June 06, 2003

Contributing to Open Source on your FREE time

Slashdot | Properly Contributing to Open Source While on Company Time?. This recent topic/question asked by a reader at slashdot has brought up so many good questions about IP and such, that I just had to blog about it.

In my experience, even if your work has nothing to do with writing software, an individual can still be questioned and punished if the perception of releasing IP to the open source project is there. Case in point: say a grad student was working on a piece of software that had nothing to do with his job description, it had nothing to do with his scope of employment, and had nothing to do with his day to day job, but had something to do with a weekly task.

Hypothetically speaking, say this student developed the software on his own time, using his own resources. Even if the intention of the student was good -- that is, the software helped him and his coworkers streamline a mundane weekly task -- the slightest hint that the software will be made available outside of the University will be construed (or misconstrued, depending on what side of the fence you are on) as breach of IP ownership rights (i.e. the University 0wnz j00!) Even if the student can prove that the ownership is his -- through timestamped files -- if the student was ever called up on it, it's a battle that he can never win. Let's face it, with a student salary, how can one hire a good lawyer? So the student's superiors give him a slap in the risk and reiterates to him that they 0wnz j00! And he walks away licking his wounds, vowing never again to take the initiative and go out of his way again to help out at work.

Less face it. When it comes to a confrontation between a grad student and his superiors, the odds are as even as an ant against the mighty Mississippi. This is a travesty of the system, because in the long run, who loses out? The answer is: everyone!

So the answer to the question the slashdot reader brought up, if it was me (the grad student) is NEVER. By not contributing anything at all as a grad student, it becomes a no issue. Remember this one thing: no one will support your side of the issue as a grad student, unless you are paying them well enough. It's only contingent upon you to watch your own back, no one else will do it for you, no matter how much you assume otherwise.

Posted by johnvu at June 6, 2003 12:56 AM
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