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Releasing software sponsored by an employer

> As part of my "day job," I'm working on a piece of Debian-specific software.
> I would like to release it under the GPL and the company is receptive, but
> we're not sure about the exact mechanism we should use.
That's a 'work for hire'.
> Obviously, since it was written using their time and resources, they hold
> copyright on it.
Actually, they hold copyright because they paid you to write it, period.

> They would like to retain ownership, so copyright 
> assignment or a quit claim isn't feasible. (In other words, we don't want to
> follow the GPL's fictitious Yoyodyne example where the company disclaims
> copyright.)
> I'm wondering what kind of documentation we should have that explicitly
> authorizes me to release this software (copyright still held by the company)
> to the public under a DFSG compliant license.

It's easy as pie.  You don't release it; the *company* releases it.  Use the
usual "How to Apply These Terms to Your New Program", but put the *company*
name in <name of author> (yes, you're the author, this is an error in the GPL
boilerplate).  Here's a revised and better version of  the boilerplate, taking 
into account various other little tiny errors:

   <one line to give the program's name and a brief idea of what it does.>
    <program name> Copyright <year>  <copyright holder>

    <program name> is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify
    it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
    the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or
    (at your option) any later version.

    <program name> is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
    but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
    GNU General Public License for more details.

    You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
    along with <program name>; if not, write to the Free Software
    Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin St, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA  02110-1301 USA

Put that notice in the software.  Get the company to sign off on it, and 
you're done.

(Ideally, someone authorized to act for the company would sign a paper copy of 
the above statement; it's not necessary, but it would be 'ironclad proof' 
that the company really did this).

Put information about you, the author, separately.  For instance, a statement 
saying "I, John Morrissey, wrote this for <copyright holder>; they don't want 
to be bothered with questions about it, so bother me instead."

(Incidentally, if at a later point you make significant changes to the program 
which are *not* work paid for by the company, then you will have the 
copyright to the later changes, while the company will still have copyright 
to the old parts; so for those hypothetical future versions of the program, 
you would change the copyright line in the notice to:
    <program name> Copyright <year>  <copyright holder one (company)>
    <program name> Copyright <year>  <copyright holder two (you)>

Nathanael Nerode  <neroden@twcny.rr.com>

[Insert famous quote here]

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