Windy City Rails: Daliah Saper on Development and the Law

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“When you upload pictures to Facebook, who owns them?”


“No!” Daliah pauses and shakes her head at the crowd. “You own them.”

As developers, we don’t always spend much time considering the legal side of the code that we make. Daliah Saper came to Windy City Rails to get us to do that for a few minutes. Maybe we in the audience aren’t experts now, but at least we know of a few more things to be aware of.

First, Daliah spent a few minutes going over copyright infringement, licensing, and royalties. But here are the tidbits that I found the most interesting, so I thought I’d jot them down:

Open Source Software

Open source doesn’t refer to the (nonexistent) price of the software, but the terms under which you can use it. (An aside from me: lots of open source software uses the MIT license, which is worth a look and available in most OS repositories, including gemfinder).

Sometimes, if a paid software uses open-source software, that open-source license limits how someone can exploit (get paid for) the paid software. In this case, a lawyer and a developer will perform a “license audit” and figure out exactly what those limitations are. This is worth being aware of, say, if you’re using Devise to build a white label ecommerce app to license out to publishing companies or something.

Work For Hire

If you are an employee of an organization with W2, and you develop code in your day job, the company owns the code. If you are a freelancer, you own the code. The exception is a “work for hire” document that gives the rights to the client, even though a freelancer is doing it. This can get thorny if you, as a freelancer, have many clients, and some of them claim, through work for hire, to own pieces of code that you used for another client.

Coding Together

If several people worked together on some code, then any of them can exploit (get paid for) it without consulting the others. The only thing is that that person must split the proceeds equally among the joint owners, unless another ownership arrangement is specified.

There was a lot more that I didn’t catch, so I’ll link the video of her talk (and each of the talks) to the requisite blog post once they are available.


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