Command Prompt, Inc., whom I share ownership of with Amanda Nystrom, has been operating in the Full Stack Postgres market for well over 20 years. During this time we have learned quite a few things that have empowered us to become the premiere service provider in North America for all things Postgres. 

All companies go through phases of how to conduct business. The market is always fluctuating and as they say, “adapt or die.” In an effort to help build the professional community and the people behind the company curtain we wanted to share a couple of tips that have worked well for us and should be considered by all Open Source companies. 

  1. White glove, platinum level service is the only acceptable level of service
  2. Do not engage as “work for hire”

We will have a further post on #1 and today we are discussing #2. My intent is to explain why working for hire could be limiting your company and yourself. We also hope to encourage others in the community to choose a strategy of consulting or paid-for development that is of mutual benefit to all.

What is work for hire?

“Work for hire”[1] is a term that is often misunderstood and sometimes confused with “right-to-work” or “right-to-hire” labor laws. Work for hire is specifically related to copyright law in the United States.

The United States copyright office declares work for hire as:

  • work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment


  • a work specially ordered or commissioned for use
  • as a contribution to a collective work,
  • as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work,
  • as a translation,
  • as a supplementary work,
  • as a compilation,
  • as an instructional text,
  • as a test,
  • as answer material for a test, or
  • as an atlas

if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.

We are not discussing work as prepared by an employee. If you are an employee then you are being compensated as an employee and the end result product is owned by your employer.

Instead we are discussing work that is specially ordered or commissioned for use. For example a custom script to backup a PostgreSQL database or an application to insert PDFs created by the Linux printing system CUPS into a PostgreSQL database or a recommendation document based on findings.

Confidentiality and trade secrets

There is nothing within this discussion that is a proponent for sharing confidential information or trade secrets. Confidential information and Trade secrets are in absolute the property of your client, whether it was your brain trust that delivered that information or not. We are only discussing a work product that is of a mutual interest.

Know your value

Any good consultant has information that a client doesn’t have. That is why they hired the consultant; to receive expert advice on how to achieve their goals. However, that information is largely public knowledge or experience for anyone who wishes to do the research and work themselves. They are hiring you because you are an expert in your field and you can achieve the results they are seeking at a theoretically less cost than hiring a team of employees to conduct the same work.

As a consultant you do not want to reinvent the wheel. You want and need a toolbox of utilities, tutorials, best practices documents and white papers that you can easily modify to suit your next client’s needs. If you are contractually “work for hire,” the previous client controls the work product that could be in your toolbox for the mutual benefit of all parties involved.

Why not work for hire?

In the simplest explanation, work for hire removes your rights as the author of the work to reuse that work. It is antithetical to the idea of Open Source and to the idea of mutual good. 

Further concerns:

  1. You may lose rights to your brain trust
  2. You can not reuse work (even if anonymized) from one client for the benefit of another
  3. You have to reinvent the wheel for similar tasks
  4. You are essentially an employee with consultant risk and no employee benefit

Too often Consultants are taken advantage of by companies and the attorney budget of those companies. We have seen a MSA that literally removed all rights as a Consultant and made the consultant an employee without being afforded the benefits of being an employee. We have observed intellectual property clauses that assigned PIPR (Prior Intellectual Property Rights) to the client. The most common modification is change of legal venue to benefit the company that resides across the country or an unwillingness to pay collection and attorney fees should the client not pay its invoices. 

If you are a professional consultant or developer for Open Source technologies it is imperative that you consider that your business practices also support the ideas that make Open Source great. At the foundation of Open Source is a foundation for the benefit of the many without sacrificing the benefit for the producer. It allows you to build a culture within your ideals that will bring a higher value for you, your employees, and the community at large.

  1. Works Made for Hire

Originally Published: 04/29/2020

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