I am a freelancer and recently, built software for an organization. Our deal was for me to develop and submit software at whole. Hence, it is a proprietary software owned by that organization.

I've got a few many ideas about new features and upgrades that can be integrated into that software. But, the organization is not interested in any upgrades.

Being a beginner, I want to do it anyways to flaunt on my profile & maybe to sell to some other organization if I don't make the upgrade open source.

Is it ethical for me to do so? Also, what legal complications might I lead myself into?

P.S.: No legal documents have been exchanged between me and the organization. Everything is just verbal. & they may or may not have a license for the software I submitted...

  • It really is a matter of opinion (since each of us have slightly different views about ethics). Some people (e.g. RMS are zelot to the point of thinking that proprietary software is always unethical). Your question is about extending a software which you do not own anymore. I feel it is off-topic, since opinion based Aug 22, 2018 at 4:23
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not about open source software.
    – Mureinik
    Aug 22, 2018 at 4:31
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    If you developed the software while working for the company, then they own the software. You cannot continue to develop it yourself legally or ethically unless they explicitly first release it under an open source license.
    – Brandin
    Aug 22, 2018 at 7:16
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    "they may or may not have a license for the software I submitted" - If they didn't specify a license explicitly, the default license is "All Rights Reserved" which means you have no additional rights granted other than what law explicitly grants. And due to copyright, you may not generally copy and redistribute your company's code. What can I assume if a publicly published project has no license?
    – Brandin
    Aug 22, 2018 at 7:17
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    The important legal nuance here has nothing to do with open source. The substance of this question is whether you still hold any rights to the software you developed for the client, which is out-of-scope for this site. (If you added a lot of details about your verbal agreements, this could possible become on-topic for law.stackexcahnge.com.)
    – apsillers
    Aug 22, 2018 at 14:23

1 Answer 1


The software is not yours anymore, and you don't have any rights on it. So even if you extend it, it looks the only thing you could do is give those extensions freely (because your customer is not interested in paying for them). I don't think it is a good idea (what is the point of working gratis for a customer which is not interested).

What you might perhaps do is rewrite (on your own time) the whole project as open source software, starting again from scratch. But I am not sure it is a good idea (I would suggest working on some other project).

maybe to sell to some other organization

This is a legal aspect, and you don't mention the legal details (maybe with much more details your question might go to law forum). I guess you are not allowed to do that (unless your prior contract mentions it). I don't recommend trying (you can be in trouble). But I am not a lawyer. You probably should have a written contract.

Next time, during commercial negotiation, get a written contract (probably show it to your lawyer) and if possible mention that your work is open source (with a well specified license).

  • Thanks for the guidance. The idea of open sourcing from scratch sounds good & BTW, there has been no legal contact between us... Aug 22, 2018 at 4:46
  • I am not a lawyer (and you should get one) but I believe that (at least in France) there is always some legal contract (perhaps "implicit" or "oral"), since a commercial transaction implies some contract. Sadly, you forgot to write it on paper! Aug 22, 2018 at 4:49
  • I also believe that you'll better (if wanting to work on open-source) start a different project (that would improve much more your skills) Aug 22, 2018 at 4:53
  • Great idea!!! Thanks a lot... Aug 22, 2018 at 4:54

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