Is The Goldman Sachs Stolen Code A Big Deal?

from the not-really dept

A few weeks back there was a lot of news over a former Goldman Sachs programmer who was arrested by the FBI for supposedly "stealing code" he had worked on while at GS. The headlines made a big deal over the importance of this software, talking about how its proprietary nature could represent a "huge loss" for the banking giant. That struck me as typical journalistic hyperbole, and it's great to see the NY Times actually be the one to step in with an op-ed from a programmer who points out how blown out of proportion this story likely is compared to the real issue. The op-ed piece makes two key points: (1) It's pretty common for programmers to keep copies of their code, if only to be able to refer back to it and (2) the code, by itself, isn't really all that useful. He notes that simply reusing someone else's code really doesn't help much -- and what most companies want is better code that is better suited to what their approach is -- meaning that they want the know-how of the programmer, not the old code.


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  1.  
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    Cixelsid (profile), Jul 27th, 2009 @ 1:45am

    Damn straight

    Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V. That's how I code these days.

     

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    Digital Protector (profile), Jul 27th, 2009 @ 3:02am

    Also

    Even if the guy just did any new code without the GS code as a reference, it would likely be very similar, ergo, I fail to see why having the code on-hand would be so very disastrous.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 3:58am

    Streisand Effect as it applies to Goldman

    One problem is that the code may have held information on valuations of perhaps stocks, commodities, and maybe even derivatives trading. I can't see any other reason why the FBI would have been so interested in him when the plane landed.

    Secondly, there was always an implicit relationship between Goldman and the upper echelons of Government. Many years ago, I remember in a 500 level econ class that GS was the US's "Venture Capital Bank on steroids". Something I've come to believe over the years as the revolving door between GS and the Government becomes more apparent in the news. Goldman is the T-2000 of banks.

    But when Paulsen was brought from GS to be Treasury Secretary, this should have been quite obvious. Allegedly, when the US Gov't Paid AIG, a healthy portion of recieved TARP funds were passed thru to pay Goldman loans.

    Stories such as this makes Goldman strangely interesting. Do some research on Goldman's involvement with Carbon Credits, purely for curiosity purposes, of course. What I was able to find was real interesting. For example, if the public bought into the concept, well, it could hold some potential to be a new form of worldwide currency some day.

    But most coders worth their salt have a photographic memory when it comes to concepts. Perhaps Goldman didn't use the alien mind eraser on him, in such a situation, it would be silly to think his knowledge would be used elsewhere.

    So tagging them with a criminal record which would prevent future employment seems to be the only real solution at that point.

    Good for Goldman. Something tells me that this guy's salary will get him right back to where he was, maybe making a few times what he had when he worked at Goldman.

    Streisand Effect, anyone?

     

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    Big Al, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 4:31am

    Re: Streisand Effect as it applies to Goldman

    "One problem is that the code may have held information on valuations of perhaps stocks, commodities, and maybe even derivatives trading. I can't see any other reason why the FBI would have been so interested in him when the plane landed."
    From the above comment I assume you aren't a programmer of any description. The cardinal sin of any program is to include data in the code so, if it was any decent type of code, the above would NOT apply.

     

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    Keven Sutton, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 4:47am

    Re: Re: Streisand Effect as it applies to Goldman

    "One problem is that the code may have held information on valuations of perhaps stocks, commodities, and maybe even derivatives trading. I can't see any other reason why the FBI would have been so interested in him when the plane landed."
    From the above comment I assume you aren't a programmer of any description. The cardinal sin of any program is to include data in the code so, if it was any decent type of code, the above would NOT apply.

    Exactly what I was thinking. What type of coder hard codes something as temporal as that information in? It would have to be abstracted somehow to be of any use.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 4:55am

    It could include things like the algorithm for weighting risk factors though. I, as a coder, keep copies of everything I have ever written as reference. When I go back and look at them I usually just facepalm say WTF was I thinking, and rewrite it though.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 4:56am

    Re: Re: Streisand Effect as it applies to Goldman

    Big Al Said:

    From the above comment I assume you aren't a programmer of any description. The cardinal sin of any program is to include data in the code so, if it was any decent type of code, the above would NOT apply.


    As code is developed over years, it invariably is passed from one dev to another. Well-commented and documented code is something very prevalent in the open source community. However, when it comes to code developed in a commercial sense, it is often absent the commentation you speak of. Thusly, until the code is brought forward and released as evidence in a public court of law, can we make any type of generalization regarding the code itself.

     

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    Simon, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 4:58am

    Re: Damn straight

    Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V. That's how I comment these days.

     

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    ..., Jul 27th, 2009 @ 5:07am

    Re: Re: Re: Streisand Effect as it applies to Goldman

    I did not follow what you tried to say.

     

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    Steve Steidle (profile), Jul 27th, 2009 @ 5:22am

    Missing the Point...

    The primary reason that the news has been making such a big deal about this is because of the implication of what the code does. GS came out an said themselves that the code, if in the wrong hands, could be used to "manipulate markets in unfair ways".

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=ajIMch.ErnD4

    I understand the arguments that just having a chunk of hard code isn't really going to help anyone, but think about what I just said. They reported it could be used to manipulate markets in an unfair way. Doesn't that mean that GS themselves has the power to manipulate the markets unfairly? This is all tied into the high frequency trading scandal running through the news right now.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/24/business/24trading.html

    As such, the issue here isn't so much whether someone is going to get ahold of that code and run GS out of business (they have a giant tax-payer funded safety net anyway), but what GS is using the code for.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 5:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Streisand Effect as it applies to Goldman

    Read it again. If you're still confuzzled, copy it and paste it into a word document. Next, take it to a developer who works for you and see what they say.

     

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    NullOp, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 5:39am

    Code

    When I write code its mine, period, case closed! However, that does not mean I sell, distribute, give away or in any way harm whomever I wrote it for. It simply means it is in my library for my use.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 6:00am

    Cut & Paste

    You don't know how many times this little app has saved my ass.

    Can someone at Apple get "Mouser" a job? I really, really, really want a Mac version of this.

     

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    Safold Fadleu, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 6:17am

    It's a non-story

    The original story was a non-story.

    Even if this ex-goldmans guy stole all the code from the trading system the chance of him being able to use it is pretty minimal:

    Goldmans were one of the first banks in the USA to invest in computers and as a result they have a 40 year legacy of ultra proprietary code. Most Goldman's systems are written in an entirely proprietary language used nowhere else other than goldmans... and I mean that literally.

    GS do not even use normal databases or even standard components like libc - it's all custom stuff.

    So the only way to replicate this system would be to rebuild the whole of GS' infrastructure - a completely pointless exercise without the huge staff of experts that GS have to run it.

    In short, the story has been way overblown. The guy was caught takeing a copy for personal use, however there's no sign that he ever had an intent to re-use the code commercially, nor is there any sign that he belonged to an organization which had the resources to do so.

     

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    Errr - what?, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 6:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Streisand Effect as it applies to Goldman

    Is it possible that you did not understand the Big Al post?
    Read it again, and try not to be such a DB this time.

    Big Al -> "From the above comment I assume you aren't a programmer of any description. The cardinal sin of any program is to include data in the code so, if it was any decent type of code, the above would NOT apply."

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 6:45am

    High Frequency Trading

    The op-ed piece makes two key points: (1) It's pretty common for programmers to keep copies of their code, if only to be able to refer back to it and (2) the code, by itself, isn't really all that useful. He notes that simply reusing someone else's code really doesn't help much -- and what most companies want is better code that is better suited to what their approach is -- meaning that they want the know-how of the programmer, not the old code.


    I've heard that the code pertains to high frequency trading. So few large players in the market are able to use this but it remains a massively profitable way to manipulate the market in ways not possible by a common person. By using the software to make thousands of transactions per second (not just buy/sell, but also hold/cancel decisions), the software is able to determine swing limits for stocks, buy them and sell them for small profits in short amounts of time. They essentially steal money of the actual buy and hold investors by beating them to the punch.

    Now carry this code over to other firms that are thinking of using the same thing and you see why the big financial institutions are so ready to pay back TARP funds.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 6:45am

    It's always so ridiculous how people think code is magical.

    The database holds the real prize. Even if he had the equivalent of SQL for whatever GS uses in the code it'd be rather useless. If anything some nefarious company might be able to piece together their database diagram! HEAVENS!

    I tip my hat to the New York Times for breathing some sense into this subject.

     

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    Trails, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 7:15am

    Re: Re: Re: Streisand Effect as it applies to Goldman

    Nonetheless, any data that has crept into the code would be the exception, not the rule, otherwise the application in question wouldn't be viable. Hence, the notion of valuable non-algorithmic info in the code is unlikely.

    It is possible the code included some db backup and that the slew of less than technical secuirty officials and reporters have glossed over this fact, but even assuming the previous, I suspect this would deserve mention.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 7:16am

    Re: It's a non-story

    40 years ago, we had Cobol, and the beginnings of other programming languages. This was just beginning. So, it's well known that someone funded something. If we need to go back 40 years to perhaps see the buyout of multiple Nazi-related technology. We're seriously talking about Warburg's time.

    If he knew something outside of legacy code. It's not the code they were after, it's what he learned in the process. It's the interactions. People around him that saw him as a threat for what they shared.

    If they could only pin him down for 40 year old code, then, well... Pretty sad.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 7:24am

    Re: Streisand Effect as it applies to Goldman

    Code is NOT data. If the code held information on stocks than it was hard coded into the program. If this developer hard coded stock information into the program than he is an idiot. I don't think he did this so the program is only code and not data. The benefit to another company may be in the data fields/types GS used. If they have a extra field in their database about a company that my Stock company doesn't collect then and only then would my company benefit from seeing their code.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 7:25am

    Re:

    ah, yes. I think every good coder does that. While showing off my code to someone in an interview I have paused half-way into it going "what the heck was I thinking here? it is so much better to do X" and I started editing the code in front of them, while explaining the main concept and what I was changing and why.

    you get a surprising range of results form that kind of activity... I've had job interviews end on the spot because of that, though I've also had some of the best jobs from those who didn't think that was strange

     

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  22.  
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    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 7:50am

    Blow out of proportion or not

    ANY programmer that keeps copies of their code after terminating their employment WITHOUT permission of their employer is committing THEFT PERIOD. Common practice or not, theft is still theft.

    Taking that code and reusing it in a new company is putting that new company at risk of copyright violations. No matter if he recreated the code and it looked similar or not. The fact that he copied if from a previous employer is still the issue.

    This problem of STUPID and LAZY programmers IS why software is covered under both Copyright and Patends. Copyright laws do not have enough teeth to put a stop to this practice, and is rarely used to penalize the IDIOT that copies his code.

    We have WORK FOR HIRE clauses for a reason, and if your a programmer that is too damn lazy or disrespectful of your previous emplorers and feel it necessarry to steal from them, perhaps you need to find a new career...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 8:09am

    ANY programmer that keeps copies of their code after terminating their employment WITHOUT permission of their employer is committing THEFT PERIOD. Common practice or not, theft is still theft. Not theft, breach of copyright & cotnract. There's a massive difference.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 8:47am

    Re: Blow out of proportion or not

    It is a good thing you aren't a programmer (I hope, oh dear lord, I hope). No sane programmer supports code patents for the very simple reason that if I write ten different programs that have to access a database and display data, that code is going to look very similar whether it is hooking into an Oracle database, MySQL, Microsoft's SQL Server, PostgreSQL, or a non-SQL database. Even if I were to hand-code an entire database specially designed for my application the calls to it in the code would be extremely similar.

    Next you are going to say that using reference books or websites or referring to a Hello World is violating copyright. Is using code out of a first-year programming text book that goes over string formatting a violation of copyright?

    And for the record any SMART programmer keeps his old code as his reference books because it is quicker to reference (he wrote it after all) and they will constantly be learning better ways to do things anyway so will be changing and modifying the code before reusing it.

    Programmers are TAUGHT to be lazy, they are taught to work very hard so that they can stay lazy. a bad, un-lazy programmer will re-write the same code hundreds or thousands of times instead of stopping and say "there has to be a better way." You should look at sites like www.thedailywtf.com for examples of what happens when programmers aren't lazy, I'm warning you that it ain't pretty.

    this is also a nice little site that explains why programmers are lazy and why you wouldn't want them any other way.

    but perhaps I should just quote Larry Wall when he laid out the three virtues of a programmer:

    1. Laziness - The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don't have to answer so many questions about it. Hence, the first great virtue of a programmer. Also hence, this book. See also impatience and hubris.
    2. Impatience - The anger you feel when the computer is being lazy. This makes you write programs that don't just react to your needs, but actually anticipate them. Or at least pretend to. Hence, the second great virtue of a programmer. See also laziness and hubris.
    3. Hubris - Excessive pride, the sort of thing Zeus zaps you for. Also the quality that makes you write (and maintain) programs that other people won't want to say bad things about. Hence, the third great virtue of a programmer. See also laziness and impatience.

    Sadly, people like you who know nothing about programming (or at least are nothing that can be compared to a competent programmer based on your view) really muck this up for those who know what they are doing. All programmers do is work with a lot of ones and zeroes and one bit of code that adds up some numbers looks just like another bit of code that adds up some numbers, it isn't stuff that should be copyrighted or patented because it is not innovative. Every "innovative" thing is just a slight twist on an old algorithm and if one programmer comes up with it, I guarantee that there hare a hundred more who have known about it or discovered it themselves.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Jul 27th, 2009 @ 8:47am

    It's like this though..

    Respect starts with the company. If it's lacking there - they just cannot expect the employee to respect the company either. It's a two way street.

    Big companies are constantly hiring and firing - fire employees, hire contractors. Fire contractors, outsource. Etc, etc.

    There's no company loyalty really anymore. Because there's no loyalty from the company towards the employees.

    It's a destructive cycle, all for some short term gains. It seems interesting to me now - how almost ALL big company's think so very much in the short term, instead of using time-tested long term strategy - like loyal employees and a sense of worth and stability for employees.

    Loyal followers have won wars for leaders with armies many times smaller than their opposition - take Alexander the Great; for instance. Or Genghis Kahn.

    So if the focus is only short-term; then there's a good chance, that's all you'll get - short-term. Short-term loyalty, short-term employees, etc.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Jul 27th, 2009 @ 8:50am

    Oh that and maybe it's poetic justice for them using bailout money for bonuses.

    What comes around - goes around.

    Garbage In - Garbage Out.

     

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  27.  
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    Paul Brinker, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 9:13am

    Code is art, Right now if I ask 5 programmers to write a basic online store every one of them will most likely violate copyright or patents in doing so and my 5 programmers wont even know it because some vary basic concepts have patents. Sadly this is the state of affairs we have to work in right now and why open source is not as common as we want it to be.

    This is why programmers keep their code, there making art, a vary logical and rather different kind of art but its still art. Would you ask the guy who made a statue to give up his design plans?

    If he had a contract that included he would not keep any code he personally worked on then you could have a case. Otherwise this is a non issue.

     

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    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re: Blow out of proportion or not

    First off I am a 30 year VETERAN Programmer, but furthermore I am also a BUSINESS OWNER who sells a software package I Developed.

    Second off, I never said I SUPPORTED Software Patends, but rather I said "This problem of STUPID and LAZY programmers IS why software is covered under both Copyright and Patends."

    If programmers began respecting the "WORK FOR HIRE" contact that they enter into, and did not steal the code that they wrote for a company, there would be no need for the Patents, and copyright would be sufficient. Patent's offer the teeth in the law, Copyright is nothing more than a slap on the wrist at best.

    As for a "smart" programmer keeping copies of their code for reference. The SMART programmer would respect the Work for Hire agreement that they entered into. There is no inherrant right as a programmer to keep copies of the work they do. Just as there is no right for a secretary to keep copies of the documents she writes for her boss.

    It is irrelevant if similar work would result in similar or even identical looking code, you never owned the original work from the first company when you take it to the next, the next company nor yourself has the right to profit from work that a previous employer paid for development. The new employer only has the right to use what they pay you to develop so there-fore re-write it on their dime.

    The THEFT that takes place is monetary, there is no reason, right or expectation when you come to a new company for them to gain from code previously written. Furtermore by copying the code from a previous employer you are doing your new employer an injustice by putting them at risk of copyright infringement by reusing your code from the previous.

    Your disrespect of that work for hire not only shows a lack of professionalism in you, it could cost thousands if not millions of dollars in legal fees and penalties and royalties etc to your new employer...

    I would NEVER hire a developer that knowingly or unknowingly would put me or my company at risk, and I would not ever risk puting a future empoyer at rish of those types of penalties just to save them a few dollars of labor.

    To clarify, I feel that patents on PROCESSES, or on IDEAS and products that have yet to be produced is a bad idea. The facts are there are no patents on software. The patents are on the processes and procedures that are used in software. This aspect of the patent system has never made sense.

    Just as it makes ZERO sense for there to be patents issued on products that have never been produced, and may never be produced such as the patents that exist on Perpetual motion.

    On the other hand, Copyright law needs to be strengthened where software is involved to better protect companies and individuals that spend resources to produce that software.

     

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    The Cenobyte, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 9:13am

    umm billions is not enough money for you?

    Code by itself is not that great, but if you are talking about all the coded needed to do huge transactions on a common back office system (Thompson for example), you could be looking at years and years of programing testing and supporting costs saved. I would guess one of these systems in a large financial business like GS could have cost billions to product.

    Add to it that some of this code effects how automated trading is done and you could see how this information could be used to 'out smart' a financial transaction.

    Add to that the idea that someone can now see the code and potentially use said code to find explotes in the system (I know secutity via obfuscation is not the best way to go but banks don't put big glass windows in there vault locks for a reason) that could cost the bank billions.

    The problem here is that we have not idea what is in the code, so assuming it's not a big deal is pretty silly.

     

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    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 9:18am

    Re:

    If a Programmer is working for someone else when he creates the sourcecode, he has a contract that states he does not own the code he is creating. Therefore he has a contract that states he will not keep what he does not own when he leaves the employment.

    Simply put, the act of keeping what one does not own in my opinion is theft. If it's a pencil, a computer, or software etc...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Blow out of proportion or not

    First off I am a 30 year VETERAN Programmer, but furthermore I am also a BUSINESS OWNER who sells a software package I Developed.

    Hubris much?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 9:44am

    @Michial

    First I'll apologize for my knee-jerk insults at any ability you have, I haven't seen your code or your product so I shouldn't make comments on that angle.

    I disagree on the Theft aspect, very few programs have code that would harm the company if it got out, especially nowadays when they frequently hook into databases and can't work without the massive company-specific back-end that are usually in place.

    I am willing to agree with you about the breach of contract issue, if a programmer signed something saying that can't keep copies of their code then you have a good point. My previous employers (and my current one for that matter) never made me sign anything like that, they keep the copyright, but I can still retain copies of my code.

    However, I disagree with you on Copyright of code.

    I think the creative expression that code can produce should be copyrightable (under a much less restrictive form than what we have currently though). For example if you look at old games LucasArts made many wonderful games that all used the SCUMM engine. The engine itself should not be copyrightable, it is not innovative or creative. The story and characters are a different matter. Monkey Island is unique not because of the code that runs it but because of the witty and irrelevant characters and dialogue. Likewise the code for the engine with look much like the code for any other adventure game engine, programmer's will recreate large sections of code without realizing it, therefore it should not be copyrightable anymore than the Pythagorean theorem.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 9:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Blow out of proportion or not

    perhaps, but that is a good thing (TM)

     

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    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 10:23am

    Re: @Michial

    How do you figure that the engine that the games used should not be copyrightable? The engine represents just as much of a creative effort as the end result of what it is used to create.

    The processes, the methods etc that are written to create the engine are as creative or more so than the actual story line.

    The core language that the engine is written in though is no more copyrightable than the English Language is. But the compilers, the engines etc should be protected, they represent a substantial amount of effort on their owner's part.

    One thing that is expressed over and over is that the same programmer writing two seperate programs that have similar requirements will create code that looks similar. This is true, BUT if that code is for two seperate employers why should the second employer benefit from work paid for by the first?

    I keep a Bound Book or Engineers book where I document my daily activities. These books are for the purpose of protecting myself and/or my employer from cases where I create similar looking code. I know that the books will hold up un court, but not sure how the law would handle similar code. I would hope that the judge would rule in favor of the "spirit of the law" which is to keep me from using or making an exact copy, but where I re-created the work I would be safe.

    I require any programmer to keep a similar book, and make it clear that it is property of my companies, and them not returning it at the end of their employement is a commission of theft. I also turn such books over to employers if I am in a work for hire situation.

    As far as the post claiming that no employer has made them sign that they would not keep copies of their work, you might want to revisit your employee manuals. Most every company I have ever worked has statement requiring that all property be returned to them upon termination of employment. Hate to break your heard but that includes the software that you worked on, and all copies of such software.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 11:23am

    Re: Re: @Michial

    "How do you figure that the engine that the games used should not be copyrightable? The engine represents just as much of a creative effort as the end result of what it is used to create.

    The processes, the methods etc that are written to create the engine are as creative or more so than the actual story line.

    The core language that the engine is written in though is no more copyrightable than the English Language is. But the compilers, the engines etc should be protected, they represent a substantial amount of effort on their owner's part.
    "

    I disagree, engines just use math to draw lines on the screen. They don't even say much of how the lines should look like in most cases, but provide an easy framework for graphic designers to come in and fill the void.

    algorithms to handle data and put pretty colors on the screen are not creative, there are only so many available to use i the first place. You make a game that uses ray-tracing? guess what, everyone else's ray tracing engine will look just like yours, the only difference (ignoring the variable names) would be spacing, and unless someone writes their code in Ascii art, it would not be creative.

    you say that the basics of the language should not be copyrightable, but at what point do they become so? should "i++" be copyrightable? how about "fooC=fooA+fooB"? how about a standard recursive function? Should any function that solves the classic towers of Hanoi be copyrightable? why? the point is that any algorithm or section of code is not innovative, copyright just cripples any programmer who actually pays attention to it and you can tell that most experienced programmers don't pay attention based on how willing they are to share their code.

    "One thing that is expressed over and over is that the same programmer writing two seperate programs that have similar requirements will create code that looks similar. This is true, BUT if that code is for two seperate employers why should the second employer benefit from work paid for by the first?"

    the fact that the same program written by two different coders will look similar should immediately indicate that copyright should not apply. Secondly, name a programmer that does not keep a reference book or website at hand at all times. Every programmer references the code of other people (or previous code they wrote) when they are doing something they haven't done in a while. In fact almost every programming class encourages this kind of activity by assigning tasks such as "Modify X code so that it does Y differently/better". Programmers are taught that when they don't know how to do something they search for code that does something similar, learn how it works and then modify it to suit their needs. In that sense company 1 has already benefited from the work that company 0 has produced because the programmer looks up code that other people have needed to write and use for different purposes. Now company 0 may or may not be an actual company, but that doesn't really matter, everyone benefits when the code is shared because code itself isn't creative and by opening it up it allows companies to focus on doing the actual creative parts, the presentation of the code.

    Much like a fact is not copyrightable, Code should not be copyrightable, the unique expression and presentation of the fact (or what code does) should be. What makes Microsoft Office "unique" is not the code that runs that allows you enter text and save them to various file types but the user-interface, the layout of the program, and the various way of presenting those options to the user. The same holds true with games.

    "I keep a Bound Book or Engineers book where I document my daily activities. These books are for the purpose of protecting myself and/or my employer from cases where I create similar looking code. I know that the books will hold up un court, but not sure how the law would handle similar code. I would hope that the judge would rule in favor of the "spirit of the law" which is to keep me from using or making an exact copy, but where I re-created the work I would be safe.

    I require any programmer to keep a similar book, and make it clear that it is property of my companies, and them not returning it at the end of their employement is a commission of theft. I also turn such books over to employers if I am in a work for hire situation.
    "

    All this does is highlight how silly the copyrightable code concept is and the problems it causes companies. This is not an argument for supporting that code should be copyrighted but rather an anecdote that points out quite vividly why it should not be.

    "As far as the post claiming that no employer has made them sign that they would not keep copies of their work, you might want to revisit your employee manuals. Most every company I have ever worked has statement requiring that all property be returned to them upon termination of employment. Hate to break your heard but that includes the software that you worked on, and all copies of such software."

    I am quite clear on what my company requires. As long as the code does not contain any PII or other potentially harmful information I am allowed to keep my own copy; it is something I discuss with prospective employers during the hiring phase. My current company also shares some in-house developed applications among other companies free of charge because we want everyone to be as productive as possible. We found a need for a program, created it, then offered it to other companies that we interact with often if they had a need for it as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    kirillian (profile), Jul 27th, 2009 @ 11:44am

    Re: Re: @Michial

    I think you've hit more on a philosophical problem than anything...What exactly is the creative work of a programmer? We all know it exists, but is it really the code? The code that a programmer writes is just a set of instructions for a computer to generate "something". Therefore, the code is not really the "art" that we describe, but instructions on how to reproduce it. So, I think you are right when you say that it makes no sense that the code is copyright in the first place as it should be the actual representation (just as it is in other creative fields) - the actual program while it is running, similar to a specific performance.

    So, then, what exactly is the creative act of the programmer? I think it's really that act of coming up with the solution to something in the brain and converting that solution into code. No offense, but good luck trying to remove that from my head...you can retain all copyright from everything that I write, but I can't help the fact that I remember virtually everything that I write. To me, copying my own code is the same as me making copies of anything that I have ever written down. Can the school that I graduated from demand that I remove all copies of papers that I wrote and turned in years ago?

    I think we're treading a really thin line here determining where corporate and individual rights overlap and determining which hold sway. Personally, I am of the school that individual rights should always trump corporate rights, but I can still see why corporations are so frustrated. In the end, I think that any corporation that depends on copyright and protection to support their business model is looking at one of two possible choices for continued success in the future:

    (1) find a new business model - this idea has been frequently discussed at TechDirt...but what about the other?
    (2) Remove rights from individuals altogether and give them to the state or to corporations - this will lead us to either Corporatocracy (some think we're already there) or Facism (also another fear)...this is the only logical means by which corporations can extend the protection that they so desire into the future...

    Personally, I think its all rather scary, seeing as how those who would benefit from such political changes are already in positions of power that are needed to do so...

     

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  37.  
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    anymouse (profile), Jul 27th, 2009 @ 11:57am

    it's probably all about the comments.....

    They probably don't really care about the code so much as the comments that indicate how the various pieces "manipulate markets in unfair ways".

    as an example:
    Sub StealFromCustomerPurchases (stock, customer, price)
    'This function will take a customers stock purchase request, get the price of the stock before the transaction (using the unfair advantage in timing we purchased), purchase the shares at the pre-customer price, then initiate multiple purchase/sale cancellations to inflate the cost of the stock before processing the customers order.
    'This function can be used to skim 5-10% from all our customers by selling the stocks to them at a higher price than we purchased them for only seconds earlier..

    Do FOO...

    Ok, so probably not, but the code itself may not have been the important part, info on which transactions to insert at which point in time may have been more important than the code itself (knowing that it will take 1000 purchase/cancel transactions to raise the stock price $.10 in a minute would be useful knowledge if you had the ability to process those transactions and buy and sell the stock).

    Obligatory Tin Foil Hat Reference

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 12:52pm

    Re: Re: Re: @Michial

    I can at least follow your logic up to the difference in cooperate and personal rights. They are one and the same. My company is a corporation, so in Essenes it is no different than me when it comes to it's rights.

    If I pay to create something I have the same rights as an individual to protect my creation as my corporation does for any product it pays to create.

    I don't think they are mutually exclusive just because a corporation might have more money at it's disposal to create. I also don't think one should have any rights that the other does not have.

    As for what a programmer creates, that's more semantics. In most cases the programmer is taking someone's (maybe his own) idea and turning it into code that then translates the idea onto a computer. What the programmer creates is the code that causes the outcome, and more frequently these days that code is layered on top of someone Else's code that is layered on top of someones elses code etc...

    The reality is neither Copyright or Patent truly fits Programming well. Patents should be for physical products, and should never have been opened to business plans and procedures and processes etc...

    Copyright laws are too restrictive to work for programming because as it's been pointed out numerous times most code to perform a function will look similar no matter how many programmers write it. Also programming in anything other than binary is really a derivative work of someone Else's product.

    So it's almost like there needs to be a third IP category which allows for the facts that similar tasks will look/work similarly, and acknowledges that in programming it's the whole picture that makes the IP, and not a subset of the picture.

    You cannot use just the output or screen shots of the final product to represent Software because in most cases those screens and output are dictated by the industry for which the program is written. You cannot really use the code because it's going to look similar, and you cannot use the processes because the processes are industry driven. So you have to use the whole, and find some level to quantify it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Paul Brinker, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 2:27pm

    I need to know, at what level does something become the company's code? As part of my job i'm given a task, (take input create output) I then look up or write test code to figure out how to do this task and write it down. I test this code and once it works the way its meant to I push it into your production built but I keep a copy of the small part of code in case I need to do that task a 2nd time for you or for my next employer. Worst off, I still know how I wrote that segment of code last time that I have saved in my debug test environment and I have the website bookmarked where I got the code.

    If everyone wanted the code locked up then I would never find snip its of code to do the task I want and I would have to write from scratch the specific code you want. This costs you more time and money and we all know that the almighty dollar is king.

    So which code do you own? I would most likely say you own the end production code for sure. And you most likely own the snip it of code I put into your system. But do you own the code generated from each step in me getting that code working? At what point does it become the company's code?

    That said if you take away my personal cheat sheet Ill be vary unhappy.

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 2:35pm

    Re:

    heh, if a company tries to take away my cheat-sheet (and the various copies) they would find me very unproductive while I recreate it so I can be productive. I know too many languages to keep them all straight anymore, is it select case or switch case or something else entirely? I only have that straight as long as I am working in that language and frequently glance at my cheat-sheets so that don't waste time looking up basic references...

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 3:28pm

    Re: Re:

    "he has a contract that states he does not own the code he is creating"

    A programmer by default maintains copyright on his own works. An employment contract needs to explicitly redirect the rights to the employer.

    So, by working alone, the implied contract is that the programmer AND the business have access to that code. An employment contract should further define that.

    Unless his contract explicitly forbade him from keeping copies of his code, then he did have a right of ownership that he could take copies of what he had personally written.

    Now, he can't take code other people wrote, or entire systems that he didn't write. Or if the contract stated "all your code are belong to us", then he wouldn't be able to take anything, but his knowledge on how he did it, to do it again and hopefully better the second time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 3:35pm

    echo "Hello World!";

    I just wrote that. I'm copyrighting it. Now everyone else will have to use different ways to make a PHP script put "Hello World!" into a webpage. Or pay me! I'm only asking for my "fair share" ...

    $2,000 per usage is "fair". And usage is defined as every time that the script is executed.

    Pay up everyone!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    CleverName, Jul 27th, 2009 @ 6:17pm

    Re: it's probably all about the comments.....

    That's pretty funny, until you realize that it is probably very close to reality

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    CleverName, Jul 28th, 2009 @ 5:17am

    Can I use quicksort, or would that be stealing?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Jack Heald, Jul 29th, 2009 @ 11:25am

    Goldman Sachs Code

    Yes, it is a VERY big deal.

    GS proprietary trading (trading for its own account rather for customer accounts) is as much 70% of the daily volume on the NYSE & NASDAQ.

    The code is important, not for how it might help a competitor, but for revealing what GS does with the servers they have co-located at the offices of the NYSE and the NASDAQ. It is possible - some say highly likely - that this is the code GS uses to frontrun orders - a practice that is illegal and is fundamentally theft.

    If true, (and plenty of people in the know say it is) then GS, (and all the other primary broker/dealers who co-locate at the exchanges), has been ripping off the rest of the investing public.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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