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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Appeals Court Rules Computer Code Is Not "Property" and Can’t Be Stolen

   
Author Topic: Appeals Court Rules Computer Code Is Not "Property" and Can’t Be Stolen
Stephan
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quote:
Sergey Aleynikov, an ex-Goldman-Sachs programmer, spent a year in prison for downloading source code of the firm's high-speed trading software before his sentence was overturned in February. Today, the court explained why—downloading computer code doesn't constitute stealing under the National Stolen Property Act.

The 2nd Circuit Appeals Court ruled that since computer code cannot be physically obtained, it doesn't fit the legal description of a stolen good. "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 [National Stolen Property Act]," the court wrote in its decision.

In addition, the Appeals Court struck down charges against Aleynikov of violating the Electronic Espionage Act since the software was never destined for foreign markets. Specifically, the judges wrote, "Because the HFT system was not designed to enter or pass in commerce, or to make something that does, Aleynikov's theft of source code relating to that system was not an offense under the EEA."

The court was quick to point out that this decision should not be interpreted for all cases of electronic theft, however the legal recognition that code isn't physical property (which people have been saying for years) is sure to make this case a focal point in future MPAA/RIAA wranglings.

http://gizmodo.com/5901263/court-rules-it-is-impossible-to-steal-computer-code

I'm not quite sure why this would not apply to downloading music and movies. Why can one court say something is theft, and another one say it is not?

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Dobbie
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quote:
Originally posted by Stephan:
[QUOTE] x... .since the software was never destined for foreign markets. Specifically, the judges wrote, "Because the HFT system was not designed to enter or pass in commerce, or to make something that does, Aleynikov's theft of source code relating to that system was not an offense under the EEA."

[/QB]

Downloaded movies and music are destined for the market.
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Stephan
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That part had more to do with espionage though.
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Lyrhawn
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Out of curiosity, why does the "bound for the market" argument matter? I suppose you could argue that it deprives the creator of the material compensation he or she would otherwise get if the thing was sold rather than copied. But couldn't you make a similar argument for source code stolen that wasn't intended to be sold? The person who stole it can still find a way to monetize that theft, which means in some way, it's still lost revenue if you follow those arguments through to their logical ends.
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rivka
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???

So if I made photocopies of secret company documents, leaving the originals, how would that differ?

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Darth_Mauve
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Well, you stole the paper and the ink from the copy machine.

Theft of Ideas and Practices is apparently not covered under those particular laws.

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mr_porteiro_head
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It makes sense to me that the illicit copying of intellectual property be classified differently than the theft of physical goods.
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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
It makes sense to me that the illicit copying of intellectual property be classified differently than the theft of physical goods.

I agree with this wholeheartedly.

Seems like illicit copying of intellectual property can still be a crime despite this.

This is also why I have to roll my eyes when online copyright infringement is referred to as "piracy" to lend it a more morally incriminating appearance.

It's copyright infringement, not stealing crates of goods.

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Lyrhawn
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What's the rationale behind that?

Doesn't it ultimately come down to the value deprived, rather than the physical object itself? I mean maybe that argument is different if someone steals your Faberge Egg, something uniquely valuable, but I fail to see how stealing a physical CD is different from stealing an mp3 of the same cd from the point of view of the creator.

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Xavier
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quote:
It's copyright infringement, not stealing crates of goods.
And those who partake rarely wear eye-patches.
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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
Doesn't it ultimately come down to the value deprived, rather than the physical object itself?
There are lots of legal and moral things that I can do that can decrease the value of your property, thereby depriving you of that value.
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Speed
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Just from a cursory glance at the quote in the original post, I was more curious about how it would relate to patents than music copyrights.

Maybe I'm misreading it.

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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by Speed:
Just from a cursory glance at the quote in the original post, I was more curious about how it would relate to patents than music copyrights.

Maybe I'm misreading it.

I only went with music and movies, because it tends to get more people talking. But, in my opinion, patents are the same thing in this case.

This court says it is not theft, if you are not taking physical possession of something.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Darth_Mauve:
Well, you stole the paper and the ink from the copy machine.

Ok, so I took pictures with my cell phone instead.

If corporate espionage isn't theft, what is it?

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mr_porteiro_head
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The theft of information is significantly different from the theft of objects.

What is it? It's corporate espionage. It's copyright infringement. It's theft of information. It's many things.

But it's not the same thing as stealing a physical object.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
But it's not the same thing as stealing a physical object.

Agreed, for the most part.

The not being espionage bit makes the least sense to me of this decision.

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mr_porteiro_head
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I wonder if that's being caused by an poorly-worded law.
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rivka
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Sounds like it might be. [Razz]
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just_me
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
But it's not the same thing as stealing a physical object.

Agreed, for the most part.

The not being espionage bit makes the least sense to me of this decision.

I think the Act they were referring to was "espionage" more along the lines of James Bond/Austin Powers etc and not "corporate espionage" and this why the international thing matters.

But that's a complete guess.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
???

So if I made photocopies of secret company documents, leaving the originals, how would that differ?

I know you're being facetious, but of course the answer is that you would be committing industrial espionage. Seems like a weird ruling here, but you have to consider that the court rules regarding the scope of the charges being made. If the charges were inappropriate or inapplicable to the act (sounds kind of like they were), then striking a conviction doesn't set a new precedent so much as affirm the extent of the law in regards to the charges being made.

For instance, to generalize grossly, if an appeals court overturns a conviction for first degree murder in a case that should have been charged as manslaughter, it's not as if that particular act, ie: manslaughter, is now considered legal. It means the scope of the charges didn't fit the act in question.

And that does happen often enough. Striking a conviction or overturning a previous ruling doesn't validate the *act*, it *invalidates* the conviction under a specified charge. Good to keep in mind.

Stephan:
quote:
I'm not quite sure why this would not apply to downloading music and movies. Why can one court say something is theft, and another one say it is not?
Because downloading music and movies which you do not own is intellectual property theft (at least, one party in the chain of upload/downloads is committing the theft of intellectual property). And intellectual property is defined very broadly. This decision relates to theft as defined for physical goods, which is not applicable to intellectual property. A movie is a movie, not a DVD or a line of code- it is not treated under the law as a physical property insofar as intellectual property theft is concerned. This decision does not weaken the status of protection for intellectual properties.

So while the decision *does* affirm that, for instance, you might not deserve to be charged with larceny for computer hacking (and that is a BIG might, because this is not that broad of a decision), that doesn't change the fact that computer hacking is a crime in many other respects.

You might consider this a point in the win column for illegal downloading of copyrighted material, but really, it might only come to bear in a case where a studio or a record producer was trying to have you charged with petty larceny for downloading their music or movies. The question is not really: "is it illegal to pirate movies," but "is movie piracy the same as the theft of a physical good." The answer, according to this decision, is no. But just because they aren't the *same* doesn't mean they aren't both illegal.

[ April 12, 2012, 06:47 PM: Message edited by: Orincoro ]

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asleydyasley
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(Post Removed by Janitor Blade. Spam without the URL)

[ December 20, 2012, 01:17 AM: Message edited by: JanitorBlade ]

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