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Thread: Programmer not sharing source code

  1. #1
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    Programmer not sharing source code

    Wow, Haven't been in this forum section in years, used to be really bustling! Where is everyone? Well, here it goes.

    I have a freelancing design firm and a programmer who does my database/programming work (PHP+mysql). We've developed several e-commerce sites throughout the years but our relationship is eroding and this one case in point highlights why.

    He developed a class calendar for a tech school, it works fine, he was paid, so far so good. But, the other day they requested the source php files as they now have a partner who can modify the php themselves, no longer needing to outsource this. My programmer scrambles all his scripts so no one can copy them.

    So, the question is, should he ethically hand over his scripts which he claims took so long to build, or was the customer only paying for the online application (which he has fulfilled?) We don't have anything in writing or in our contract specifying this, and I feel he's trying to ruin my relationship with the customer (he gets burned, well so will I).

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Senior Member RUSHVision's Avatar
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    If you didn't have the source files covered in the original contract then your programmer is under no obligation to provide them. I would say that he has every right to withhold them unless your client is willing to pony up more cash. Rather than him trying to ruin your relationship, I would actually say it is you who are trying to take away his ability to earn future income by giving away the reason for your client to come back.
    mrush


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  3. #3
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    as a programmer unless they paid a premium charge for the source Id say that is A-OK. If you bought an XBOX video game would you demand the source? or when you buy any program are you buying the source or a product?

  4. #4
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    I'm not a programmer but I'm not so sure it's so black and white. If you have an architect build a home don't you have rights to the blue print? In my view, the customer paid the programmer to build the application, which gives him right to the source code. As far as take away future income, my programmer has no more future with this client, it's dead. If the programmer wants to use the same technology for another customer, why can't he?

    It doesn't really matter I guess, we have NOTHING in writing and so all arguments are moot. Thanks for your replies.

  5. #5
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    I'd like to add that as a designer, I never withhold original artwork from the client, should they choose to use another designer, that's they're choice and they should have rights to the artwork - I have been paid to do this, once it's paid, it's theirs. Ex: I move to another location.

    I don't see why it's any different for programmers.

  6. #6
    He has risen! lefteyewilly's Avatar
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    code is intellectual property. Anything that is in regards to property rights must have be signed in writing as to who actually owns it once delivered to the client. So, if there was nothing specified and you didn't buy the code directly, you don't have the rights to them. You could buy the code from him for an additional price, but i'm sure if he has his wits about him, he will make you sign an iron clad agreement that you cannot release or resell his code to someone else.

    He has every right to hold the code under lock & key.

    And in regards to you supplying your working design files to your client, that's completely up to you, but i'd tread lightly in this regard. I see your point in keeping up with relationships, but it will be at your cost and your cost alone, as when they feel proper, they can use your working files to their advantage to piece together their own designs without paying you a dime. So, if they don't feel they want your services anymore, they don't have to but can still use your artwork. And you'd have no legal recourse against that unless you signed paperwork stating otherwise.

    If i am asked to supply working files, i make sure they're going to pay for them so i can be as profitable as i can with my work and protect it accordingly.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for all the feedback, it's really good to know what the "other side's" perspective is. I guess I'm exposing my inexperience in the matter, but that's why I'm asking. In reality the whole code deal is kind of the tip of the iceberg for me, I'd like to terminate this relationship for a host of other reasons.

  8. #8
    Bearded (M|G)od MyFriendIsATaco's Avatar
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    If the code is PHP, don't they have it anyways? If it's sitting on their server, they have the source code. PHP is not compiled.

    Well, it is compiled, but it's compiled on each page request, blah blah blah, you don't care!

  9. #9
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    I think its obfusicated(sp?)

    I always give my source code...unless i speciffically tell the client in advance the code will be extra. but thats me...that said not releasing the source is a pretty acceptable practice. if someone hired you to make them a poster you would send them a PSD with high res of all your images? if so it would also be an acceptable practice to say if they want the PSD source its extra...

    It sounds like you and your programmer just dont get along well just call it quits and let him keep his source. dont worry about it...unless the client specifically spelled it out in the terms of the contract theres no harm in withholding the source

  10. #10
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    If your programmer has a 9-5 job with you, then you should own the source. I know that every 9-5 I've worked, they have the rights to my code.
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  11. #11
    Senior Member RUSHVision's Avatar
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    That's a completely different thing. Employees generally do surrender all rights to their source, with everything they do automatically belonging to the company that they work for. That too however, is something that is stipulated in the initial agreement between them and said company.

    With freelancers though, unless it is determined at the outset that the source code will be surrendered, all you are buying is the end product.
    mrush


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  12. #12
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    With e and freelancing in general unless he signed over the code at the start it's his ip, "trade secret", top-level security kind of stuff, you know? Client wants it? Has to pay more, if he even wants to hand it over period. I wouldn't hand over all my psds and flas just because someone "has someone who can use them". How do I know they're not going to get reverse engineered, slaughtered, and recycled into some other crap? I don't. If you sign away source files then fine, but if it's not in the print at the outset of the contract then he's under no obligation to do any such thing.
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  13. #13
    ....he's amazing!!! lesli_felix's Avatar
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    Rushvision, you're only looking at half of the situation...

    The idea that you have to specify contractually that you own the code works both ways. He also has to do the same thing, he didn't, so the code is as much yours as his. There is no contract, so there is no legally enforcable ownership.

    You could argue joint ownership, and demand release of the code on that basis. Its a long shot though...

    I've worked the same role as an employee, on-site contractor, and remote freelancer. In every case I'm paid for the work, not the final product, so I always assume that what I do is owned by the company I work for, irrespective of the contractual agreement. But thats the way I like to work, and I'm never short of work, and I never have these sort of disputes because I wouldn't want a petty squabble jeopardising my professional reputation.

    If I want to own the code, then I'll build something myself and sell it, not have someone pay me to develop it and then get all sh*tty about it when they ask for the code.

    The only grey area I have is being able to re-use code on other projects, and being able to take my work and display it in my own portfolio when its taken offline. These are both pretty much standard practices, so far it's never been an issue.

    He's also damaging your relationship with the client, which is totally unethical, although not strictly illegal. There is the possibility that the client has decided to work with him directly without telling you. That needs to be considered as well, that may be why he's obfuscated the code. If that client has their own php coder, it might be worth finding out who it is

  14. #14
    Moderator RazoRmedia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by joran420
    I think its obfusicated(sp?)
    Not a problem then. Simply provide the client with the obfusicated code. Its up to their developer to read through it and recode.

    Its the biggest grey area but I am bordering on the 'supply source to the client side'.

    If they're paying you to create some code for them, you create the code and give it to them; the implementation is then up to the client.
    If you were paying for someone to implement something, then the code may not be included.

    Simple thing is its not worth going down the legal route, try and mediate with your man and the client.

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