I've been using Hotline for around four to five years now; ever since I obtained a beta version (b17 or something) from the once very awesome AOL Mac warez rooms. I was attached to it from the moment I first launched it and began cruising the server list and meeting new people from all over. Before that, all I knew of the internet was AOL and a few places on the WWW. Hotline opened up the door for me to what the internet should truly be.

Hotline was first created by Adam Hinkley and was based on a class library called AppWarrior (also created by him). This class library is what caused all the years of legal trouble for Hinkley.

Hinkley was hired as a full-time programmer at age seventeen for a company named Red Rock in Australia. He had demonstrated his toolkit (AppWarrior) to them during the interview and they were thoroughly impressed with it. At this time, the toolkit was pretty small and simple. His class library became an essential part of Red Rock's software while Hinkley was programming for them. Although, Hinkley still thought he had ownership rights to it because it was his creation, afterall.

During his employment, he was working on Hotline as a side project on his own time. He was doing all right with it, too; selling it as shareware. A guy in Canada named Jason Roks contacted Hinkley and convinced him that Hotline could be the next Big Thing and that he could become one of the dot com millionaires. Roks promises that $500,000 will be invested into Hinkley's development of Hotline Software. Hinkley got carried away with promises of vast sums of money so he packs his bags and tells Red Rock he'll be going on a vacation. About when he's due to return, Hinkley finally decides to tell Red Rock that we won't be coming back to work for them. So, Red Rock hires another programmer to fill Hinkley's place. They then realize that they don't have the source code for Hinkley's toolkit and so they are unable to edit parts of their software. Hinkley knew this and he offered to go back to Australia from Canada and help Red Rock get things sorted out and then return to Canada. Red Rock declined his offer and so had to re-do work that had already been done.

While in Canada, Hinkley had signed a Shareholder's Agreement contract with his busniness partners which assigned his rights of Hotline over to the new company created, Hotline Communications. He didn't pay much attention to it and said he was mainly going on what was said by his associates. So, about six months go by, but the investment money is no where to be seen. Hinkley has had enough of waiting for something he knows isn't going to go through and packs his bags and returns to Australia. His associates hadn't held up their end of the contract so he figured it was done and he was free to leave.

So, at this point, Hinkley has two angry companies after him and his software. At first, the two companies were fighting between themselves, but they finally reached an agreement where Red Rock signed over the rights to the class library to Hotline Communications. Hinkley ended up in a huge court battle where he had to represent himself because of his lack of money to hire his own lawyer.

It was just recently (a couple of months ago) finally settled and the court found that Hinkley had no rights to either his class library or Hotline. He's now twenty-two years old and flat broke. The decision was concluded on two main factors; first, how Hinkley's toolkit had evolved during the two to three years he had worked at Red Rock and second, how copyright law applied to the matter. Hinkley's toolkit did evolve during his employment at Red Rock even though it still did the same things throughout. Hinkley argued that it was still his because he developed it on his own without any help from Red Rock. But, here's where the copyright law applies. According to it, anything that is written by an employee during their employment becomes property of the company. Yes, anything. It doesn't matter if they wrote it in their own homes during non-working hours; it's still the company's.

After Hinkley's ordeal was over, he gave a few words of advice to any programmers out there. Most importantly, he said do not write any software of your own while under employment from a company. This is a scary truth of intellectual property rights and how the individual gets the negative end of it.

As Dalamcd wrote above, Hotline is now mainly a haven for people wanting you to click on banner ads to access their servers so they can make a few cents. There is still a part of it which was retained from it's peak of existence, though. Mainly in the form of private servers where people know each other and trade files freely and where they can hang out and chat. Hotline Communications (HC) took a really nice piece of software and pretty much squeezed the life from it to maximize profit. I personally still use Adam Hinkley's last version of it which he programmed (1.2.3) which was released in 1998 because it's better than any newer versions that HC has put out. There's sort of a cult following who do this because they feel Hinkley was royally screwed over by some assholes who don't care about the software itself.

Update 9/23/01: Hotline Communications recently announced they're going out of business because they're out of money. Hotline will still be around for as long as people use it, there just won't be any official development. There are several clones, though, which will continue to be developed upon.

Update 11/15/01: I've learned recently that Hotline Communications is now rehiring their team so they can work on Hotline some more. I guess they're back in business.