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State Trooper Fights For His Source Code 440

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the man-getting-the-man-down dept.
BarneyRabble writes to tell us that a Wisconsin State Trooper is fighting to maintain control of the source code for a program he wrote that helps officers write traffic tickets electronically. Praised by the state just 18 months ago, Trooper David Meredith is now suing the head of patrol claiming that the state is trying to illegally seize the source that he had developed on his own time. From the article: "Meredith, of Oconto Falls, defied an order from his bosses to relinquish the source code - the heart of the program - in October and instead deposited it with Dane County Circuit Judge David T. Flanagan, pending a ruling on who should control it. The case centers on how the software was developed. Department of Transportation attorney Mike Kernats said the State Patrol - a division of DOT - provided Meredith with a computer to write the software and gave him time off patrol duties so he could do the work. But Meredith said in court filings that he spent hundreds of hours off duty working on it, developing it almost entirely on his own time. He noted that he never signed a software licensing agreement."
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State Trooper Fights For His Source Code

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  • Resources (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lordsilence (682367) * on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:39PM (#17615808) Homepage
    What if the state claims that he was using their resources and knowledge about how ticket-system works?
    Would that affect the case?
    • by The MAZZTer (911996) <megazzt@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:46PM (#17615922) Homepage
      Only if Microsoft should be entitled to the source code of every Windows application ever written.
      • Re:Resources (Score:5, Interesting)

        by bennomatic (691188) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:03PM (#17616194) Homepage
        Companies have tried this sort of thing before. In the early days of Lotus 123, they realized that people were making pretty good money writing custom applications within Lotus using their scripting language, and so they made some machiovellian modifications to their licensing agreement that made all scripts written in their language their property.

        My understanding is that there were some legal challenges to that, but the main thing was that they essentially killed the golden goose. Lotus was (and still is, in it's present incarnation as "Notes" under IBM) a great system, with amazing flexibility. A lot of people swear by it, using it to run just about everything in their business. But that sort aggressive licensing took a lot of wind out of L123's sales--pun intended--and other companies were ready to fill the void, turning it into an also-ran.

        • by CaymanIslandCarpedie (868408) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:12PM (#17616340) Journal
          A lot of people swear by it

          Let me fix that for you.

          A lot of people swear at it

          There, thats better ;-)
          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:41PM (#17616748)

            Your sig: My info page is filling up with rejected posts. How can I purge these?

            The real problem is that you obviously don't know how submit stories the "slashdot way." Here are some basic tips for submitting stories:
            1. Never submit an original or timely story.
            Instead please submit week-old stories from CNet News [com.com].
            2. When submitting a story, please try to misspell words or make critical grammatical errors.
            While in normal circumstances this would be unacceptable, it is considered l33t on Slashdot.
            3. Always pander to the liberal, anti-MS, or anti-digital rights sycophants on Slashdot with an absurd political statement in the guise of a question.
            Example: "Given the fact that the format issues with high-definition optical disks have yet to be worked out, how can we foil further assaults on our Constitutional rights by George Bush?
            4. Submit stories that are as polarizing as possible.
            Example title: Totally Unknown and Unqualified Blogger Says Linux is Better Than Mac.
            Example Text: 13-year-old student, Little Billy Ballinger, has issued his annual assessment of Operating Systems and Linux has come out on top. FTA: "As a guy who has only used my mom's spyware-laden Windows 98 machine, I find myself in a unique position to declare a winner in the OS wars--and I choose Linux."

    • Re:Resources (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Tanuki64 (989726) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:01PM (#17616172)
      If this works, I hope you did not get your knowledge and education on a public school. Everything you create would automatically belong to the state.
    • Re:Resources (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pilgrim23 (716938) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:25PM (#17616524)
      I worked state gov once, and wrote some very useful code, useful to me and handy for co-workers. But I was never hired to write it,nor was I paid for writing it. When I left, I left the code in a file location that was not archived, was not backed up, and was not saved. Still available, still used and everyone was happy till... 30 days later it went bye bye. I get a call at my new job "Where are those files????" I said: "Gee I am not sure, did you archive them with your other (paid for) important software? No? well then gee I'm not sure, no, I did not keep a copy, no, I don't recall how it worked, but if you pay me a reasonable consulting fee I might possibly could...."
    • Re:Resources (Score:5, Interesting)

      by WindBourne (631190) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:34PM (#17616648) Journal
      Knowledge? No. But they paid for part of the work. As such, the state will most likely say that it was an implied contract and either say thanx for the unpaid work or offer to pay him some amount. After all, this is not much different than having a secretary doing some of bosses work. Just because they are doing above and beyond what their job calls for does not give you relief from employers rights. After all, if any of developers started up a project at work that had NOTHING to do with the job AND we did it on company time, then generally we lose all rights.
      • Re:Resources (Score:5, Insightful)

        by caseydk (203763) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:07PM (#17617054) Homepage Journal
        Oh man, this is *yet another* example of why you should keep your "hobbies" distinct from your job. If he had turned around and sold copies of it to other stations, not a problem, but once he deployed a single version at work, he opened up a world of pain for himself.

        In addition, even if he got permission from his supervisors to develop whatever, whenever and he would have right to it, doesn't mean this is the case. It is unlikely that his supervisors have authorization to give this permission and/or to make capital purchases. Those decisions would have been made at a higher level.
        • Re:Resources (Score:5, Informative)

          by stevew (4845) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:41PM (#17617460) Journal
          When you read the article - it says he did "almost" all the development on this own time. As soon as that "almost" creeps in there, the state can correctly argue that they paid for part of the development. That is the opening they need to gain at least partial ownership of the program. Because of that and the state providing him training to learn how to connect to the Tracs system - me thinks this isn't a slam dunk for the officer.

          In CA (as has been mentioned MANY times before on slashdot) there is a specific law stating that what is developed by an employee on the employee's own time belongs to the employee as long as there was no company resources were used. The officer wouldn't be able to claim that as described by the officer even in a state that has such specific provisions in their own state codes.

          I wish him luck - but I suspect the state is going to win this one.
          • Federal Law (Score:5, Interesting)

            by coats (1068) on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:21PM (#17618108) Homepage
            IANAL, but...

            The officer is wrong on one point: this is a matter for Federal law. (The very same issue is why Novell was able to move SCO vs. Novell from Utah court to Federal Court.)

            Federal law controls on copyight matters, overiding both state law and whatever contract he was (forced to) sign. And Federal law says that the program is his, and not the State of Wisconsin's, unless either (a) it was produced during the normal course of his working day; or (b) it was specifically commissioned in writing; or else (c) there is a signed written specific instrument of conveyance (US Code Title 17, Chapter 1 Section 101 and Chapter 2 Section 204).

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by NormalVisual (565491)
              Given that his employer provided space, a computer, and the time during his working day to work on this project, it sounds to me like option A has been fulfilled there and thus it's a work for hire. I don't think any of us know exactly what the situation is, so I'm hesitant to say whether I think he should or should not retain the copyright on his changes. At the very least, I'm sure he won't be writing any more software without the appropriate contracts in place. There's also the issue that he didn't wr
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Mysticalfruit (533341)
                It sounds to me like this:

                His employer gave him time and equipment to create a ticket writing system... However because he was passionate about his work (like many of you may be) he took his work home and continued to work on it on off hours to meet his deadlines.

                There was his mistake. He should have left his work at work and instead went home and worked on a seperate problem that they needed to solve. Then he could have gone in and said "Hey, see how great this ticket system is I built you on your time..
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MadCow42 (243108)
      >> What if the state claims that he was using their resources and knowledge about how ticket-system works?

      If that were the only thing their claim to the source code was based on, the likely outcome is that it would ONLY prevent him from selling it or disclosing it to anyone else (besides the DOT). It would NOT mean that they own the source.

      It's a gray area - especially if he was provided a computer and time off to develop some/all of the code. Personally, I would have offered to turn over the code a
  • by ShaunC (203807) * on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:39PM (#17615810)
    For once I find myself actually rooting for a cop! Next thing you know, Microsoft will be giving away Windows, and Wal-Mart will go bankrupt... Someone pinch me before I wake up.
    • by KUHurdler (584689)
      I just want to know why he is writing traffic tickets on "his own time"
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Tanuki64 (989726)
        Not that unusual. I also wrote some tools in my free time, which help me doing my work better. Not necessarily because I love my company and want to help, but because it helps me circumvent boring and tedious tasks.
  • Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Some Clown (586320) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:39PM (#17615816)
    There's a donut joke in here somewhere...
  • Make sure you know who owns the code you write before you put it into use.
    • by gr8_phk (621180) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:44PM (#17615902)
      Better yet: Make sure you know who is going to own the code before you write it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DRAGONWEEZEL (125809)
        So very true. The mere fact that he was using state resources probably is enough to do him in.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by truthsearch (249536)
      No, make sure you write the code on your own computer and completely on your own time if you want to own it without a formal agreement.
      • by h2g2bob (948006) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:12PM (#17616334) Homepage
        Paraphrasing the FSF's recommendations:
        * Write a little bit
        * Go to your boss and say "I'll write the rest if you allow it to be Free Software"
        * Get that in writing
        * Be prepared to say "good luck getting someone else to finish the project" as you walk away
        • by WED Fan (911325) <akahige.trashmail@net> on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:41PM (#17616758) Homepage Journal

          Actually, try it like this: (The American Way)

          • Write a little bit
          • Demo it to the boss
          • "I'd like to provide it to the State, free of charge"
          • "I plan on selling it to other police agencies for a fee"
          • "If you don't agree, I'll sell it to other agencies for a fee. Then, when the State wants it, I'll sell you a license."
          • Profit

          God bless MLK, I got the day off.

          I work as a contractor for the DOD. A few years ago, a government employee did that. He was the boss of the shop, developed a cool DB system. Quit. Opened his shop, sold his system. Profit.

    • by x2A (858210)
      I doubt he thought that far ahead, or thought they were gonna screw him over it. Everything's easy with hindsight.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by grasshoppa (657393)
        I doubt he thought that far ahead, or thought they were gonna screw him over it. Everything's easy with hindsight.

        If it's anything like where I work, the cops think they can do anything and get away with it. Typically, they are quite right; They have done anything and gotten away with it. So it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he thought he'd be able to just coast on through this with that mentality.
  • by Falladir (1026636) <kingfalladir@yahoo.com> on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:40PM (#17615822)
    Gee, I wonder which side /. will take...
    • Gee, I wonder which side /. will take...

      I expect the GPL-supporters to take the cop's side. GPL supporters are big on copyright, since copyright is the only thing that gives them any leverage to ask a business to align with them politically in order to use the software they indulge themselves in the illusion of offering "freely". If not for copyright, such "freely" given software would be possible to use freely. The same is true in the case of the cop. So, actually, I see quite a bit of suspense: I

  • So the source code is his... plain and simple. This is why corporations usually make its employees sign an agreement giving the company all rights to source code developed for the company (and if they don't, it is usually just an oversight - it is not that they want the employees to own the code).
    • by Baricom (763970) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:56PM (#17616100)
      It's not that simple. Copyright law says a work-for-hire is "a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment." Court cases have determined that an employee that gets time off from other duties, and is provided work space and IT resources by the employer, can be commissioning a work-for-hire, whether a formal agreement exists or not.
      • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:27PM (#17616552)
        It's not that simple. Copyright law says a work-for-hire is "a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment." Court cases have determined that an employee that gets time off from other duties, and is provided work space and IT resources by the employer, can be commissioning a work-for-hire, whether a formal agreement exists or not.

        Nor is it that simple either. A key word here is "scope." One important test is whether or not the employer is in business to create such works. So, a programmer employed by a software house and writing software is probably creating a work for hire. But the police are not in the business of creating software. So, even when provided resources and paid time to do the work, it does not necessarily follow that the result is a work for hire.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by truthsearch (249536)
      Corporations make you sign those agreements just to make sure they're covered. It's legally pretty clear that code you write on work time and on work computers is owned by your employer. These extra agreements cover edge cases and make sure no legal battle can even begin.

      Not having a signed agreement does not make the code his. He was given time from work to write it and used his employer's computer. Therefore the code might be theirs.
      • by Carrot007 (37198)
        Hmm so if everything you do on work time is work's responsibility then they should pay for anything I buy online while I am there.

        To put it another way, not everything you do at work is anything to do with them. Nor should it be.

        Basically if you write something at work without them asking or anything the worst that should happen is you are disciplined for slacking off.
    • by paladinwannabe2 (889776) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:11PM (#17616314)
      It looks like the base program comes from Iowa, which gave the program to Wisconsin under the condition that it not be sold commercially. Thus, the trooper cannot sell this program anymore than Microsoft could sell Red Hat Linux without releasing the source code for free. The trooper quite possibly has copyrights to the changes he made, but if so he can only sell the changes he made to someone who already has Iowa's program.

      A fair solution would be the officer gives the rights to his employer, and his employer gives him a nice bonus for overtime work ($10,000-$20,000, depending on the amount of time he spent and the quality of the changes he made). If I were him I'd try to settle out of court.
    • Nope... it was listed as "almost" all on his own time. as soon as he crosses that line and types in jack to that code as a regular employee on the clock he has crossed a line. The code now becomes property of the department.

      He is now in the whole "work for hire" category. If he has adequatly spepeated out the code he did at work, from the code that was done at home, he may be able to give them a partial load. But I'm assuming that the effort was less formal than that.

      The source code agreement isnt

    • by k12linux (627320) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:30PM (#17616602)
      All sorts of problems with this reasoning:
      1. He didn't write it from scratch. He took code given to WI from IA and modified it. Trying to sell it as his own would make him guilty of copyright violation.
      2. If he doesn't acknowledge any kind of license then he has NO rights to use someone else's source code in "his" software.
      3. There IS a license for the code he based his work on... the one from IA saying it couldn't be sold commercially. Either he accepts that or he has no right to make a derivative work out of it. Regardless, the license wasn't with him it was with the state.
      4. It is not legal (in WI anyhow) to profit or operate a business using public assets (the PC he was given to use.) If he wanted to start his own software business he should have bought his own PC.... and written the code all from scratch.
      5. And as others have mentioned, he was given time (and paid) to work on the software. If he needed more time he should have told someone. This code is "work for hire" programming and decidedly not his.

      He MAY be able to recover pay (even overtime) if he can show his superiors knew or should have known about the time he spent on it. I can't see him getting anything else. He's never going to be making millions off that software.

      He could always destroy the source code instead of giving it to the state... and risk being sent to jail for a computer crime.

  • The minute they... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by just_another_sean (919159) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:40PM (#17615828) Homepage Journal
    ...encouraged him and offered to let him use their resources (time at work and a PC) he should of asked for some kind of agreement in writing that it was his.

    My boss is very liberal about what we do in the IT department as long as things are running smoothly and we get long term projects done on time. But even here I am careful to keep anything I might potentially think of as mine at home and off company equipment.
    • by RingDev (879105)
      The fact that he did it on their equipment, or that he didn't sign an agreement does not (SFAIK) make the code belong to either him or the State. What it does mean though is that there is a bit of gray area. A nuetral judge will have to listen to both sides of the story and make a decision based on the laws presented under each argument. Even if he did sign an agreement, it doesn't mean that the company 'owns' the code, it just reduces the gray area.

      A contract is just a piece of paper until you are in court
      • A contract does not necessarily need a piece of paper... but it helps... a lot. He was given time off work and a computer to work on this program by his employers. From the article we are given to understand that this is the only reason he received these things. So they were expecting a program. That is, he was working for them when he wrote the program. So he couldn't get it all done during work hours, or he wanted to do more. It was still for work (the fact they gave him time off to do this AND a com

    • by smallfeet (609452)
      But his primary job is not to write software, so without something written, I would think he has the edge in this.
      • maybe, but at my workplace, anything I create on company time or equipment is subject to become property of my company per an agreement that every employee has to sign.

        (P.S. I am not a programer or developer, and clerical workers sign the same agreement)
        • I singed the a simular agrement and anything that I write that is inspired by my work is company property (IIRC), but in this case since the developer doesn't work for an IT shop or in an IT field I bet he didn't sign anything like that.
          • That last part of your comment is what I was saying. I can't reveal my employer, but it's in the healthcare field. Even a janitor who uses our network to do some page creation could have the work technically be owned by words of the agreement. (They don't really enforce it like that though, but the wording says it as such) I honestly don't think that is quite fair, nor would most people agree with it.
    • ...encouraged him and offered to let him use their resources (time at work and a PC) he should of asked for some kind of agreement in writing that it was his.

      Not always that easy. Sometimes you start with a module or app that over a period of time with incremental improvements, winds up turning into a commercially viable product. A good corporation will reward such an effort either with a sizable cash reward or making the developer a product lead with his/her own development staff. Unfortunately, this
    • ...he should of asked for some kind of agreement in writing that it was his.

      I think that's the most important point. I work in software, so I have to check the IP clauses in any employment contract carefully. I regard employers claiming rights to the following as fair:

      1. code I write as part of my job (including anything obviously related, for example because it's based on my employer's trade secrets);
      2. code I write on company time;
      3. code I write using company resources (PC, compiler licence, whatever).
      • Ditto.

        At my current position,the IP clause included anything I develop during my employment, work related or not.

        I explained that I have no problem with assigning work-related stuff to them, but non-work related, on my machine, on my own computer should be mine.

        They agreed, we lined out the relevant clauses and initialed them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)
      Unless his employment contract specifies that his employer owns any work product he produces while on company time and/or resources, then he owns it, not the employer. It comes down to a simple question - was source code a "work for hire" or not. If the contract does not spell it out as a "work for hire" then it defaults to not and he owns it, even if he developed it 100% on company and using 100% company resources.

      However, if his employment contract does contain a work for hire clause, then he screwed h
  • by agoliveira (188870) <adilson@adilsonEULER.net minus math_god> on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:41PM (#17615856)
    It does not matter how trivial. If you're into something like this, aways write it down and have the other part sign it. Period. I've had more than my share on this kind of issues and even turn some jobs down because of this so, better safe than sorry.
  • by Genjurosan (601032) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:44PM (#17615888)
    Otherwise private business will implement it and we won't be able to get out of our speeding tickets. In this case we want the government to own it, since we all know how screwed up the source code become.
  • Tracs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by operagost (62405) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:44PM (#17615890) Homepage Journal
    I'm wondering if the fact that it may be a derivative work of Tracs could actually be a bigger issue. The article didn't make it clear whether he actually modified parts of Tracs or just wrote an interface to it.
  • FYI... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Otter (3800) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:45PM (#17615908) Journal
    1) In most states, the presumption is that work-related inventions by a salaried worker belong to the employer, whether or not an explicit agreement has been signed. (Don't know the specifics about Wisconsin, or about how a trooper would be classified.)

    2) Accepting a work computer and other considerations has *got* to seriously jeopardize his claim. For heaven's sake, do *not* accept anything like that for work which you want to own, unless you get explicit acknowledgment that your employer sees it the same way.

    • by div_2n (525075)
      If they do try to claim it using that logic, he should apply for all the overtime he spent working on it.
      • by a16 (783096)
        Unless they specifically asked him to work overtime, he can't bill them afterwards. You don't decide to work 50 (undocumented) extra hours per week, then declare that your employer owes you thousands.

        If this guy spent any time at work on this thing, or had time off work to specifically work on the project - which he himself seems to be saying is true - then he's screwed. Whether he signed a specific licensing agreement or not, most contracts will state that any work done on company time belongs to the compa
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      "1) In most states, the presumption is that work-related inventions by a salaried worker belong to the employer, whether or not an explicit agreement has been signed. (Don't know the specifics about Wisconsin, or about how a trooper would be classified.)"

      Assuming this is true - please site reference - you pretty much invalidate it because you don't know this about Wisconsin.

      It is standard practice in the IT industry to sign an agreement that any work you create as part of your employment is the property of
  • by zappepcs (820751)
    The state should have made him sign an agreement ensuring all code belonged to the state. They have some toe hold because he used inside information.

    He should have had written permission to write the code on his own and plug it into the state's system for testing or use.

    Both messed up, and I am not sure that there isn't some comeback on the origin of the source before he modified it. If license was on the basis of non-commercial use, he probably can't sell it.

    On the bright side, with this kind of publicity,
    • What I find problematic is that this isn't a black and white issue, but the court is expected to resolve it as one. Both the officer and the state seem to have some legitimate claim to the code. Why can't the court rule that it is owned 70% by the officer and 30% by the state?
      • It's simple. Humans are greedy by nature. No one wants to accept 30%, or 70% of something they believe is 100% theirs
  • Licensing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kevin_conaway (585204) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:46PM (#17615924) Homepage

    The article says:

    Meredith said in court filings that he spent hundreds of hours off duty working on it, developing it almost entirely on his own time. He noted that he never signed a software licensing agreement.

    However, it goes on to state:

    In 2003, the state sent Meredith to Iowa to get trained on the Iowa Department of Transportation's Traffic and Criminal Software, or TraCS. Iowa gave Wisconsin the software for free on the condition that Wisconsin not develop the application for commercial purposes, said Kernats. At the request of his superiors, Meredith tweaked the program so that it would work in Wisconsin and created a way to import driver information and criminal histories into it. The software that imports data saves time and prevents errors, said Jones, the union president.

    If he did indeed base his work off another piece of software (that was given to him on the condition that he not sell it commercially), then I don't think he really has a leg to stand on.

    • by Trails (629752)
      It's not necessarily based on it, it may just interact with it.

      If I write a word processor that interacts with a printer driver, I'm not basing my work on the printer driver.
  • &nbsp:

    They will likely argue "Work for Hire" status of the work.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_for_hire [wikipedia.org]

  • RTFA? (Score:2, Informative)

    by dctoastman (995251)
    After reading the article, it seems he didn't develop the software from scratch but instead modified an already existing package. So, in other words he is calling the Wisconsin police department thieves for not letting him steal someone else's work.
  • by Wee (17189) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:50PM (#17616002)
    The troubling part is that they're using a program which is inherently unmaintainable. Without the source, or a vendor, they can't really rely on anything. They can't fix bugs, get improvements, etc. I realize that the cop wants to become a vendor, but that's not quite the same thing. What if it's found that his program issues tickets to the wrong person in some cases? Who's liable? Sounds like he wants to be. Is he bonded or insured?

    The police force should have never accepted the program without accompanying source code, or (worst case) some sort of license.

    -B

  • by RightSaidFred99 (874576) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:52PM (#17616020)
    Why is this even a controversy? The minute they provided him with any resource to work on it (work time, computer, etc...) it became theirs. This is not open to discussion.

    In fact, in most cases if the work is any any way related to his work domain it's theirs even if they _didn't_ provide any resources, or at least they have a strong case to argue this.

    He's wasting his time and the court's time, he can't win.

  • by mpapet (761907) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:53PM (#17616042) Homepage
    It is pretty much always the case, the gov't will own the source on this one for many reasons.

    1. Body of Employee Law
    Since most employer/employee law leaves no room for interpreting "spare time" vs. "work time" other than how much money you have to lawyer-up he'll lose on this one because he'll run out of money defending his position.

    2. Body of State/Fed Law
    I know the Feds have a policy whereby they own the source on things written for them. It would not surprise me to hear this used as the "authority" whereby the code is taken.

    What's sad is the guy has committed career suicide at this point and, if he hasn't already blown a bunch of money lawyering-up for the pricipal/principal(sp?) that this is his code.

    Developers please note: This kind of theft of useful code/ideas is SOP in public service. If you have a great idea, develop it on your own time and find a completely unrelated avenue to promoting it. GPL is one way to go about this.
    • WATCH OUT FOR PATENTS!

      Consider this scenario...someone decides to work in a sweat-equity arrangement, whereby he creates a tangible and functional piece of software in exchange for future interest. He by default owns the copyright, since there are no work-for-hire issues (i.e. no compensation is involved). Despite ownership of the copyright, it's entirely conceivable that the code could be rendered useless if someone else patents any of ideas used in the software. (Whether they merit patenting is another is
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chyeld (713439)
      Normally I'd side with the cop simply out of /. priorities (YEAH! Stick it to them MAN! Information just wants to be FREE!)

      But really, let's look at this from a semi-objective viewpoint.

      1. He was provided resources and training by the state
      2. He didn't write the program, he wrote the interface to allow Wisconsin to use a program created by Iowa.
      3. Wisconsin received a free license to the program from Iowa, specifically if they promised not to modify it to use commercially.

      Now, I realize he'd really like to

  • by Fox_1 (128616) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:56PM (#17616092)
    FTA Eighteen months ago, the State Patrol praised trooper David Meredith for going beyond the call of duty by developing time-saving software that helps officers write traffic tickets electronically.
    In 2003, the state sent Meredith to Iowa to get trained on the Iowa Department of Transportation's Traffic and Criminal Software, or TraCS. Iowa gave Wisconsin the software for free on the condition that Wisconsin not develop the application for commercial purposes, said Kernats.
    At the request of his superiors, Meredith tweaked the program so that it would work in Wisconsin and created a way to import driver information and criminal histories into it. The software that imports data saves time and prevents errors, said Jones, the union president

    Dang, on the one hand he's praised for going beyond call of duty (great game too) and on the other he was assigned to the project by his bosses.
    This Trooper isn't a programmer first, he's a cop, who does cop things like write speeding tickets (over 2k a year FTA).
    He screwed up by doing what his bosses asked him to do without having paper in place to cover what would happen to his work.
    They screwed up by asking a non-programmer (I sure he is a code wizard but he was hired to be cop first) to do something beyond their job description using personal skills and ultimately personal time.
    Interesting enough, if I read it right, if the State gets control of the modified software, they won't be selling it for commercial gain, whereas it seems Mr Meredith is interested in making money off of his work, fair, but Iowa originally provided the software with a clause preventing that.

  • Grasping? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by coldfarnorth (799174) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:03PM (#17616192)
    So, he was asked to write the software for work, he was given a (work) computer to develop the software with, and he was told to do it on the clock. That sounds to me like developing this software was part of his job descripton. If my boss put me in the same situation, I'd say the software was goes to him, no question.

    The fact that he did it off the clock hardly seems like his boss' fault.

    If I had to pick based on that info, well, he'd need to turn over his code. Regardless you can be sure that neither party will make these mistakes again.
  • by Qubit (100461) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:16PM (#17616384) Homepage Journal
    The trooper's program is not FOSS, but I believe that the FSF's advice to Free Software developers who work for universities is appropriate:
    http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/university.html [gnu.org]

    Whatever you do, raise the issue early -- certainly before the program is half finished. At this point, the university still needs you, so you can play hardball: tell the administration you will finish the program, make it usable, if they have agreed in writing to make it free software...

    Work out the arrangement with the sponsor first, then politely show the university administration that it is not open to renegotiation. They would rather have a contract to develop free software than no contract at all, so they will most likely go along.

    I work for a university, and I have explicitly talked to both the senior programmer and to our boss about developing FOSS on my own time (Do it both in person and over email -- so you have a record of the conversation).
    If you write computer code and want to make sure that your company/university does not try to take it from you, you need to have that conversation. Send an email today!
  • I would think that if the state claims the software as its own, he would have a pretty good claim for overtime. All those hours working on the program for the state's benefit -- well, he should be compensated.
  • by Animats (122034) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:47PM (#17616824) Homepage

    This is a unionized job. So there's a union contract [wseu-24.org] in effect.

    There's no intellectual property clause in that union contract. But there's an overtime clause, which provides for time and a half for overtime and includes the line "Implementation of alternative work patterns or any variation thereof shall be by mutual agreement between the Employer and the Union." That says "Employer and the Union", not "Employer and the Employee", as is standard in labor contracts. Any special deals on hours have to be done through the union. This prevents the employer from pressuring employees individually. Any special arrangements about working at home have to be cleared with the union, and, of course, that's paid time.

    "Work for Hire" is a very explicit thing in a union job. The company does not own your life outside work.

    Unions - the people who brought you the weekend.

  • Poor b@stard! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by redelm (54142) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:39PM (#17617432) Homepage
    Since he wasn't hired to write source code, his work is _not_ a work for hire. And I doubt he signed away rights to his IP as part of becoming a trooper. But states have unusual rights (sovereign immunity) that may make it impossible for him to enforce his IP rights.

    Of course, they might also abuse "eminent domain" for his code. I wish I were joking.

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:23PM (#17618138) Homepage Journal

    The article is pretty vague about whether or not the code is a derived work of Iowa's TraCS, so let's assume it's not, since if it is, the case is extremely uninteresting.

    In favor of the state:

    But Meredith said in court filings that he spent hundreds of hours off duty working on it, developing it almost entirely on his own time. He noted that he never signed a software licensing agreement.

    It might be worth asking: how did the state obtain a copy of the program? If he admits there was no licensing agreement, then it sounds like he either developed it in-house, or he sold a copy of the binary to them. Or is he claiming he sold them a copy of the binary for $0 (a gift)?

    Jones said Meredith's bosses had to know that he was working on the program on his own time because Meredith was spending so much time on patrol writing traffic tickets, leaving little time to work on the program on the clock. Meredith writes 2,000 or more tickets a year, several times what most troopers write, Jones said.

    That's ridiculous, and is in no way evidence that he did the work on his own time. A cop can write more tickets just by being an asshole. Time may be one variable in number of tickets, but attitude and contempt for the public can easily overcome that. Or, to put it more charitably, maybe he's a high-performing cop, very good at his job.

    (BTW, the whole idea of whether or not writing code was within the scope of his duties is pretty alien to me, I guess because all my experience is with small companies. To me, anything an employer asks me to do is within the scope of my duties; the very idea of job descriptions (i.e. cop vs programmer) ever being the slightest bit relevant, is very weird to me. But I know it's a big world and different people have different types of employer relationships.)

    The fact he had a state computer at home, is very bad for his case.

    To tell the truth, though, I have a lot of sympathy for the guy. I suspect that what happened, is that he really was told to write the program in the line of duty, and he did so. Then, at some point, he got personally interested in the project, and gave of himself. Programming can be like that, and there have been numerous times that some problem that came up on the job, made me start thinking off the job. He probably did do some work (probably a lot) off the clock, because it's enjoyable. But how the hell do you separate the off-the-clock work from on-the-clock work, when it's the same kind of work? It's impossible. What's he going to do, turn in 42% of the source code? What a crappy situation. It's a shame he didn't do something totally unrelated to law enforcement, as his hobby. (Ah, but there's the rub: he wouldn't have expertise with the problem as a user. A cop knows what a cop needs.)

  • by w3woody (44457) on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:45PM (#17618520) Homepage
    I was about to Google the law in California, out of personal curiosity, as to the rules of ownership of a copyright for works produced under certain employment circumstances. I found a very good article on Ownership of Copyrights [findlaw.com], but sorting out who is right was giving me a headache.

    I suspect the officer doesn't have a legal leg to stand on--but answering that question is going to require a peek at his employment contract, the work that was done, the other compensation or tools provided: in short, it's going to require lawyers and courts and judges to sort it out. Which is, sadly, the primary reason why we have lawyers, courts and judges.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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