Re: confidentiality

Subject: Re: confidentiality
From: John Gough <gough -at- AUSTIN -dot- ASC -dot- SLB -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 1996 09:44:30 -0600

Krista Van Laan wrote:
>I do take confidentiality seriously; I have never brought
>a sample of a manual in progress or for a product not yet
>released, I have never shown an internal document, and
>I have never shown a manual that was not published and
>therefore presumably available to the outside world.

>But I do show samples and I would like to know if that
>is wrong, and if so, how. Are these things determined
>contract by contract, or is there really an implicit
>law or understanding covering the whole subject?

In the US there are usually nondisclosure clauses
written into the employment contract. So if you
obey the letter of the law you can't show your work.
But that isn't the way things work.

Unless you work for a federal agency or the
military on classified projects, showing documentation
samples doesn't violate the spirit of the agreement.
After all, the "trade secret" a corporation wants to
protect cannot be gotten from the manual (this is
truer of s/w than h/w manuals). Generally you
are showing samples to a TW manager, who probably has
neither motivation nor ability to "steal" whatever
real ideas are expressed in your sample in the time
allotted. (Again, I agree that we should not show
samples except in an interview.)

It has been hard to keep a straight face when I interview, say,
a young writer who struggles with the moral implications of
showing me her COBOL compiler documentation when I represent, say,
a client-server middleware vendor. :-)

There is also the point that an indiscriminate nondisclosure
policy ("can't show anything") constitutes at least an illegal
restraint of trade, if not undue interference in professional

I have always believed that within our profession, we have
a right to a copy of the work we do as representation of
the work we do (again, govt classified work excepted).
We don't own it or have the right to republish it, but
we do have the right to use it in representing ourselves.
That "right" is not written down anywhere, but we run
the profession as though we have it, and we should.

There is a broader political issue here: "who runs our lives?
us as citizens or corporations? do we want capitalism as
an economic system or form of goverment? etc etc"
It should probably be discussed elsewhere.

Employment agreements have taken to including many clauses
that are outright illegal (for example, noncompete clauses).
I have heard of some contractors defending themselves by
bringing their own pages to the agreement: typically they
nullify noncompete clauses and assert a right to a copy
of the work produced.

It's a shame that that we have to go to such lengths
to protect reasonable individual liberties and
maintain a reasonable professional environment.

John Gough gough -at- austin -dot- asc -dot- slb -dot- com
Technical Consultant johngough -at- aol -dot- com
Schlumberger -- Austin Product Center C1.147 -- (512) 331-3656

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