Voluntary Work Infers No Copyright?

As a developer, what makes you decide to get involved in a project? Is it the financial benefit after accomplishing the project? In term of commercial project, this might be true because executing project is another means to make a living, hence financial income is reasonable outcome. However, in non-commercial projects which are usually open source and the project takers are not paid on monthly basis, paid on a little sum of money, or even unpaid at all, it’s apparently unreasonable to lean on immediate financial benefit such that it’s practical to draw conclusion that the involvement is based on other motive.

There are various reasons why somebody decides to chime in a non-commercial project. While the list of specific reasons may bubble up, I summarize that it’s mainly personal interest. Spending significant time in an activity without tangible profit while there is clear acknowledgement that the time slot is convertible into tangible profit, it’s not logical to take such decision, given that there are options to go through and choices are freely made. Thus, there has to be illogical reason to make it logical and it comes from personal interest, emotional binding, a part of human nature, that can not be simply formulated into a set of theorems.

Now back to the copyright issue. Assume somebody worked voluntarily on a project because of his personal interest. He created some components that were essential in overall business process and put some copyright lines in the source codes as notice that he was involved in that project. Minimum requirements were met and let’s say beta version were released to public domain. However, as it’s clear that project needs upgrading after initial response, project follow-up should be executed in order to improve the quality of the solution.

As interest is a dynamic substance, there might be a time frame where the interest fades gradually. Hence, one may consider that his involvement is not potentially contributive in the future thus stepping out the project is a better option. This also means that previous contribution eg; codes, algorithms, design may stay still in the project but unmaintainable until there is further decision to keep it in (thus hinting new maintainer) or scour it from the repository. The ball is on project leader’s hand.

If the work or some of the work is kept, it absolutely makes sense to let the copyright notice, just to appreciate previous contributor. Just like patent holder pertains the claim to his invention, a creator obviously pertains the claim to his creation even though there was no legal binding during his involvement. Omitting somebody’s footprint in a resemblance of copyright without prior consent, for the sake of maintainability, is a disgrace to intellectual property right.

To prevent this article to be too much inclined to a personal rant, I’d like to highlight the importance of vehemently publishing your involvement in a voluntary project albeit its size and scope to cope with copyright issue. This way, there is cross-check control for  project’s copyright validity and appreciation of individual intellectual property.

Imagine that you created  a library as a part of an application but later on you abandoned the project without publishing your involvement in the work due to its size and scope. Later on, you want to reuse your old library but it’s now copyrighted under another person’s name but you can’t claim because you did it with goodwill without expecting such thing to happen.


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