Brooklyn, NY asked in Business Law and Intellectual Property for New York

Q: Who owns the code I wrote for an app when no contract was signed?

Hi. I wrote most of the code for an app. It exists in my own personal, private repository (aka, code storage). The company for which I was writing the code was incorporated, but I never signed anything saying that the code was owned by them, nor is there a contract saying as such. All the code and its history is detailed automatically as belonging to me and my efforts.

Legally, do I own the code in the event that I stopped "working" for the company? Again, I never signed anything saying the company (a one-person startup other than me) owns the code, and it exists on my personal, private, and self-funded storage.

1 Lawyer Answer
Mathew Paulose Jr.
Mathew Paulose Jr.
  • Bronxville, NY
  • Licensed in New York

A: Greetings. You say you were writing code "for" a company. We would need more facts to determine who owns the work product. In New York, a formal employment relationship is not necessary to be deemed an employee within the meaning of the Copyright Act. The essential factor in determining whether a work is made by an employee for hire is whether the employer has the right to direct and supervise the actual performance of the work, and whether he or she actually exercises that right. Here are two illustrative cases: Schmid Bros. v. W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik, 589 F. Supp. 497, 503 (E.D.N.Y. 1984) (works were not for hire where artist, not employer, exercised "control"); Aldon Accessories, Ltd. v. Spiegel, Inc., 738 F.2d 548 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 982, 83 L. Ed. 2d 321, 105 S. Ct. 387 (1984) (artists were employees "for hire" where the "hiring author" stood over the artists and artisans at critical stages of the (creative) process telling them what to do). This appears important to you. It is worthwhile then to contact and pay for a lawyer to get a definitive answer. Good luck.

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