Ownership of Source Code in Software Development Agreements

Whether you are a business owner who wishes to procure the services of a software developer, or a software developer coding an application for a client, serious consideration should be given to who will own the source code upon completion of the deliverable.


The general rule is that the author of the source code will retain copyright. However, well crafted employment and/or independent contractor agreements can ensure that the software development company is assigned both the ownership of the copyright and any moral rights associated with the source code.


If a software developer wishes to retain ownership of the source code contained in an application being developed for a client, it should ensure that the agreement specifically outlines that it will retain ownership and only license the source code.

Negotiation may be necessary, as clients generally prefer to own the source code upon completion of the deliverable. A potential solution is to carefully draft the software development agreement to distinguish between (a) source code that was pre-built or not custom (and thus will only licensed), (b) any open source code used (that will be subject to open source licenses), and (c) custom code built for the delivered application.