IT Pros: How to Avoid Lurking Legal 'Gotchas'
IT pros who have access to source code should make it a routine practice to verify that their employers have a proper license. If the source code was not properly licensed, or there are some limits on who may access the source code, you might have liability. Why? Because such improper use could be considered misappropriation of a trade secret, and any individuals who have access to the source code -- not just the employer company -- can become parties to a lawsuit. Trust me, it happens: CA is an example of a company that for years has sued individuals for misappropriation of trade secrets by using source code improperly.
Several federal agencies monitor financial records for public and private companies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Justice, Internal Revenue Service, and the bankruptcy courts. Thus, if you create fictitious financial records, without question you may be personally liable. So if an employer asks you to do something suspicious with financial records -- such as creating a shadow set of financial statements, setting up fake accounts, and writing checks inappropriately -- you may have personal exposure for your behavior, such as fines and/or jail terms. It doesn't matter that an executive told you to do it or that you didn't realize what was going on.
Use the smell test
There is no question that judges and juries are not technically savvy enough to understand what IT pros do on a day-to-day basis. That lack of understanding can lead them to conclude you're at fault or should have known better. After all, many people think anyone technical is a whiz kid or brainiac on any topic.
To avoid legal problems, the best advice for IT pros is to be wary of what does not pass the smell test. If something seems wrong, it probably is. Use your intuition and judgment to avoid becoming embroiled in criminal misbehavior, breaching contracts, or committing torts. When in doubt, consult an attorney who understands IT and the Internet.
This article, "IT pros: Lurking legal gotchas and how to avoid them," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in IT pros' worklife issues and adventures at InfoWorld.com.
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Peter S. Vogel is a partner at the Dallas law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell. He specializes in technology-related law and writes the Internet, Information Technology, and E-discovery blog.