The age old debate that code can be stolen may finally be resolved
For years it has been debated that code can be stolen, therefore if it can be stolen, you can be prosecuted for stealing other peoples code or work in a court of law. Also in a similar token, if you can steal code, then it should be able to be copyrighted. In a recent court ruling, this may have all changed.
The recent decision ruled on is part of the famous case of Sergey Aleynikov, who is a former programmer for Goldman Sachs. In 2009, Sergey downloaded the entire source code for the investment firm’s trading system from the company’s computers.
Goldman Sachs filed suit against him for theft of property and espionage. Sergey was charged and convicted and sent off to jail. However, in a court of appeals ruling this past week, the courts said that the charges have been overturned, and Sergey has been set free.
The charges were overturned because the downloading of the code did not constitute theft of physical property because the code did not qualify as a physical object under a federal theft statute says Wired. In addition the espionage charges were dropped because the firm’s trading system was not a product designed for interstate or foreign commerce, which is a requirement for the Economic Espionage Act.
Because Aleynikov did not “assume physical control” over anything when he took the source code, and because he did not thereby “deprive [Goldman] of its use,” Aleynikov did not violate the NSPA [National Stolen Property Act].
[…] the source code was not “related” to a product “produced for or placed in interstate or foreign commerce” within the meaning of the Economic Espionage Act.
The ruling sets a precedence on code for two reasons. First it’s not a physical property, so theft of code cannot be prosecuted based on this case, and second in a more loose manner in order to copyright something it has to be granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Tangible as in it has to be something that can be touched. Since code cannot be touched in the physical sense, it cannot be property that can be stolen, and in this ruling it may not be able to be copyrighted either.