Custom Development Query – the quest for perfect blog toast


I bet you thought, based on the title, it was going to be about database queries. No, actually, this is a query – as in a question. I already have my own opinions on this one – – but I’m curious as to the perspectives of others out here. This question was actually from a reader of my book, WordPress For Dummies and the question raised because of a recommendation I had made in hiring outside developers to work on your blog. I believe it’s important to prioritize your needs, based on your skills and capabilities. If you’re spending more and more time trying to figure this stuff out – – and less and less time on you blog, building readership and providing great content.. maybe you need to consider a little outside help? Or, maybe you are just determined to figure it all out yourself, come hell or high water. Either way is a noble pursuit and will fill the needs of some, but not all of you.

The question becomes… when you hire a developer to provide programming or custom scripts or plugins for your blog – who does the final product belong to?

Hypothetical . . . I want my blog to make toast.. but not just toast – – perfectly browned and crisped toast to my exact liking. I want to be notified via email when the toast is done and provide me with an access key to the place I will go to pick up my toast. My access key is unique allows only me to pick up MY toast.. not anyone else’s toast. Subsequently – no one else will be able to pickup my toast either. Mmmmm… my perfectly browned blog toast.

blog toast

(an aside – I must be on a bit of a toast kick this week – pardon the obsession, it will blow over soon enough).

The developer says “No problem – that is a CAN DO. It will take me X amount of time and will cost you X amount of money – once we have that sorted out, you’ll be well on your way to perfect blog toast, my friend


You’ve paid the developer and he/she heads off to work on the perfect blog toast plugin. You’re very, very excited!! Why? Well, aside from the fact that your mouth is watering over that perfect blog toast and you can’t WAIT to sink your teeth into it!! Even more exciting than that is it was YOUR bright idea and NO ONE else in the blog world has it!! You’ll be unique! You’ll be envied! You will have the entire blogosphere staring at you and drooling over your blog toast from all corners of the world! If that’s not worth a DIGG, then I don’t know what is!

While the development is ongoing – you’re having a pretty difficult time not talking about it. But you don’t want to talk about it for fear that someone else will nab your idea, get it done faster and they will be enjoying YOUR blog toast…leaving you out in the cold – with no toast. So you struggle, but you keep your mouth shut and instead, spend your time writing draft posts about perfect blog toast – – the post that will catapult you to the top — making you the envy of all the blogosphere.. you and your toast!

You can hear the cheers now! You’re already counting your comment numbers flying into the hundreds .. if not thousands! You imagine yourself in the spotlight on TechCrunch and you have big dreams.. just you and your toast.

Finally the day comes that the developer has completed your toast project! You don’t know what is more exciting – – giving the toast a try? Or bragging about the toast to all your friends.. and the rest of the internet!! This is gonna be good! This is gonna take off! This is …. gonna be released?

WOA WOA – WAIT! Stop right THERE! Did you read that right? The developer is telling you of his plans to release the code so that the rest of the world can enjoy blog toast, too. Wha?????

Wait just one cotton pickin’ minute, man! That’s MY blog toast! It was MY idea – it’s something that makes my blog unique! No one else in the world has blog toast but me!! That’s why I paid YOU – – to take my bright idea and make it a reality. Blog Toast is mine, I say!! Not only did I pay you a damn good bit of money for that blog toast – – – but it is a concept that I thought up, something I’ve been banking on to make me stick out in an already saturated blogosphere!!! You simply cannot release it! If everyone makes a blog toast post – – I’ll be just like everyone else! Oh. The. Horror!

The developer tells you that he can, indeed, release the Blog Toast – and as a matter of fact, as soon as he’s done with these final few code tweaks — you’ll be seeing Blog Toast in a Plugin Repository near you. “It’s open source, man – – GPL’d – – share and share alike, you know dawg? What’s mine is yours.. what’s yours is mine . . we’re an open community of people who share code. Why should you be the only one with access to heavenly blog toast??” And the final answer that adds insult to your injured toast: “It’s a community thing.”

Suddenly… you find yourself looking at your countertop toaster with longing. You’ve just paid a good couple hundred dollars – – if no more – to have a talented code jockey take your bright ideas and bring them to life….but now it’s not yours. You’ve paid to have your idea released and spread out far and wide, reaching millions of people. Blog Toast can be a dream made reality for not just you – – but for everyone. Dang – it sounds like a beautiful world… but it’s my toast.

And now, my toast doesn’t seem so special anymore. It certainly isn’t going to bring me the fame and adoration I was hoping for.

And slowly…sadly… you resign yourself to the idea that you and your blog toast were not destined to walk this path together, rather; you’ll walk the path with millions of other blog toast lovers, worldwide…and somewhere in the middle – you and your toast will get lost, even though you really started it all.

My question for the readers – who does the toast belong to, in your opinion? Does the toast belong to the original guy who came to the table with a really super idea and is now.. over there in the corner, weeping. Or does the toast belong to the developer…who can take the bright idea and release it to the world and gain all sorts of accolades for creating some awesome blog toast – – the in links, alone, will bring much light to the developer.. while the original toast guy is rocking back and forth in the corner, grasping the old toaster from his counter…it will be days before he comes up with his next, great new idea to make his surge into the blogosphere.

Blog Toast: Does it belong to the developer? Does it belong to the client? Is there a middle ground somewhere in between?

Blog Toast Post

19 thoughts on “Custom Development Query – the quest for perfect blog toast”

  1. You paid for the toast. It’s yours, and exclusivity should have been nailed down with the agreement.

    Like artwork, if you want the exclusive right to something, you pay for it. Since the “community” is free, if the developer received money to create the code according to the buyer’s specs, that is not “community property”. If a developer is going to accept a fee in that manner, he needs to specify if that pay is for limited or exclusive use, but it certainly shouldn’t be GPU’d to the community if it’s custom hired-for work.

    (» Read Leanne’s last blog post..2008 Bloggies, You know.)

  2. Unless it it’s in writing that the person who paid for the custom code will have exclusive rights to it, they are just paying you to put letters and curly brackets together to do something they don’t know how to do.

    Programmers/Developers are paid for their services, not for their product. If there is any question that the product may be something that will “make it big”, the person paying for the service had better make damn sure the get it in writing that they are paying the developer for the service AND product.

    AND…if they expect exclusive writes to a product, the developer better make damn sure they charge the client what the product is worth, not just the development cost is.

    Code isn’t original, only ideas. And if people can’t protect their ideas before the finished product, then it belongs to the person who wrote the code…

    …unless you get dragged to court…then it would just be a waste of money on both parts…

  3. I lean in the same direction – the toast belongs to the poor guy who thought it up. Problem is – he’s a bit of a noob and didn’t anticipate that the developer would have plans to release it, once the final product was complete.

    In hindsight, he says, he should have gotten that part in writing… but “it never occurred to me that the developer would release something I paid a lot of money for”

    The Developer states it’s SOP.

    It’s a great big mess for this guy, that’s for certain.

  4. Unless you get it in writing that what is being done is a “work for hire,” then from a copyright perspective anything that is creatively developed by the developer belongs to him.

    Copyright ownership initially belongs to the author of the work, or, in the case of a work-for-hire, those who are paying for the work to be done. – copy right, copy sense

    In the case of a work-for-hire, it needs to be spelled out who owns the work.
    Mike in Arkansas

    (» Read Mike Goad’s last blog post..BIG BUMP in the road for my online plans?. perhaps.)

  5. Technically, it should be the person paying who decides. Like if I was hired to do a layout and then the person who paid me decides to release it for free…it’s their decision because they paid me to produce it. They own it now.

    On the other hand, without that fact down in writing, you’re basically relying on the developer to take the high road based on the metaphorical handshake contract.

    Always, always get things like this clarified in writing. Otherwise you’re relying on the other person to totally be on the same wavelength and that isn’t the best way to prevent things like this from handling.

    I think the best they can hope for now, without litigation, is to hope the developer at least gives proper attribution to the idea person when releasing the plug-in.

    (» Read Michelle S.’s last blog post..proof of global warming)

  6. @Mike – very true about the ‘work for hire’ bit. Do you think it’s the developers responsibility to inform their client that they have that option? Or should the client already know this, just walking in. Lots of clients are not well versed on such copyright issues – while technically the developer is right in this situaiton, I do see fault in not informing the client by way of written contract, or even a TOS statement, warning them that the work can/will be released to the general public upon completion – – unless….yada yada.

  7. @Michelle – again, as above, informing the clients of their options is key here. For me, the custom design work that I’ve done is not licensed for release, under any circumstances – – unless my clients wish to pay for an extended license on the product.

    They are informed of this up front – so there are no questions later. I think that’s what should have happened in this scenario.

  8. @Lisa (from the Lisa Show – – ‘lest anyone think I’m talking to myself)… from what I know about you so far… I figure – you’re just here for the toast so you can pile tons of garlic on it. :p

    Regarding your question whether he can sue — I’m sure he can attempt to sue.. it would be a very costly matter to pursue, however.. and most likely, as Mike suggested above – since it wasn’t in writing that it was a ‘work for hire’ – he’d probably lose.

  9. In my opinion, the use of the plugin should exclusively go to the client – they purchased the product. However, it should NEVER be separated from the developer’s name – the work done is still the programmer’s.

    It’s like commissioned art. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was commissioned by the Pope, and it belongs to the Church to do with as they please. However, you always hear it referred to as Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel . . .

    And I think that both parties should approve release to the general public if that is what the client wants to do with it. These things should all be discussed up front . . .

    (» Read Lindsey’s last blog post..She’s finally able to rest . . .)

  10. “Do you think it’s the developers responsibility to inform their client that they have that option?”

    I doubt if most developers are well versed in the work-for-hire concept. I think it’s the sweat-of-the-brow concept that they’re going by: “I did the development work, so it’s mine.” In this case, without any documentation to prove otherwise, they’re correct. (Copyright is so much fun. ;))

    (» Read Mike Goad’s last blog post..BIG BUMP in the road for my online plans?. perhaps.)

  11. What a great discussion! Did this really happen to someone? From what we’re learning in High School Redesign, because so many things can now be outsourced at a much cheaper price, America is moving toward an “idea” society. Since so many things are mass produced, and there are so many choices for any one product, the “seller” is what makes it different or unique, that stamp the individual puts on any product or idea.

    So I said all that to say, the idea is the product. The code is the “mass manufacturing” and can be outsourced. Thanks for the lesson in jurisprudence.

    (» Read Debbie’s last blog post..Road Rage Missed)

  12. There are two things in play here:

    1. Copyright
    2. License

    The copyright is basically who owns the code. The license is what you can do with it.

    Plugins and add-ons that rely on a GPL’d codebase are generally considered to have “caught” GPL as a result, and distribution of this code triggers a GPL license accordingly.

    Note: IANAL and you should definitely read about copyright, license and the GPL on your own if you are doing professional work around any or all of these areas.

    (» Read Alex’s last blog post..20 minutes or so on why I am 4Barack (Lessig Blog))

  13. Alex, you do make it sound rather easy, but I think the confusion comes in with the consumers who make the purchase without having an understanding of what ‘GPL’d’ really means, in regards to their project.

    It is confusing for non-technical consumers (sometimes even for technical ones!).

    I do understand what you’re saying about code that relies on a GPL code base … I think this guys outrage is that he just didn’t know, and made assumptions about his purchase.

    We (developers, designers, consultants) can’t be held responsible for their assumptions – but can probably do a lot towards avoiding those false assumptions to begin with.

    Maybe, with a little up front education on the GPL-ness of it all, the guy wouldn’t be so upset about his blog toast being released.

  14. I’m a little late to this thread, but just came across it by chance when looking for something completely different.

    As WordPress developers, both themes and plugins, the answer is simple. The code belongs 100% to us unless we say otherwise.

    Open source makes it a wee bit trickier, however, as we believe in that too! So what we basically tend to do is to not release the code (we don’t have to – even if we write the code under GPL) but the client can if they so choose.

    I don’t believe that all WordPress plugins are GPL either, but that’s down to an interpretation of how the linking works. It’s untested stuff legally, so we can never be sure. So we write code both with and without the GPL license. We give a bit, we get a bit. We do need to pay the rent though, so have to be a little careful /:)

    Incidentally, in the arts worlds it’s the same – the copyright of a photo belongs to the photographer by default unless there’s a contract that’s signed that over to someone else. At least, that’s how it is in the UK.

    (» Read David Coveney’s last blog post..Anvil GPL WordPress Theme)

  15. If you don’t want to release code you wrote that is GPL’d, true, you don’t have to. But GPL is an all-or-nothing license. If you want to deploy your product for a client, you are obligated by the terms of the GPL to also provide the source code, or instructions on how to obtain the source code at no charge.

    Thus, if you are a developer and write a WordPress plug-in for a client, and that plug-in is built using a WordPress or other GPL’d framework, your plug-in is automatically licensed under the GPL. Thus, you’re obligated to hand over the source code to the client, who can then, under the terms of the GPL, distribute it.

    Likewise, the developer can do the same. No proprietary licensing can be attached to GPL’d code. Thus, the client has no say as to whether or not the developer may distribute the code.

    This is why I normally stay away from the GPL. It’s essentially the communist version of software licensing. The GPL uses the term “freedom” when in fact there is no freedom of choice. Your code and product belongs to the community, regardless of the contract between client and vendor.

    The client *may* be able to force the developer to sign an agreement that says he/she will not distribute the code and binaries, but this might not hold up in court. But even if that does hold up, the client can not distribute the product without also distributing the source and the attached GPL license.

    Of course, it’s always a good idea to spell out the terms in an agreement. Even if the developer is right, that doesn’t mean the client won’t create some legal trouble for the developer.

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