Proprietary vs. confidential? (was: portfolios)

Subject: Proprietary vs. confidential? (was: portfolios)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 2 Aug 2002 09:49:07 -0400

It seems to me that we've been confusing two different concepts. Proprietary
information is something that belongs exclusively to the owner (e.g., the
company that asked you, as an employee, to produce the documentation). It
_may be_ protected by various secrecy laws, or it may be patented, but once
it's been released for public inspection (e.g., when the software ships),
the issue becomes one of copyright, not confidentiality. If you can buy a
copy of the manual and include that in your portfolio, there's little reason
not to photocopy or laser print a few sample pages for your portfolio. Among
other determining factors, doing so would cause the company no financial or
other harm beyond what they've already incurred by releasing the information
to the public, and the odds are excellent that this copying would be
protected under "fair use".

The "secrecy" aspect of the first definition suggests a second category of
information, which may also be known as "confidential", "classified",
"secret" or "for internal use only". This information is obviously not
intended for use outside the company, and is usually protected by
nondisclosure agreements and other barriers (e.g., it's never released to
the public, or as a lowly writer, you might never even see it). Obviously,
you shouldn't include this kind of information in a portfolio because that
would be both ethically and legally wrong once you've accepted the terms of
employment. Releasing the information could do the company serious harm, and
that's a good touchstone for why this is wrong.

When it comes time to include something you've written in your portfolio,
ask yourself which of the two categories the material falls under. If you
have any doubt, obtain written permission, just as you'd do in any other
situation that involves copying or otherwise reproducing copyrighted
materials. Or, as I've suggested before, use the same principles used to
produce the confidential information to produce your own example of how you
thought through and solved a problem.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"User's advocate" online monthly at
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is
noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience,
which is the bitterest."--Confucius, philosopher and teacher (c. 551-478

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