Book Review: Web & Software Development: A Legal Guide

Web & Software Development: A Legal Guide
by Attorney Stephen Fishman
Nolo Press
Berkeley, California

I personally would prefer a world where I could just write software and not worry about the legal system. However, I don't appear to be living in that world. In the real world, I find it prudent to use the services of a lawyer from time to time. In recent months, I've been on the phone about non-disclosure agreements, trademarks, and employment contracts, among other issues. Inasmuch as a decent lawyer charges at least as much per hour as I can charge my clients, I figure it's a good idea to do my homework before making those calls. That's where this book comes in.

The book has two main target audiences: website developers and software developers (or the firms who employ them). As you can probably guess, intellectual property law is one of the major topics here. You'll find solid covrage of trade secrets, patents, trademarks, and copyrights here. This includes not just plain-language explanations of how it all works, but the necessary forms (a supplement to the book includes many forms in RTF format) to file for protection. And, because things sometimes go wrong, there are also instructions on how to go about enforcing your rights in these various areas of the law.

You'll also find chapters on some of the other legal papers that intrude on our software lives: employment agreements (with sections from both the employer's and employee's poing of view), consulting agreements, and software licenses. The odds are good that you'll need to put one or more of these together some time in your development career, or read one that someone else has written. The coverage here will help you understand what you're reading, and perhaps more importantly, alert you if anything important is left out.

The book was last revised in April 2002, so its coverage goes right through the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and beyond. Even better, Nolo maintains an online update page to keep you abreast of recent changes to the law. Though I still find it useful to consult a lawyer when there are reasonable chunks of money involved, this book gives me the confidence that I know the right questions to ask.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.


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