Contracts and licensesΒΆ

Tags: work

The One Who Writes Wins is a chapter about contracts in a book I ordered yesterday (of course I haven't got it yet). It's a chapter about writing contracts and dealing with them.

That reminded me about something I like about my employer, Zest software . Standard IT supplier contract terminology (like in our standard conditions) sounds to me like "we own everything we program and we'll barely allow you to use it for the next five minutes". Contrast that with the contract another company that we worked for wanted us to sign: their standard contract with their suppliers. It sounded to me like "sacrifice your first born, hand over all you posess and be glad we don't chase you over the borderline". So "The one who writes wins" in this case sounds almighty like an war in which you want to infict pain on the other. I'm sure the book doesn't intend it this way :-)

How to solve that dilemma? In our case, we explicitly say most of the time that our software is placed under the GPL license. So that's in addition to the standard contract clauses, effectively removing most of the pain points. It doesn't necessarily mean that we actually widely distribute the customisations we make for our customers. But it gives both Zest software and the customer a lot of advantages:

  • We keep the copyright to the code we write. No signing-over of copyright to the customer, making it hard to re-use bits and pieces in next projects.
  • No tie-in for the customer. They can take our GPL-ed code, go to one of our competitors/collegues and ask them to work on it. No problems.
  • It is easy to donate pieces of code to Plone itself, there is no license to sort out and we don't need the customer's approval. Ultimately (and sometimes even directly), that's to the customer's benefit.
  • The customer has the code! Not just the binaries, but the actual source code. That's real good for reducing nightmares and uncertainty. One of our customers has subversion access so that he can make changes of his own. That's one company that doesn't have to worry about vendor lock-in :-)

In Zest software's case, it seems to work out real well. I get the impression that it actually lands us contracts, as the benefits seem to appeal a lot to our customers! To me, it's mostly the reduction in hassle that appeals: you just don't have to worry about it. "Just" put the code under GPL and you're done. It protects both you and your customer.

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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