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Rights Regarding Submitted Work

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I swear I thought I knew the answer to this already. But I just wanted to be sure. And Google failed finding anything on it.


So, the question is. If a person willingly submits work to your server/git repo to be used towards your project. Be it art and music. Or code. Does this count as them relinquishing their rights? This became a heated debate with a member of my team. And I for some reason couldnt recall the exact specifics of it.


In his case, he's a coder submitting his code to my server's git repo. To be used in my project. Does his rights to that code end the moment the code was uploaded?


PS: No, Im not looking to screw him over(getting that out the way). I just want to be sure he cant screw the whole team over by trying to "hold the project up" by having a fit and yanking his work from up under us! Not saying he would. I just want to ensure that its something avoidable.


Thank You

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If there was some kind of agreement in place, be it written, oral, or even implicit (unstarted, but obvious), then you can sue each other and ask a court to figure it out.

If no money has changed hands, then it would make it much harder to argue that any rights have changed hands either.


If the code in the git repo is already covered by some license, say MIT or GPL, then it could be argued that any contributions to the repo are automatically covered by the same license.

The author retains full copyright and ownership over their creations, but they've permitted others to use their work under the terms of that license.


If you have no agreement, no license, and no payments have been made, then the author is almost certainly still the only rights holder.

If there's multiple authors to the work (e.g. a Git repo of lots of code), then this is a huge murky grey area... which is why you want all the contributors to be agreeing to the same license conditions... or you want all contributors to be employees of the same company.


With no agreement, you have no rights to use their work. It could be argued that by submitting their work to your project, they were agreeing for you to have rights to use them... but do you really want to have to argue that through the legal system if needs be?

* If this is volunteer work: Get some contributors agreements made up, and make your contributors sign them... now.

* If this is paid contract work: Get some decent contracts made up.

** In either of those two cases, they can retain copyright on their work if you/they want, but they should grant you unlimited license (or similar) to their work.

* If this is for full-time work: You're probably covered by employment laws and are ok, but you probably want to ask your lawyer to be sure.


A complete and total transfer of copyright (where the author now has no rights, and you own their work completely) often only happens between an employer and their employees. In most other situations, the author retains copyright over their work for life, and they grant other people license to use it (either with certain conditions attached, or "unlimited license", which is almost the same as duplicating the copyright).

Edited by Hodgman

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Ok, thanks Hodgeman. I think I know what I need to do next.


Im going to go ahead and get contributor agreements whipped up and signed by the team. I still aim to have these guys properly accredited for the work they spent their personal time to contribute. Its just that I always keep drama out of this. And so far I've kept my vow on that. And am just wanting to ensure it stays that way before we get any closer to release time.


Really wanna keep down the unwanted "surprises". Thanks again!

Edited by PhyerBoss

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