Ethics in client copying my code for 2nd website

Hi guys here's an interesting question I would love some opinions about. Just finished a job I did helping out a client in distress, worked for a week till 3am next to my other other projects. Finished last night and this morning I got an email if I could look at this layout issue with a 2nd site, turns out there is a 2nd site using the same theme and the client has been copy/pasting my code into it.

Now I'm not very concerned about this, it's a good contact and we get on very well, but still feel a bit funny about it. How do other devs go about this kind of thing?



  • Jack Kitterhing

    Hi there @Nick vd Veerdonk,

    Hope you're well today!

    It's an interesting point and one I'm sure many have come across freelancing, if he has access to the code, there's technically nothing stopping him from doing that.

    It also depends on the original agreement, if there was never anything specific about it only being for the one one site, there's also nothing legally stopping him from doing what he's done.

    It would have been good character to just ask you, especially as you get on well, as long as he's not trying to pass off your code as his own, then personally if it was me, I'd be ok about him doing it, though I'd personally would have preferred he had asked first.

    Also I wasn't sure from your post if he was asking you do the work on the second site because the issue exists there as well? If so, as it's a second site and not the original site you agreed to work on, definitely charge. :slight_smile:


    Kind Regards

  • Nick vd Veerdonk

    Hi Jack, thanks for your reply! Yes I think this topic is something more devs must encounter in some way or another at some point, thats mostly the reason why I decided to post it.

    As I said before: in this case I really don't feel uncomfortable about it but it's good to explore the grounds a bit. The point you made about the original agreement is valid and although some things seem logical to assume it can't hurt to adjust (tweak?) one's general terms and conditions when this kind of thing comes up. I wonder how that would stand up against the open software policy of Wordpress though?



  • Michelle Shull

    Hi Nick!

    There's nothing preventing you, legally or ethically, from asking to be credited and/or notified if someone reuses code you give them in your initial arrangement. That allows your code to be shared, but still lets you know when/where/how it's being used, and you know you'll maintain credit.

    I'm with Jack, definitely do a change order if you're working on a second site, buddies with the client or not, your talent and skill are worth money.

    : )

    Great question, thanks for posting it!

  • Dev4


    I will put in my 2 cents here.
    Of course there is nothing wrong with asking for credit on any site that uses something that you created.

    On the other hand, whether the client realized it or not if you are coding into a Wordpress environment you are bound by GPL2 which allows for just about any use as long as the copyrights you put into the code are left intact.
    That does not mean you get credit on their website, unless someone is reading the code your name does not have to be mentioned on the front, only in the code.
    I would at least put those copyrights in so that if anyone else gets the code and re-uses it again, your contribution can be acknowledged.

    If your additions included graphics however, those can be copyrighted separate from GPL, so that is another matter.

    When i write code for Wordpress environments, if i do not want to expose it to the GPL license requirements (meaning other can use it for free) i do not distribute it. I keep it on my servers and DO not transfer ownership of my code... So it does not fall under GPL2. - note some GPL licenses do include a web site that you let people access as "distributed" but GPL2 does not and GPL2 is what Wordpress related things fall under.

    So if your client is in a Wordpress environment and you wrote code for him... I think that is to be expected.

    But if not, then your work is still probably his to do as he likes with, unless you have a contract up front.. Just because it is a work for hire, which in most countries will belong to the person doing the hiring.

    Anyways... I guess what i am saying is it is a good idea to know up front what the rules are, and to establish with your client who owns the code you write.

  • Nick vd Veerdonk

    Thanks Michelle and Dev4 for your contributions! As for acknowledgement and credits I am not really interested in, it's mainly a financial reward issue. Ofcourse this discussion is no longer relevant to the particular client but what if I get hired to create, let's say, a Genesis child theme? I assume I'll have to include a line in the terms & conditions and in the quote that all projects are to be used on one website, like themeforest does, will that work?

  • Dev4

    That is still kind of tricky.
    Any graphics you create you can license any way you want. But as most interpret it, the code itself is going to fall under GPL2 no matrer what you do.
    Css seems to depend on who you ask as to whether it is yours exclusively or is also GPL2
    Themeforest is really up against the same the same questions. Claiming a right is not the same thing as legally being able to defend it. I dont think this has been sorted out in the courts yet.
    But that all said, you are not likely to sue your customers, and they are not likely to know all of this GPL stuff... So maybe the true legal status is not as important as the perceived agrement between you and your customer. I would put a note in the license.txt referncing both GPL2 and my own coprights, and then my license terms.
    Tricky to get that right because by using the GPL2 stuff (like wordpress) you are agreeing not to add license terms that would violate GPL2, which unless you are just trying to license your images, may be what you are really wanting to do..

  • Nick vd Veerdonk

    Dev4 I really appreciate that you take the time to elaborate... It is truely remarkable how this stuff is not very clear to anyone, including the law!

    On the other hand I realise that this is also yet another aspect of Wordpress that you just have to love as it brings a sort of humanity back to business. What else is making money but a personal agreement between parties to benefit all involved? Me personally I feel this very strongly, especially since I've been a dad; the exchange and flow of energy translating into food, clothing and sustaining a home: how more personal can you get?

    It is worth treasuring by making good and clear agreements, but also by including faith, it keeps your livelyhood truly alive.

    This is turning into a very interesting thread, thanks guys!

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