Developers Should Rejoice: Goldman Sachs Programmer Freed from Prison

I’ve always worried about the Sergey Aleynikov case. Convicted 15 months ago and sentenced to eight years in prison, Aleynikov’s crime, while employed at Goldman Sachs, was uploading chunks of software to an encrypted server for storage — possibly accidentally including proprietary code while trying to retain open-source stuff. (For a good description of what happened, there’s this account.) Some of the problems with this case include that juries and judges are crazily out of their depth in figuring out what his actions mean and which are customary and ordinary for programmers, and also the media is way worse: most of the headlines called him a “spy,” which is some pretty nutty anti-Russian sentiment, and also they keep emphasizing that the code was “proprietary software” and worth “millions of dollars.” Yeah, so is every bit of code, and none of it. Stupid! Also everyone thought it was so suspicious that this programmer was leaving Goldman Sachs for another company, with a fat salary. Um, that’s how it works? In any event: Aleynikov’s conviction has now been overturned on appeal, in the Second Circuit, with opinion still forthcoming. The decision was not based on his intentions, but, apparently, on wording of the Economic Espionage Act, so expect lots of fun garbled headlines in the near future.