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Apple Claims Ownership of Shareware 759

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the we-takes-it-now-we-does dept.
(54)T-Dub writes "Cricket Media recently released 'Netflix Fanatic', an OSX based shareware app that lets you manage your rental queue without logging on to Netflix. An article on Think Secret reveals the reason behind it's mysterious disappearance. Apparently the developer's employer, Apple, has claimed ownership over the application's name and source code. The developer claims that under Section 2870 of the California Labor Code this is illegal. The law states that if a company has an employment agreement with provisions saying employees must assign the rights of their inventions to their employer, those sections do not apply if the employee developed it on his or her own time, without using the employer's equipment, supplies, facilities, or trade secret information. Within Apple, there's unsubstantiated speculation that Apple wants to include the Netflix Fanatic code in a new version of Sherlock." Also, they're presumably not too worried with employee morale.
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Apple Claims Ownership of Shareware

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  • Are they psychic? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Oakey (311319) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @10:53AM (#7501765)
    How did Apple find out that one of their employer's had created this?

    Did he run around Apple HQ boasting about it? Seems a pretty dumb thing to do, these kinda of clauses (where employers maintain rights to your creations) seem pretty common.

    Why didn't he release it under an alias?
  • How long... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mopslik (688435) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @10:53AM (#7501769)

    ...until there are a flood of posters who mistakenly assume that the headline refers to Apple trying to claim ownership of the shareware concept? Perhaps "Apple Claims Ownership of Netflix" would have been better.

  • Other Laws? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @10:54AM (#7501785) Journal
    Does anyone know of any simular such laws outside of california?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @10:55AM (#7501786)
    Why should they buy the program if they have legal grounds to believe they already own it?
  • Apple compote (Score:1, Interesting)

    by mirko (198274) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @10:55AM (#7501790) Journal
    I recently saw many Apple bashing articles such as this one, the one about using iTunes windows with old OSX only iPods, etc.
    I think it's becoming almost annoying as the omnipresent MS-bashing articles.
    Please, post about innovations, not about such idiocies, otherwise it doesn't matter.
  • Re:the lesson... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mirko (198274) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @10:59AM (#7501834) Journal
    In mine, they agreed to add : GPL'ed creations should remain as such.
  • by gergi (220700) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @11:06AM (#7501902)
    Anyone else click this article thinking Apple was claiming a patent on shareware? Maybe I've been reading /. too long. Maybe I'm still not used to the editors deliberately allowing sensational headlines.

  • by Evil Adrian (253301) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @11:07AM (#7501907) Homepage
    Did you sign a contract that states that what you create belongs to your employer? If so, then they're not stealing, they're taking what rightfully belongs to them -- you're the one ripping them off.

    The assumption, when you work for a company, is that you will not be attempting to compete with the company you work for. It's like doing freelance consulting in your spare time when you work for a consulting company during the day. At the very least, it's shady.

    It seems like you don't want to contribute to the company you work for, you're just there for the paycheck. That's a really bad attitude.
  • by eric76 (679787) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @11:07AM (#7501910)

    Evan Brown used to work for DSC Communications and ran into the same problem.

    Except in Evan's case, he had his idea before he ever went to work for DSC and until ordered by the judge, it remained an idea, not an invention. The judge ordered him to develop it for DSC without pay.

    Check out Evan's web site on the issue [unixguru.com]

  • by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @11:07AM (#7501918) Homepage
    Does this put Apple among Big Evil Inc. conglomerate or is this OK because it's Apple?
  • Re:Are they psychic? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TedCheshireAcad (311748) <ted@nOSpAM.fc.rit.edu> on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @11:23AM (#7502033) Homepage
    This is just a prime of the example of why you should read the fine print before you sign.
  • by jocknerd (29758) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @11:27AM (#7502074)
    instead of shareware, he wouldn't be in this mess now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @11:41AM (#7502198)
    Apple did this with STICKY NOTES ! (famous ripoff)

    http://www.mooseyard.com/Jens/Worker.Offer.html

    After much public outcry they gave the guy a 10,000 dollar one-time bonus and added it to the OS.

    poor Jen Alfke

    this is not the first time this ever happened!!!

    (I wish people modded posts like this on slashdot nowadays.)
  • by EricTheRed (5613) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @11:42AM (#7502207) Homepage
    I can image the employer claiming ownership of work done in their time, but how can you claim anything on what people do in their own time.

    I've had this once before where a previous employer caused me to pull out of a big name Open Source project because they didn't like me doing anything in my own time. Saying that, I only stayed there for a couple of months after that, as I was that pissed off with them because of it.

    Unless of course you copy some idea from work and make your own version of it.

    That's the worst one, and the hardest to keep away from as well. At least in my current contract I've not got that problem - most of the stuff I've done I already done before, so a good 20% of it is already mine, and open sourced as well with the CVS on sourceforge, so if something did go ary I just show them the file dates and cvs logs ;-)

  • What I do (Score:2, Interesting)

    by trailerparkcassanova (469342) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @11:44AM (#7502222)
    I work as an independent contractor. One of the tests the IRS will use to validate independent contractor status is having more than one client at a time. Starting a few years ago all of the contracts I'd was given contained language that said everything I do belongs to them. I always cross this out and they always say the wording applies only to the work I do on their nickel.I tell them that's fine with me but it needs to be written that way. They always rewrite it in a way I'm comfortable with.
  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@nOspam.infamous.net> on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @12:02PM (#7502387) Homepage
    the expectation of you as an employee is not just to get work done, but to be an asset to the company and advance it.

    That's what I do when I'm on the job.

    What I do off the job, is mine. That's the distinction between an employee and a slave, and it's not being selfish to decline being a slave.

  • Sweden rocks! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by k98sven (324383) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @12:28PM (#7502600) Journal
    As an employee at a swedish university, I appreciate the swedish laws on the subject:
    I own the copyright on everything, even the stuff I do at work.

    I even own the patent rights if I invent anything, even if I did it within a government funded university project.
    (If you receive private funding, you probably have a contractual agreement waiving some or all of your patent rights, though)

    How about that?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @12:33PM (#7502659)
    Read what I said, if he developped this on his own time and doesn't compete against his employer, I too believe the code is his. I wholeheartedly share your opinion that giving everything you do in your free-time to your employer isn't acceptable. However, it's not slavery, you're paid ... and well above average pay I must add. Furthermore, your example isn't valid, that action is just plain illegal.

    If Apple tries to get ownership, it's probably because they have a written agreement that can be interpreted as saying they should have it.

    My point was that Apple should not simply buy the code if they believe they own it. What the parent of my comment said was simply stating we should abuse those who haven't turn to faceless corporations yet.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @01:34PM (#7503282)
    Apple's PR department is probably just shaking their heads. Everytime the suits at Apple (Jobs?) pull a stunt like this, it probably blows a huge hole in their promotional budget.

    Lets look at some simple options:

    1. Offer to buy the program outright. $250,000?
    2. Steal it from the creative developer probably under threat of his job, defend it in court, have it appear on Slashdot and allocate another $2.5 million for the PR budget to make us look good.
    3. All the goodwill Apple was building with developers to get them to write software -- down the drain; which ultimately means fewer programs for the users.

    A lot of crap seems to keep happening around the whole Sherlock program. Does someone need to be spanked? Is it Jobs who is doing this or some clueless lawyer who needs his bonus this week?

    Last time, they gave an Apple Developer Design award to the guy who wrote Watson and then completely ripped his idea off the next year and gave it away in Sherlock. The bad PR and extremely negative developer feelings round that debacle was certainly not worth the money.

    It continues to amaze me that Jobs will go out and buy Logic to starve out the Windows audio market, but he won't award creative development on his own platform. It's a good thing we like those nice shiny case designs.

  • Re:It's Interesting. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by furiousgeorge (30912) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @01:44PM (#7503367)
    Funny - Microsoft doesn't do this.

    When I worked for them (1995-2000) the ownership of ideas was spelled out pretty clear in the terms of employment.

    If I came up with something completely on my own time and didn't use any company resources then it was MINE. Spelled out in black and white.

    I interviewed with Apple a year ago - they do cool stuff but the more I hear about it the less I think I'd want to work for them........
  • This poor fool... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by DoctorScooby (669432) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @02:15PM (#7503651) Journal
    I hope he's learned his lesson. All the private-time code I write is not attributed directly to *me*, but to my friends who have no relation to my employer and don't even actually code.... otherwise, I'm basically working unpaid overtime without even knowing I'm giving my free time to the company! I wised up to this scam a long time ago. I'm willing to code in my own time on a free software project that I'm passionate about, but I'm not interested in seeing my work get rolled into another watered-down corporate monopolization bundling attempt as is happening here.

    The more interesting question, however, is the legal status of the code were it licensed under the GPL in this situation. I've heard an interesting strategy mentioned by some business acquaintances who are very threatened by the GPL and are interested in subverting it by whatever means necessary (back-doors in the kernel sound familiar?). One of their ideas for corrupting the GPLed code base (which is their eventual goal, in order to destroy Free Software) is to code a great deal for major free software projects, license it under the GPL, and then announce that they had coded it while at work and using their employers equipment. This would instantly transfer the ownership to the corporation, who could then announce that the original coder had *no legal authority* to put the software under the GPL against their wishes. This would create massive trouble for the FSF and Linux projects in general if done correctly. And trust me, it is the intention of these corporate killers to do it correctly.

    I know I'm incredibly unpopular here at Slashdot, but ignore my warnings at your own peril. Think it through and come to your own conclusions as to the possibilities I'm revealing. The battle is not between Microsoft/Apple/Linux, it is between OpenSource/Proprietary. Think about it. The lines have been drawn and the battle is on, though most Slashdotters don't even know it yet. And unfortunately, most don't even care.
  • by David Rolfe (38) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @05:19PM (#7505398) Homepage Journal
    Legally speaking, the phrase "the employer's business, or actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development of the employer" seems to place the burden of proof firmly on Apple: they have to show that they were doing, or definitely going to do, something along the same lines.

    So Apple goes to the court and says "Our business is to develop software [to be used on hardware we produce]." This is pretty clear cut. I don't know anyone who would say otherwise.

    At which point the judge asks the employee, "Did you develop software to be used on a Mac?"

    He says "yes" and the case is closed.

    I know it's 'spooky' or whatever, but this is how it is. I've written code that doesn't belong to me, and I bet zillions of other people have too.

  • Re:That's Funny! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dr.badass (25287) * on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @05:34PM (#7505589) Homepage
    A better example would be Nullsoft WASTE (Released [slashdot.org], then pulled. [slashdot.org]).

    In that case, it was made clear that the author had written the software for his employers' internal use. It appeared that even though his contract didn't state "all your code are belong to us", that particular product was considered "Work For Hire" under copyright law, which means he didn't own the rights to it at all. The author had never heard of this forgettable part of copyright law, and quit in disgust.

    This, however, seems like a more clear-cut case where the author's contract with his employer did not explicitly exclude software coded on his own time. It is not unreasonable for them to have such a contract. What if the software he was coding at home was directly competitive with Apple's software? Or that leveraged his insider knowledge of what Apple was working on? What if he was coding for Windows? What if he was writing an operating system that ran on PowerPC hardware and started a business selling the same? Would that not be a conflict of interests?
  • by jsage (247595) on Tuesday November 18, 2003 @10:59PM (#7507939)

    IANAL, but no employer has ever won a court case on these IP agreements, even when the software was developed for the company on company time and on company computers.

    You are completely and utterly wrong. When you've reviewed the relevant caselaw (see Lexis or WestLaw), you're welcome to express an informed opinion. In the meantime, the critical factors will be to what extent Apple's time, computing resources or IP were used in the development of Netflix Fanatic.

  • by mlyle (148697) on Thursday November 20, 2003 @11:06PM (#7525430)
    You are an idiot too. I was not replying to your post. Go look at the reply history. In fact, I was -agreeing- with your post. Next time read the post and look at the history before opening your stupid mouth-- I was replying to rifter.

    No, I am not an attorney. However in my industry background I've been extensively counseled on these subjects.

    My agreement with you is subject to one caveat: the relevent section of California labor code (California is more liberal than most states on this topic) is:

    2870. (a) Any provision in an employment agreement which provides that an employee shall assign, or offer to assign, any of his or her rights in an invention to his or her employer shall not apply to an invention that the employee developed entirely on his or her own time without using the employer's equipment, supplies, facilities, or trade secret information except for those inventions that either:

    Relate at the time of conception or reduction to practice of the invention to the employer's business, or actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development of the employer; or

    Result from any work performed by the employee for the employer.


    This is vague and can be used to nail/inconvenience you in court.

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