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Software The Courts

Court Rules Code Not Physical Property 125

Posted by timothy
from the took-them-this-long-to-notice dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Wired: "Former Goldman Sachs programmer Sergey Aleynikov, who downloaded source code for the investment firm's high-speed trading system from the company's computers, was wrongly charged with theft of property because the code did not qualify as a physical object under a federal theft statute, according to a court opinion published Wednesday." Adds the submitter: "The RIAA's definitely got to give Goldman Sachs their secret recipe ..."
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Court Rules Code Not Physical Property

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  • Procedural error (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:16PM (#39660407)

    This is a procedural error, not a statement that 'stealing' code isn't a crime. Rest assured, legislation is being drafted that will ensure that stealing from a poor, innocent company, will earn you at least 30 years in jail and an 8 trillion dollar fine. Really, it would be less troublesome to just murder the CEO the way the laws are being written these days...

  • Re:Procedural error (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:31PM (#39660733)

    Correct. Not that what Aleynikov did wasn't wrong. But for our legal system to operate properly and fairly, we've go to stick to the rules. Now, I'm no legal scholar, but the judge evidently had reservations about exactly what the intent of Congress was when they wrote that federal statute. And that's a good thing. It will force them (Congress) to go back to the drawing board and address the different aspects of stealing/copying/damaging this class of property. And they very well may make a distinction between snatching a copy for yourself and depriving the original owner of the use of their property. And they might address the various ways that this deprivation can affect the owner, from an outright denial of service to the (imaginary or real) loss of potential market share. And each case could get its own legal treatment, which might end up being a good thing all around.

  • by icebike (68054) * on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:34PM (#39660815)

    Code can only be created by intellectuals, like /. readers; therefore, it is Intellectual Property, not some ho-hum, run-of-the-mill property...

    Seems like your attempt at snark was almost as successful as your spelling in the title.

    But, perhaps by accident you've hit the nail on the head. This should have been charged with a copyright or trade secrets violation, or some security breach, not theft of property. Most states have laws covering criminal use of computers, as does the federal government. There was never a need to base these charges on the theft statutes.

    In California (by way of example) there are specific laws concerning taking information [findlaw.com] from a computer in an unauthorized way. (Penal Code Section 499c 2.) [onecle.com]

    But the bigger question is how many others have been charged with simple Property Theft under federal law in the past for this same sort of breach (downloading source code) and paid the penalty or served the time?

    To what extent does this change the landscape for computer break-ins?

  • by Fned (43219) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:40PM (#39660933) Journal

    All they have done is stated that code is non-corporeal. They haven't said stealing it isn't a crime...

    Who gives a shit if it's still a crime, do you realize what this means?!

    Now whenever someone says "copyright infringment is theft", instead of spending dozens of paragraphs pointing out the gigantic unpatchable holes in their spurious-ass inevitable failure of an argument, we can now just say, "Goldman-Sachs v. Aleynikov, your argument is invalid. STFU forever."

    This will save SO much time in the future.

  • by Grumbleduke (789126) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @02:28PM (#39662011) Journal

    Some of us have been able to do this for years, using Oxford v Moss [wikipedia.org] (there's also Boardman v Phipps [wikipedia.org] which is a House of Lords case, but on trusts, and the information != property point is kind of obiter).

    Of course, then they go "well, OK, it's not technically theft, but it's still taking someone else's stuff without paying for it" - remember, you don't have debates about copyright enforcement law, you have rants from either side; no one really seems to care about verifiable facts.

  • The RIAA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nedlohs (1335013) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @02:38PM (#39662191)

    aren't stupid enough to go for a theft charge.

    Let's see they could try for a theft charge that the person stole 50 songs at 99c a song on itunes for under $50 wroth of theft.

    Or they chould try for a copyright infringment charge that the person aided in thousands of copies being made by sharing the files. With statutory damages of $150,000 up for grabs.

    Wow, hard choice...

"Any excuse will serve a tyrant." -- Aesop

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