not theirs in the first place. I assume you don't have a contract stating what would be transferred, in which case go with the GPL.

  • 2
    "you should be able to get their changes to your code" Um, no. Code can be dual licensed. The company would claim they got the code not under the GPL so they aren't bound by it. Sure you could get Lawyers involved, but the OP has already said he doesn't want to do that, and if he did, he could just sue them for theft anyway.
    – James
    Apr 15, 2011 at 9:55
  • The GPL is theoretically enforced by lawsuit, which is not something the OP cares to do. (Practically, violations almost always wind up in settlements, but the threat of a lawsuit is what pushes the settlements.) If the OP wanted a lawsuit, the OP has grounds already. Apr 15, 2011 at 15:24
  • It was established before the project that the source code is not their property. I have done several projects with them in the past and i have never delivered the source code. I have delivered the product as specified but we never agreed on them owning the source code. Especially because they wanted to be able to change it and reproduce said product for different clients, preventing me from getting more work. By accident did they receive source code this last project.
    – Zophiel
    Apr 16, 2011 at 8:46

Providing code to opensource and maintaining the evolution of it could lead to success not only for taking "revenge". http://www.techdrivein.com/2010/08/11-biggest-open-source-success-stories.html Also source code is licensed property so depending on your country laws you could get back your code or stop other company from using it. But there ways to overcome this so i suggest to just opensource it, make champaign claiming to promote open Source and you'll might end up with new business plan.

  • I'd want it to be free to use for anyone. I don't want to necessarily end up in a legal struggle with them because i am preventing them from earning money off it. Since their plan was to use it as a selling point in their business plan. I figured i'd release it free of use to anyone. What license should i use?
    – Zophiel
    Apr 15, 2011 at 8:22
  • @Zophiel Easiest would be CC creativecommons.org/licenses its a list of licenses from witch you can chose by your needs. Other options would be some sort of GNU gnu.org/licenses but its bit more complicated. For CC here is simple tool for setting things up: creativecommons.org/choose
    – JackLeo
    Apr 15, 2011 at 10:43
  • @JackLeo Sorry, what business plan?
    – quant_dev
    Apr 15, 2011 at 12:15
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    OSI also has a list of licenses opensource.org/licenses/category
    – Htbaa
    Apr 15, 2011 at 13:28
  • 1
    I'd pick an Open Source license like @Htbaa says. If you want to make sure the derivatives stay Free/Open Source, use some form of the GPL. If you really don't care if other people make their own changes and keep them proprietary, use one of the more permissive ones (BSD-style). Apr 15, 2011 at 15:21

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