I want to know if a software developer can potentially be sued for writing everyday boilerplate code or similar functions at 2 separate software jobs with different clients.

Suppose a software developer writes source code for client A. The contract the developer works under specifies that the source code belongs to the client after the developer finishes the code.

Suppose the software developer ends his/her work with client A and begins a new contract at client B. The software developer is required in his/her job to implement some functions that are very similar to functions implemented in their work at client A.

The two source code projects (for clients A and B) written by the developer are very similar, and are both proprietary, closed-source projects. The two software implementations are almost identical and converge on the same mathematical ideas.

Statistical ideas such as ‘standard deviation’ are used in software frequently. Can client A or B claim that others are committing plagiarism or violating copyright law if other companies implement the same functions in their software releases?

Can the developer be successfully sued by client A or B for having implemented the same (or very similar) functions at more than one company?

It is probably common for software developers to re-invent the wheel independently of one another - intentionally or not.

At what point is software plagiarized? An algorithm is an algorithm - implementing it could arguably not be done any other way than what is outlined in a standard algorithms text.

I have tried to find answers to this type of question, but all I can find is references to hash-based plagiarism detectors (MOSS, etc.).

  • 2
    I think this question is off topic here. It might be better placed in Law SE. Feb 9 at 6:54
  • I’m voting to close this question because it asks about the standards for derivative works under copyright without any particular applicability to open source development. (We sometimes accept questions with only a tangential relationship to open source development, but the substance of this question requires the application of legal standards that are pretty far out of scope for what we usually discuss here.)
    – apsillers
    Feb 9 at 14:00
  • 1
    That said, I think this generally would fit on Law.SE, but you should ask about "copyright infringement" or "what constitutes a derivative work under copyright law (in Jurisdiction X)" which are legal thresholds, rather than "plagiarism" which is an ethical consideration.
    – apsillers
    Feb 9 at 14:04
  • I noticed this question was closed. Maybe a mod should migrate it to law SE as a better option? Feb 13 at 2:19
  • My solution has been that I have my own libraries that are free to use by anyone. Therefore ownership of these does not pass to the clients. They know this before I start. They can use those libraries forever without royalty and they get the source too. Apr 14 at 2:25


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