Business

Who Owns The Code?, Part 2

Concluding the discussion that we began in November.
code, installations, integrators, contractors

Thanks for all the feedback to my column from November, entitled “Who Owns The Code?” As you might have guessed, it drew comments from a number of different folks from several different areas of our industry. As you might remember from Part 1, I discovered that there are still integration companies out there that do not turn over the programming code to the client at closeout—even after they are paid in full!

I thought this issue, like others our industry has encountered as we’ve matured, was one we had outgrown. However, it appears that this subject is not resolved, and there are those on both sides of the fence who have strong beliefs that their policies on this issue are fair and just. As someone who has worked in this industry for about 40 years, I want to give my two cents.

But first, some background: I’ve sat in the chair of the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), setting up the conferencing system through which he consults with the President of the United States. I have pulled cable in sweltering attics; I’ve been in the air, hanging loudspeakers that weighed hundreds of pounds; I’ve produced hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, or perhaps even millions. And it’s fair to say millions of people have benefited from work with which I’ve been involved. That’s the background from which I’m opining.

For every project, a list is made of what you have to do and what you need, right? And there’s always a line item for programming, correct? The company providing the service does this for a profit. So, when the project is complete, all pieces of the project— from the cabling, to the devices, to the labor, to the intellectual property (design and programming)—are now, in my opinion, the property of the one who paid for it: the client! I just do not see, after the project is completed, how an integrator can withhold the uncompiled code and prevent clients from having someone else work on their system that they paid for!

So, let’s turn to the responses I received. Overwhelmingly, it appears that turning over the uncompiled code at project closeout is what most integrators do, with a relatively small percentage not doing so. Although I did not get enough feedback to give an exact percentage, I would say, based on what I did receive, my best estimate is that 80 percent expressed support for giving access to the uncompiled code, whereas 20 percent stood opposed. (That is just an estimate, so please don’t hold me to it!)

As far as audiovisual consultants go, I don’t personally know of any professional ones that do not provide in their specifications that the integrator is to turn over the uncompiled code to the client at project closeout. (Note: I added the adjective “professional” because there are some IT/security/acoustics consultants that dabble in AV, do a mediocre job and do not stipulate this in their specifications.)

I researched this further by contacting Waveguide, one of the larger consulting firms in our industry. I spoke with Brad Beattie, the Director of Waveguide’s software-development division, Brainwave, to find out their policy on this. Waveguide provides consulting services as well as programming services, relieving the integrator from that portion of the project. With that context in mind, I was curious to learn the company’s stance.

According to Beattie, yes, for projects for which Waveguide delivers the programming code, it does provide the uncompiled code at project closeout. Notable, however, is that the firm does require an agreement that the client will not use the code for a different project. That’s not dissimilar to what’s done with system design drawings, etc. In addition, Beattie said that, for projects where Waveguide does not provide the programming and it is covered under the specifications, it does require that the integrator turn over the uncompiled code to the owner at project closeout.

Let’s examine some of the reasons given by integrators for why they do provide the uncompiled code to clients. Frankly, I heard the same thing over and over again: They paid for it, it is their property and they own it. Not to give it to them is wrong, and it hurts our industry! Another aspect brought to my attention is the possibility of the integrator going out of business, or even having a fire and losing all its data. How would clients get the code then, even if they agreed to pay separately for it?

On the flip side, I did hear from those who don’t provide the uncompiled code at closeout. They cited low margins; they claimed it’s their intellectual property; and, most frequently, they said they wanted to prevent the client from going to someone else for service, changes, etc. I could go on forever talking about what’s wrong with those arguments, so I’ll leave things with this observation: Those I spoke to who provide the code at project closeout had no issue with their attributed inclusion in this article; in fact, they welcomed being quoted. Those who do not provide the code, or who suggested charging extra for it, refused or never replied when I asked them if they could be quoted in this follow-up piece. Draw your own conclusions.

The two sidebars below are answers I received to my question, “Do you provide the uncompiled programming code at project closeout? Why or why not?” The contest winner (literally picked from a hat) is Alexander Rosner from Rosner Custom Sound. He will receive a can of Virginia Diner peanuts, as promised! Thanks to all who participated!

If you want to share your experiences, or just vent, let me know. Contact me at dkleeger@testa.com.

Alexander Rosner Responds

“Yes, we provide everything that we have on the job that would help the client in the future, in case he no longer loves us and wants someone else to service him. Seems like it’s the right thing to do, especially when I’ve been on the other side of things, coming into a job done by someone else!”

Company profile: Rosner Custom Sound, based in Long Island City NY, is a sound contracting firm that also does video. It specializes in engineered sound and video systems for entertainment, education and worship since 1959. Rosner can be reached at rosner@aol.com.

Mike West Responds

“It has been our practice for years to provide the code, audio files, drawings and serial numbers with closeout documentation. It is our opinion that the customer owns the code the moment a PO is received. We also provide a one-year warranty for all systems we install.”

Company profile: Founded in 1997, in Huntsville AL, Quantum Technologies, Inc., is a professional audio, video, control and videoconference system design and integration firm, specializing in serving commercial, civilian and federal government customers for more than 20 years. West can be reached at mtwest@qtiav.com.

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