The overturned conviction of ex-Goldman programmer is like the bank robber accusing the driver of stealing the getaway car

A federal appeals court reversed the conviction late Thursday of Sergey Aleynikov, a former Glodman Sachs programmer found guilty of stealing proprietary code from the bank’s high-frequency trading platform.

from February 17th, 2012 DealBook article “Court Overturns Conviction of Ex-Goldman Programmer” by Peter Lattman

Okay, here is the story in a nutshell . . .

A former programmer for Goldman Sachs Sergey Aleynikov, who was paid $400,000 per year to create a program for “high-frequency trading” that utilized what was described as being “complex computer algorithms to make rapid trades that exploit tiny price discrepancies,” generating  “substantial sources of revenue for banks and hedge funds,” was convicted in December 2010 of stealing code to take with him to his new employer.

The new employer, which by the way tripled his annual salary, was not accused of any wrongdoing when Aleynikov bypassed Goldman’s security system to upload algorithm related code to a system in Germany so that he could have access to it to presumably create a similar program.

Aleynikov does not deny that he took the code, breaching Goldman’s confidentiality agreements, but “insisted that he did not commit a crime.”  The Federal Appeals Court in Manhattan agreed and overturned the conviction, and in the process barring for all intents and purposes the government from retrying Aleynikov.

Given the Wall Street shuffle of firms like Goldman’s which were ultimately responsible for putting the economy into a nosedive, the irony of the Aleynikov case is both amusing as well as sad.

Amusing in that Goldman was on the receiving end of what they had been doing to the public for some time, and sad in that it is further proof that the sector is in dire need of a major overhaul.

So here is the question . . . does the conviction reversal of the former Goldman Sachs programmer bring a smile to your face or a tear to your eye?

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2 responses to “The overturned conviction of ex-Goldman programmer is like the bank robber accusing the driver of stealing the getaway car

  • Jerry E Durant

    It’s definitely poetic justice but the law isn’t not one based on retribution but one based on pragmatism. As in this case, the concept of code ownership, and it’s proprietary nature has been an ongoing debate. Such matters as proprietary extent, confidentiality vs. proprietary vs. operational variations, and intellectual ownership all come into question. Even in pay for work situations the question of ownership, unless explicit, remains a matter of debate. The argument is when you look at most software licenses you seldom are buying ownership of the code, you are paying for an exclusive license to use for a certain number of devices.

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