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RE: Proprietary Templates?

DISCLAIMER:  I'm not a lawyer, I'm a generalist.  If you need legal advice,
seek it.

That said, here's a few points abstracted from my career to date (U.S. info
only, international law takes a zillion different views):

Before 1978, you HAD to send a copy of anything you wanted to copyright to
the Library of Congress. The law has been changed repeatedly since then. You
can CHOOSE to register a copyright formally by finding the right form
(available online) and sending it in with a fee. (It cost me and some
friends $20 a few years ago, to register a now-dated Y2K design for a
T-shirt "Y2K     THE ABEND IS COMING".)  
I'm not up on the details, and Congress most recently touched copyright law
in 1998.

Gobs of things are becoming patentable that weren't 30 years ago. Fashions
change, the patent office shifts ground, legal precedents change. As late as
the early 1980s, legal wisdom around the Silicon Valley was that you could
NOT patent software, you could only copyright your source code listings!
Today one can patent GUI designs and business methods among other
intangibles: Dell has patented its just-in-time delivery methodologies,
Amazon has patented the one-click online ordering system, and Gillette has
patented the "masculine" SOUND its safety razor packaging makes when you
tear it open.  (Rembrandts in the Attic, Kevin Rivette & David Kline,
Harvard Business Press, December 1999)

No one has yet mentioned "work for hire".  Most employment contracts
("permanent" employment or service-for-hire contractor, it matters not) in
the Valley today specify that the employee or contractor assigns ALL
intellectual property rights related to your job to the employer or
contracting client, whether you work at home or wherever, unless you make
specific exemptions in writing. Some of the things (by what I've read) that
have been copyrighted by contract web designers and exempted from such
work-for-hire clauses include template HTML code designed by them. I expect
this kind of Web-copyright approach to apply to the subtleties of FrameMaker
templates (let's face it, a good suite of Frame templates is roughly
equivalent to the HTML design and code "tricks" a good Web-guru is likely to
use for multiple clients).  You'll notice that aware sites post copyright to
the content, code, and look and feel specifically.

Laws on this stuff differ, and your mileage as well as local customs may
vary. A good site to check for starter information about current U.S. law in
general is Nolo Press (http://www.nolopress.com). 

As for the "proprietary template" question originally posed, I'd suspect
that *hypothetically* one couldn't re-use it without written permission from
the large company for which the work was performed...UNLESS the contract
specifically excluded sale of the rights to such supporting development.
Which it might, albeit in vague and software-development sorts of language. 

Deborah Snavely

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