There are hackathons and there are hackathons. And then there are hackathons.
In the first camp, there are the code sprints by open source projects to squash bugs and whip a piece of software into shape before shipping a release.
In the second, there are the 'FedEx'-style days that are held by companies like Atlassian and Yahoo!: Employees get to down tools for a day or two and work on scratching an itch by building a new product or adding a feature to an old one. Sure, it's work but it's at least slightly more fun than the typical day in the cubicle farm.
And then there are 'hackathons': Corporate-sponsored events where organisations get to put out a media release full of terms like 'crowdsourcing' and convince developers to work for not-quite-free.
"There's an insidious use of some of these terms," a developer who often works on open source projects told me after I sought comment via the typical journalistic means of posting a rant on Facebook.
"'Hackathon' to me means 'awesome fun hanging out with other open source devs hacking on shit'. I don't think that's what it means to them."
The developer – let's not dignify him with a pseudonym because I don't need to quote him again – was discussing the Sydney Opera House's 'Hack the House' event, which will be held in December.
The competition-style 'hackathon' is based around developing a mobile app for the Opera House. In fact, according to the publicity material, this is "the best hackathon".
The good: You get to sleep on beanbags at the Quay Grand during the hackathon. Also free food and (non-boozy) drinks.
The bad: The winning team gets a grand total of four grand for their app, from an organisation that in the financial year ending 2013 reported an income of more than $222 million. Four thousand dollars for producing an app that "will be used by millions of people visiting our iconic institution every year to drive onsite engagement".
The ugly: Some of the worst things about "the best hackathon," however, can be found in the terms and conditions for participation. Firstly, according to my reading of the T&Cs, you hand over all your IP to the Opera House regardless of whether you win:
...by submitting your Entry in this Hackathon, you warrant that your Entry is your original work which does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party and assign, on creation, any intellectual property rights in the Entry to the Sydney Opera House Trust and agree to sign any necessary documentation that may be required for us and our designees to make use of the rights you granted. ...that, in the event the assignment is not effective, you grant us an irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide right and license to: (i) use, review, assess, test, and otherwise analyze your Entry and all its content in connection with this Hackathon; and (ii) feature your Entry and all its content in connection with the marketing, sale, or promotion of this Hackathon and of Sydney Opera House (including but not limited to internal and external presentations and screen shots of the Hackathon Entry process in press releases) in all media (now known or later developed);
Secondly, if your work does for whatever reason infringe on someone else's IP, it's your problem, not the Opera House's:
that, in the event you breach the warranty set out in paragraph k) above, you indemnify the Sydney Opera House Trust, its officers, employees, contractors and agents against any and all claims that your Entry infringes on the intellectual property rights of any third party.
(And it's also worth noting, as The Reg points out, the terms and conditions appear to make your app fair game if the Opera House wants to snaffle some of the ideas in your app.)