donderdag 1 januari 2015

Copyright on source code

Source code is copyrighted, but actual case law that is specifically about source code is scarce. At the closing of last year, the court of Amsterdam ruled a final verdict regarding this subject.

During the court case of December 29, 2014, the most important issue is whether the company EverywhereIM infringes the copyright of the plaintiff on the source code of a number of apps, by updating the apps through third parties. As these apps were specifically designed for the company, EverywhereIM is of the opinion that they are owner of the copyright and that the plaintiff merely followed instructions. According to EverywhereIM they have had a leading role in the creation, design and content of the apps. During the publication of the apps, EverywhereIM is mentioned as owner and creator.

However, plaintiff shows screenprints of source code of the apps in which the trade name of the plaintiff is used multiple times, together with copyright notices. Also, names of employees of Sveak (a company plaintiff has cooperated with) are mentioned. Further, the plaintiff is able to show emails that mention that plaintiff was in fact the creator of the source code and also that plaintiff was actively updating the source code when needed.

Based on this evidence the court rules that plaintiff has created the source code by his own knowledge and decisions and that therefore the copyright belongs to plaintiff. The use of (open) source code fragments of third parties does not change this fact, as the overall arrangement of the source code by plaintiff constitutes a new copyrighted work.

By ordering third parties to update and alter the original source code, EverywhereIM infringes the copyright of plaintiff.

It should be clear that in case a company has third parties developing software for them, there is a neccessity of making arrangements on the intellectual property rights. An assignment of copyright from developer to client (apart from design, texts and concept also including source code) is advisable. At the very least there should be agreement on the recycling and updating of the created software.

The official court case (in Dutch)

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