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Computer Software - Who Owns the Code?

Computer Software - Who Owns the Code?

The recent media debate about who owns code has again highlighted the problems that can arise if developers and clients fail to adequately address this issue. The recent Perry Group case illustrates some of the pitfalls – with High Court judge Justice Williams finding that the client had commissioned and therefore owned all the code, including source and object code and in effect the developer’s library code.

Clive Elliott and Michael Wigley addressed members of the New Zealand Computer Society in both Auckland and Wellington last week.

Clive Elliott, who was lead counsel for the developer Pacific Software, said that as an appeal had been filed he couldn’t comment on the merits of the decision. He did however agree that the decision has ramifications for the software industry as a whole and this is why it has generated quite a bit of debate so far. He stressed that recent High Court decisions showed how important it was to discuss issues of ownership of code and not leave it for later.

Michael Wigley commented that these were real risks in leaving important issues up in the air and that good legal advice was necessary. He did however say that not all software projects warranted detailed legal input and common-sense should dictate what is documented.

Ian Mitchell who was an expert witness on the case says software houses should have a standard Terms and Conditions document clearly stating that the customer would have copyright over the compilation of the software as a whole but giving only a “right to use” over the individual non-specific components and more . . .

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