Wired reports a potential interesting twist in the field of intellectual property rights and theft laws in the US, a court has ruled that a man who downloaded the source code of his former employers did not steal it. The judges ruled that former Goldman Sachs (GS) employee Sergey Aleynikov had not committed theft of the source code as he had not deprived his employer of a physical item (they could still run their system) and consequently GS had suffered no financial loss as a result. As a result Mr Aleynikov has now been released from prison after one year of an eight year sentence.
The result in theory could have some impact on intellectual property rights in other domains as well, as for example electronic downloads of copyrighted electronic material as people are not depriving the holder of income or taking any physical item. As some have noted there are other laws which can cover such instances but it does open up a potential loophole in the US. Also it could cause some problems in areas such as software patents where people could in theory circulate the source code of patented software freely arguing that they are neither infringing any patent nor depriving the developer of any income. Anyway not being a fan of software patents I am perhaps a little biased. The US for one has upheld previous rules on the release of source code, for example allowing companies to claim that source code is something which should not be circulated as it is a “trade secret”. Among the more famous cases on this point relate to the disputed election of George W. Bush, where manufacturers of e-voting systems invoked this right in order to prevent independent organisations checking their systems.