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Stealing Computer Code Isn't Theft, Court Rules (hp.com)
15 points by boopsie on Apr 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 14 comments

That's right, it isn't theft, it's copyright infringement. There is a difference.

"Taking a copy of computer code isn't theft by that 1996 law because it's not goods" is what they ruled.

Couldn't the federal government amend that law (the one cited as covering physical goods, etc) to include computer code?

Sure, but they can't make past actions a crime only future ones.

Could you convince the court that an MP3 file is just computer code? And downloading an MP3 file is not theft?

Conversely, if you comment digital goods into software, is it still "computer code"?

Curious; would it have been theft if the code had been copyrighted?

All creative works, including code, are protected by copyright the moment they are created. The protections of copyrighting are limited though, and at the time he was caught Mr. Aleynikov had not done anything other than copy the code. There was no distribution to other parties and no sale of the code, which meant there were limited damages. In other words, if they went after just copyright then there was no real difference between this guy stealing a font or stealing the software itself- the punishment would have been minimal at best. Because of this the focus was placed on trade secrets, and of course that failed to work due to the reasons the article addressed.

The code became copyrighted the moment it was written, but I guess it would only be considered copyright infringement and not theft.

No, the law states "goods or wares", the code is neither.

I just love the title. It basically amounts to "stealing isn't theft". But anyway, this is a toughie. I'm not sure if that was a good decision. The law may not see it as theft but realistically, it seems like it to me. I agree about the part of the ruling that says that it isn't considered theft because it was never sold but I'd ask if it was used. They use the example of the formula for Coca-Cola. Well, if I stole it and even made it publicly available but no one actually used it then that's not theft though in reality it'd be a scary prospect if I owned Coke as I'm sure someone would use that recipe.

Putting the law aside for a moment, doesn't it make sense that simply obtaining source code without permission is unethical but shouldn't be illegal so long as its never used without permission? The funny thing about code is that it falls into the area of ideas more than products but at the same time once it's used it does become property in a way. It's a tool but there are a lot of different ways to create any given tool as far as code is concerned.

It's like language. You can't own words but you can definitely steal the ideas conveyed by words from someone else and that shouldn't be okay. It's like writing books. Two people can write the same story using different words/word combinations and one couldn't say the other plagiarized as its not like two people never had the same idea before. But in cases like this, you just know it when you see it and I don't know if the law will ever be able to adequately deal with these kinds of situations because of the nature of them.

There are laws against misappropriating trade secrets, which would probably apply in the case of the Coca-Cola formula. The reason the federal trade secrets laws didn't apply in this case is because they only apply to secrets used to produce a product offered for sale in interstate commerce.

"It's like language. You can't own words but you can definitely steal the ideas conveyed by words from someone else and that shouldn't be okay. "

Why's that a bad thing? If the idea is lifted wholesale, it's usually easy to see where it came from, and if it is used as a basis for remixing/tweaking, value has been added.

In either event, the world is a richer place. What's wrong with sharing?

It's not a bad thing at all. I was hoping to convey your point about being able to tell where ideas come from but maybe I didn't so well.

Its one thing to steal an idea, use it as-is, remix it, whatever. That's fine. What's wrong is taking an idea and implementing it in a completely identical way. Like if someone took the source for MS Office, compiled it and just rebranded it then that's obvious theft. Of course the idea of a desktop publishing suite isn't something that can be stolen. There's a million ways to clone MS Office as far as the source is concerned so it's not theft so long as your implementation is unique to you. That's what I was getting at here. And the other thing is that I don't know if any law really could cover the kind of situation the article is about. It's just one of those things that's easy to spot when it's presented but hard to codify and describe.

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