What is the meaning of:
“Public Domain” generally means “owned by the public,” or contrariwise, “not owned or own-able by any person.” It has specific meaning in the fields of real estate and copyrights. In the employment context, “public domain” relates primarily to the what is, and what is not, employer-owned and legally protectable “confidential” information.
The importance of understanding what is in the “public domain” arises when employees are asked by their prospective employers, their new employers, or their former employers, to sign Confidentiality Agreements, or confidentiality provisions inside Employment Agreements, Severance Agreements, and the like. Such agreements are always very broadly written so as to give the employer maximum protection, and to convey the impression that “everything under the sun” is and must remain “confidential.”
Information is “public domain” information, and thus not “confidential” information, if it is known by, or available to, the general public. So, how much each partner in a company was paid last year might be confidential, but it loses its confidentiality and becomes “public domain” if that information is published in newspapers, or in Court files as part of a lawsuit.
Since the advent of the internet in our lives, the issue of what is, and what is not, “public domain” has been become a delicate problem. So, if documents are “stolen” and then posted on the internet, have they lost their confidentiality? Are they now “public domain,” and thus capable of being shared with others without risk to the person doing the sharing? These questions abound, and are not all easily answerable.
In the employment context, confidentiality is the “default,” meaning that it is to be presumed unless there exists a good reason not to hold that view. For most purposes, it will suffice for you to presume that all information at work, including personal information, business information, and client information, is “confidential,” and, thus, cannot legally be used or disclosed.
For more information, insight and inspiration regarding issues of workplace confidentiality, proprietary information, trade secrets and the like at work, just [ click here. ]
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