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Old 01-22-2003, 04:13 PM   #1
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Learning from my past mistakes, I'm reading up on filing a copyright for the software I'm about to publish. As I'm doing this, a question keeps popping in my head, so I thought I'd ask it here, being as I remember from the old boards there are a few people here with quite a head for the law.

I posted in the announcements forum about some software I'm about to publish, and my main driving force for finishing it. Now I'm wondering if I even have any legal recourse for what happened. and how this will effect my filing.

So let's say, hypothetically, that I was once a volunteer for a game, but left after disagreements. Let's also say that someone high up in that game was my roommate. As a way to learn C#/.Net, I began creating a piece of software that would enable developers to easily create multiuser environments.  Now let's say that game approached me, after using an eval copy of the software under an eval license, about licensing the software when it was finished to create a p2p game with, but negotiations ultimatly failed. At this point, development sorta stopped, and while the software was usuable, I didn't consider it complete, so I never filed a copyright. Let's say that later I legally came across proof that the source code for their game included a significant portion of the source code for my software, which I had never given to anyone.

Now, let's say almost everything has been rewritten, or at least modified and made more powerfull, and I am about to release the software for non-commercial use to the public. I intend to file a copyright, which will have to include the new source code.

Given the above, would I have any legal recourse? And more importantly, should I also file the version 1.0 source code so that my copyright cannot be disputed?

I appreciate any advice here, as the mess I've gotten myself into is way above my legal understanding.

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Old 01-22-2003, 04:52 PM   #2
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You don't need to "file" a copyright in order for something to be copyrighted. That merely gives it additional protection.

If you've got a bit of cash and some time, sue the pants off the guys who swiped your code without your permiss, assuming that the guys who did are making cash offa it.

You are legally able to do that and all that rot.

-Mr. Burns
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Old 01-22-2003, 05:28 PM   #3
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Dulan is correct.  Copyright protection occurs at creation, not at publication or registrtaion.

However, you say that you were asked to create this code for them.  Did they pay you for it?  Did you receive any compensation for it?  Also, depending on the rest of the facts, there may have been an implied right to use the code.  It is not clear to me from the facts whether or not you specified whether they could access your code.

Finally, you say that they have a "significant portion of [your] source code."  You'll have to establish that this wasn't an independent creation and therefore not a violation.  You will also have to figure out whether, even if the code was copied (or influenced by you), the code was essential.  The court has held in some instances that essential code gets a thin copyright - as otherwise one might be granted a monopoly in areas like compatibility.

So, as you can see, depending on the facts you may or may not have a case.
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Old 01-22-2003, 06:37 PM   #4
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Thanks for the info, both of you.

It wasn't a work for hire no, they expressed interest in obtaining a commercial license to use the software. Even in the eval license, the right to source code was specifically not granted.

As far as essential, no more essential than MudOS's specific code is essential to running a mud.  As for proving it, I'm not sure I could. Their source code in question is a direct copy of my source code, including most of my spelling errors in comments. Some has been added to it, but it would be obvious to even a non-technical observer when comparing mine to theirs that they both came from the same source. The problem is, since I didn't file, I imagine I'd have a problem proving theirs was a copy of mine, and not the other way around.

Either way though, I'm not really concerned about suing them. I'd like to, on principle, but while they intend to make their game p2p, it is not yet, so I wouldn't recoup any money even if damages were awarded. And besided, they stole v1.0, and while that's angered me, it's not v2.0. So I'm comparing this (at least to make myself feel a little better) to someone stealing the source code for windows 3.1 right before windows95 was released.

That brings me to my real concern. As I go to file v2.0, and release it, I'm worried about them coming back later and saying "v2.0 is based on our work".
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