Allegation of theft for copying source code
I work in a small IT firm.I resigned 1 month ago and was serving my notice period.Just few days before release, I got caught when I was copying source code of an application(written by me)in my personal pendrive.My intentions are to use it for future study purpose only and not for any commercial purpose .I dont own any bussiness or not associated with any other business organisation. Now they are accusing me of theft and sent a termination letter and threating me to take action against me.I am about to join a big MNC within one week. What should I do now?
Considering the circumstances in which you were apprehended by your employer, it is inevitable for him to suspect the commission of an illegal activity. Such cases are generally linked to the stealing of confidential information, corporate espionage, and insider trading. However, since you do not own a business nor are you currently associated with any other organization you have a valid defense. But it does sound suspicious that you will be joining another organization within a week. Your current employer might accuse you of attempting to trade information to your new employer.
The definition of theft under section 378 of the Indian Penal Code is as follows “Whoever, intending to take dishonestly any moveable property out of the possession of any person without that person's consent, moves that property in order to such taking, is said to commit theft.” A bare perusal of this provision would be enough to convince you that an action/prosecution for theft would not survive as while the commission of this act you did not have a dishonest intention neither did you manage to take the property into your possession. So the provisions of theft would not be applicable to your case. However, the company could prosecute you for Attempt to commit Theft but even this would not survive because of the absence of dishonest intention on your part.
It is a general rule that any innovation or creation made by an employee while working in an organization is regarded as a patent of the organization and not of the employee. In your case, the source code that you were trying to copy into your pen drive is technically the property of the company. However, you can seek the defense of research exemption whereby the patented material is available to the user for research purposes.
My advice to you would be to come clean by letting your new employer know of the events. You should tell him the truth that you intended to use the material for research purposes only. Take this incidence as a warning and abstain from such practices in future.
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