Seattle developer Jeff Reifman was looking forward to participating in this weekend’s Hacking Seattle News contest, a three-day hackathon sponsored by Seattle TV station KING 5 in which geeks, news junkies and designers look to transform the way people consume and distribute local news.

But Reifman, a former Microsoft employee who operates the open source NewsCloud service, has decided to pass on the event after discovering that KING 5 requires participants to sign an 11-page legal document.

“The contest has been promoted as an open source pro-community contest: “the idea is to do it a in very open-source, for-the-community, by-the-community mode” but it actually disallows the use of copyleft GPL open source code … and requires entrants to license derivative works of their entry back to King5,” writes Reifman in a blog post. “Both of these points go against the very values of open source software and community development.”

The event kicks off this evening at Adobe’s campus in Seattle, with teams vying for $10,000 in prize money. About 70 people are expected to attend.

Intellectual property issues are always a concern at hackathons and Startup Weekend-style events. (In fact, prior to the last Startup Weekend EDU in Seattle, I spoke to one entrepreneur who chose not to attend out of fear that his online education idea would be compromised if he pitched it at the event).

For the most part, Startup Weekend — which hosts 54-hour coding marathons throughout the world — takes a hands off approach when it comes legal issues. They write in a FAQ on the site about IP/Ownership issues:

As with any startup, the team decides. Startup Weekend doesn’t support or take part in the signing of any legal documents at the events themselves, and while Mentors with legal backgrounds are often present and able to give general advice, they are not permitted to give specific legal counsel.

Mark Briggs

KING 5’s Mark Briggs, who is organizing this weekend’s event, said he anticipated some push-back from the developer community. And he noted that the terms of the contract are more onerous than he would have liked, adding that the document was created for “corporate peace of mind.”

“We had to strike a balance, and believe me, it wasn’t easy,” Briggs tells GeekWire. “But we still plan to work with the winning team on developing the idea into something lots of people will use and enjoy in a manner that is positive for both parties. To me it comes down to people. We are part of this community and will act in the best interests of the community as we figure out how to develop the idea or ideas that come out of the hackathon.”

Previously on GeekWire: Why King TV is hosting a hackathon, with a $10,000 prize

[Editor’s Note: GeekWire is a media partner of KING 5.]

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Jeff Rodenburg

    Good job, Jeff. This event sounds like free coding for King5.

  • Guest

    Does this guy even stop whining? First it was his decade long hate campaign against MS. Now this. Hey Jeff, maybe there’s a reason you got fired?

  • phonebanshee

    Jeff’s right, that’s the whole point of open source – you don’t need this kind of thing.  KING5 just created a real problem for themselves.  And Mark’s response was just comically bad.  No one is going to take this seriously as a “compromise”.  Hostility to open source perhaps isn’t the best way to run an open source event.

  • Yo Ma Ma

    more micro$haft-secretly-sponsored bulldada …

    • Guest


  • Roy Leban

    The requirement that you must license your code is both onerous and ridiculous. It flies in the face of the spirit of hackathons. I also wonder if it might violate labor laws, with KING 5 essentially getting unpaid labor for the weekend.

    But, given that they required that source be licensed, I disagree with Jeff on the disallowing of “copyleft” licenses. The use of GPL is plummeting and “permissive” licenses are rising again. Many people, including myself, believe that the virus-like restrictive terms of the GPL only benefit large companies and go against the fundamental values of open source software and the open source community (both of which predate the GPL and the Free Software Foundation by decades).

Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.