back to article Amazon Game Studios to its own devs: All your codebase doesn't belong to us

Amazon Game Studios has reportedly dropped terms in its employment contract that gave the internet giant a license to the intellectual property created by employees, even to games they develop on their own time. The expansive contractual terms received some attention last month when James Liu, a software engineer at Google, …

  1. bronskimac

    Bloody Hell! So it's not just warehouse staff that they treat like slaves. If I knock up a shed in my back garden, are Amazon going to call dibs on that too? I guess it show that you really do need to read the contract before you sign it.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I wonder how much Open Source these companies could attempt to lay claim too? If they ever try, it'll be time to invest heavily in popcorn and beer!

  2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Greed

    Corporate greed has no bounds.

    I've seen similar clauses and simply told prospective employers to remove them, the same with non competes and similar bs. In all instances they agreed to do so, but this was unnecessary hassle.

    Now, this is one of the reasons workers go independent and start their own software business and that's why we have IR35 changes, because those big software companies didn't like it, so they lobbied government to limit such a way out.

    We are just a cattle, commodity now.

    1. jason_derp Silver badge

      Re: Greed

      "We are just a cattle, commodity now."

      I assume you're time travelling from the distant past a dealing with some chronodisplatial jetlag?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Greed

      I found a similar clause in a NDA/noncompete for a pharma company I had applied to. It essentially said that any intellectual property I owned would automatically become the company's. I questioned this (music's not even related to the company's business!), not wanting to give away the IP for 2 albums I helped make. They hemmed, hawed, delayed, and finally offered the job to someone else.

  3. YetAnotherJoeBlow Bronze badge
    Mushroom

    We are Gods - We own you.

    Laws are for the little people. Now go forth and make us money!

  4. Draco
    Windows

    Common practice

    Since (at least) the 80s, the following terms have been common in contracts I have been asked to sign: (1) "We own everything you create while you are employed with us - whether on company time or your own time." and (2) "You are prohibited from working in this field for 10 years following termination of employment with this organization."

    I have always refused to sign them until they are stricken.

    1. Def Silver badge

      Re: Common practice

      In the UK I've never had anything like that in my contracts. The worst I've had in the games industry was that I have to give my employer the right to first refusal to publish (on fair terms to me) anything I develop in my spare time.

      Out of the games industry in Norway these days I just have to have my employer acknowledge and sign off on something before I release it. (I guess there might be questions asked if I were to develop a product in direct competition to my employer, but I have no interest in doing that.)

      Point 2 seems particularly ridiculous. I've had a few contracts state they can "quarantine" me for some period of time after I leave to prevent me from working for a competitor - but they would have been paying me full salary for that time.

      1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: Common practice

        I have seen these terms in the UK. I've even seen similar clauses in umbrella contracts.

        These companies just look at all kind of ways to get you, enslave you and take every inch of value you can create paying as little as possible or ideally nothing.

        As erosion of employment laws continues, these will be more and more prevalent.

        These things are not taught in schools and many engineers sign these on the face value and reassurance from the employer or client "these are just the standard terms to protect you and us, there is nothing to worry about. You are free to take these to your solicitor to go over". Most people are going to think "oh they are not worried that I could take it to a solicitor, so that must be fine. I won't be spending £300+ to get an opinion for a job I might not even get if it turns out to be dodgy and they seem to be very nice people." or "I really need to get this job and I don't want to be seen as a troublemaker from the start. I am not making any side projects anyway so who cares."

        The point is, any contract can be amended and you should always ask for changes that suit you.

        You may spend £300+ for a legal opinion once, but you'll learn and have something to use in any subsequent contracts as many use the same tricks over and over.

        ...and if a company won't take you as a result? Congrats, you dodged a bullet.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Common practice

        On first reading, a noncompete for a job I was in the process of accepting seemed to say that I wouldn't work for a competitor for a year - effectively making it impossible to change companies. Upon very careful reading, what it really said was that, for a year after leaving, I wouldn't work on products for the new company that compete with the products I worked on for the old company. I also talked with someone who had changed jobs under such an agreement - he simply notified the new employer, who simply didn't have him work on one or two products for the first year (he worked on everything else instead).

        Depending on the details of the language, they can be kinda reasonable. Or not.

    2. Sam Therapy

      Re: Common practice

      I've seen it, too. Always refused to sign until removed but...

      Since the terms were illegal under UK and (at the time) EU laws, maybe I should have signed and, if a later dispute occurred, I'd be home and dry, since illegal clauses would free me from any contractual obligations.

      The thing to remember is, contract or not, nothing can take away your rights in law. I've won two legal disputes with former employers and one on behalf of my wife. OTOH, employment protection laws are being eroded, so what applied then may not apply now.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Common practice

      The second clause is illegal in the UK. Unless they are going to pay you the going rate for 10years.... Personally I'd never sign a 3months notice... Painful enough when you are made redundant hanging around for the last day.

      The first clause is common, though easily worked around... Just don't publish anything until you have left and make sure the dates match... It may also be very difficult to enforce if the item you create or develop is not what the company normally does... Most sensible companies will sign away any perceived rights in these cases...

  5. jason_derp Silver badge

    Playing pretend

    "If FTC does so..."

    "If my dead grandmother regrows her teeth and rises from the grave with an insatiable lust for crunchy carrots..."

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Mushroom

    What I create on my own time is mine

    And you can pry it from my cold, dead hands, but not before.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The boring, but "skipped over" text is...

    ..."unapproved"...

    You should never work on unapproved personal projects in any company. Everywhere I have worked have a form to fill for external interests (or for small companies an email will suffice).

    Fill that in, get it approved, and it will take precedence. If your project is in Azure rather than AWS, just write it in and it'll either be signed off (or not).

    It's the same as working for charities, organising fund raisers, tutoring the neighbourhood kids in Math. There's an HR form for everything, and HR really need some work to do anyway...

    1. Falmari Silver badge

      Re: The boring, but "skipped over" text is...

      @AC, I agree with what you say, it is like that with my employer. If I want to work on a personal project, I have to get approval, if approved my employer has no claim on the IP. That does not mean my employer has a veto on any personal projects I want to do, only ones that can be shown to fall within the area I work in.

      The problem with Amazon Game Studios employment contract is that it gives them a license to the IP and has to be sold through them etc for personal games they allow their employees to work on.

      Now a game dev working for a game studio would expect to find it unlikely for their employer to approve working on a game project outside of the studio but if they did get approval they should not have to give their employer "a royalty free, worldwide, fully paid-up, perpetual, transferable license to any and all of [the employee's] intellectual property rights associated with the Personal Game”

    2. Swarthy
      Flame

      Re: The boring, but "skipped over" text is...

      Approved, or Unapproved, It's my time, not the company's. If I use their IP in my personal project, that is my misdeed; if I create a competing product, using knowledge of what the company is doing, then If one developer an make a better product than the whole corporate, they deserve to lose business.

      My time is My time. My employer has no more room to tell me what personal or hobby projects I can work on than they can tell me who to date. I see no difference between the employer claiming IP on personal project and them claiming my children. I didn't make either on company time, or using company resources, so they have no claim. The company is my employer not my owner.

  8. mattaw2001

    Fun video-Dave Plummer (formerly MS) made zipfolders pre-hiring which MS decided to buy post

    Fun video about this - Dave Plummer (formerly Microsoft) made zipfolders before he got a job at Microsoft, and MS decided to call up the creator to license it without realizing he was an employee. It was a sticky situation, and in fact a competitor tried to get him fired, etc., etc.. Cool, insightful story IMHO.

    https://youtu.be/aQUtUQ_L8Yk

    Personal story, a friend of mine got a job offer and in his contract was a page stating all his existing IP/patents had to be offered to his new company on very favorable terms and he would not be able to license sell them. He questioned that page in his contract, and they instantly swapped it out for a better one that they *already had*. So if you see terms in your contract you don't like, ask about them - don't ask, don't get and your new corp. overlords will ask for all they can get in a heartbeat.

    Lesson for everyone - get something in writing covering your existing IP/side hustle before getting into the job.

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