Why you need to own your code... and how to do it

If you use proprietary software such as Microsoft Word or Google Drive, you are dependent upon those companies. You rely on them to supply the software you need to view, edit and print your documents and you trust them to keep on doing that in the future. Luckily they are big companies and they do a pretty good job on the whole.

What about a small company or an individual developer? Can you trust them to be around to fix their software and ensure it works in five years time?

You need to keep your source code and the rights to it so that you can secure your data and business whatever happens to the companies that supply you with the software.

Fortunately, keeping ownership of your software has never been easier. Take one simple step at the outset of a project to ensure that you retain the full rights to your code without compromising your ability to use external development resources or leverage the immense amount of code that has already been written.

Create your own code repository

It begins by setting up your own code repository. Fortunately cloud services like github make this easy (and even free if you are not worried about other people seeing your code). Don't rely on your developer to do this for you and don't put it off.

Once you've created your repository you can add (and remove) contributors (the staff members, freelancers, and contractors who will work on your application). You can then track everything the contributors do to your code, manage their work, undo changes you don't like, deploy the code to servers...

Use an NDA if necessary

A Non-disclosure Agreement is a legally binding agreement on contractors or staff to ensure that your secrets remain secret. In practice they are rarely required or used but if you have a brilliant idea for a new software product or business model, the NDA is your cheapest and easiest means to protect it, in its early stages.

There is a cool online way to quickly prepare and sign NDAs available at docracy.com.


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Owning your code means that you are in charge. You can change it, build on it, customize it to suit your needs. And the best part is - you don't have to ask permission or spend money! The process of owning your code starts with an idea and ends when the idea becomes reality.

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