sergey aleynikov

Programming and the Law – Rounding Up Aleynikov’s Trial

In our last article we’ve briefly mentioned one of today’s highest paid programmers, Sergey Aleynikov. In the spirit of closure and to sate the curiosity of others who read the piece, we’re going to focus on Aleynikov’s trial to see whether or not the man is guilty or innocent.

You might be asking, “What does this have to do with programming?” Well, little actually. But we feel that it is essential to look into it nonetheless as one of our numbers is facing the law. The trial also has some significance in the world of programming as it addressed some of the laws and rules surrounding this niche.

Let’s Dive In

Aleynikov has been dismissed with one charge, was found guilty on the other, and jurors came to an impasse on the third charge.

The First Charge

The first charge was centered on the Russian programmer’s unlawful code duplication, a code which didn’t have much value according to Eric Hunsader, president of HFT (High Frequency Trading) software detection company Nanex and is considered one of today’s top HFT critics.

The code in question was an old one and much of it is available in the public domain as it’s an open source by design. This led to the first charge being ruled as a corporate espionage law improperly employed on the case.

The Second Charge

The second charge was regarding the act of stealing by Aleynikov which the verdict ruled him as guilty. He had downloaded the code to an anonymous server in Germany then deleted the history of the act on his Goldman’s computer.

The deletion was what heavily influenced the juror’s decision as it implied that Aleynikov was trying to cover his tracks.

The Third Charge and Avocado Accusation

The third charge, also centered on the accused stealing secret materials, came to a deadlock between jurors, two of which had heated discussion about, of all things, an avocado being tampered with by another juror. Both have been ousted from their service and the case continued on its course as nodded by both legal counsels.

Alas the mystery behind the avocado incident may remain a puzzle to those absent during the close-door meeting of the two jurors. Justice Daniel P. Conviser of State Supreme Court in Manhattan said so himself that he will not be releasing transcript of what occurred during the exchanged.

It’s also to be noted that the jurors may be way over their heads as the nature of the case is quite confusing when one isn’t well versed with the programming world. Indeed this was witnessed when they repeatedly asked whether or not the stolen code is “tangible” or not, a legal point that has come up during trial.

Aleynikov, being found guilty with one charge is facing a year and a half to four years in prison, though the judge is expected to show leniency. This isn’t concrete information and we’ll have to wait another four weeks to see what the decision in this regard would be.

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