GitHub Steps Up to Recognizing Developers' Creative Rights
GitHub’s Balanced Employee Intellectual Property agreement (BEIPA) is an attempt to strike a new balance to assign developers more rights on their intellectual creation outside of work. By making it an open source project, GitHub also hopes to make it reusable and open to outside contributions.
BEIPA can be regarded as a commitment to employee autonomy and work/life balance, says GitHub, and any company can adopt it:
A company using BEIPA doesn’t try to claim control of an employee’s free time knowledge production, nor does it try to extend company control past the period of employment.
This marks a radical shift from the evermore common practice of having creative workers sign assignment contracts when joining a company, as University of San Diego Law professor Orly Lobel noted in a statement to Fortune:
The trend is toward companies trying to control all creativity, including skills, ideas, discoveries, and techniques – tacit knowledge that isn’t subject to patent or copyright under the traditional scope of the law.
The possibilities of effective enforcement of such agreements vary depending on the local legislation, with states like California being more protective towards developers rights. Still, the only way to protect one’s own intellectual property in the face of the legal threat that such agreements pose is by keeping meticulous records of the progress of your creative work: documenting when and where you worked on your inventions, using which tools, etc., remarks Prof. Lobel.
GitHub’s BEIPA tries to go a bit further than even California legislation and grants its developers the right to their intellectual property, including patentability, even if they used company equipment, unless:
... it is something “you create, or help create as its employee or contractor” and it is “related to an existing or prospective Company product or service at the time you developed, invented, or created it” or “developed for use by the Company” or “developed or promoted with existing Company IP or with the Company’s endorsement.”
BEIPA is not the first attempt to define more balanced approaches to handling the IP created by employees of a company. Notable examples are the employee IP agreement used at Rackspace, but GitHub’s goal in releasing it as open source and opening it to contributions admittedly is having it become a new de-facto industry standard.
BEIPA is currently formulated so as to be enforceable in the United States, but GitHub is willing to consider feedback to make it more useful in other jurisdictions as well.