Scotts Valley, CA asked in Contracts and Copyright for California

Q: Wrote code for client as a independent software developer, without a written contract. Is the code I wrote legally mine?

Work was done without any contract, client refused to pay. I removed the code I wrote and now am being threatened with a lawsuit. Since there was no contract, it looks as if the code is legally mine under copyright laws. Is this correct?

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1 Lawyer Answer
Jason Brooks
Jason Brooks
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • los angeles, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: Absent a written agreement or other express understanding that the developer would be the owner of the code upon its creation (i.e. some type of work-for-hire language) then you have a good basis for claiming that ownership in the code never exchanged hands because you have not been compensated for your services. Therefore you are within your rights to deny them further use of your copyrighted material unless and until payment is rendered. With that said, to the extend that the code includes any of their own proprietary IP or other developer-owned material, you would not have the right to use the code you created if such use would require use of the developer's property as well. So if if does include their property, you would first have to remove that element if you were to use the code on your own. If you would like further consultation on this mater, feel free to email me at:

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