Alibre case underscores Russia piracy issue

Russia’s reputation as a haven for software pirates is being reinforced by allegations that a code thief has been illegally distributing a program called RaceCAD that is actually a product of Texas-based software company Alibre Inc.

Alibre alleges that the individual responsible is a former employee who stole the source code for Alibre Design after being terminated. Alibre has contacted Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Russia who are hosting a site that offers RaceCAD and requested they stop. The site remains up but a link to download the software is no longer working.

Alibre Chief Executive Officer J. Paul Grayson said there is no doubt the former employee stole the software.

“He admitted it in e-mails to me,” Grayson said. “He removed the download after I e-mailed him. He offered to stop distribution of the English version if I agreed to let him distribute a Russian version.” Grayson declined to name the individual, and said the person was “released during a cutback that affected our lowest performing employees.”

Grayson said Alibre has been pursuing its claim in the U.S. but has yet to start legal proceedings. He says U.S. law enforcement agencies have contacted their Russian counterparts about the case, but so far there has been no response from Russian authorities.

Alibre Design is a professional 3D Computer Assisted Design (CAD) application designed to allow users to work alone or together over the Web.

Alibre inspected RaceCAD and says that the user interface is identical to that in Alibre Design, down to a pixel-for-pixel match for every icon. Various software components are also identical to that in Alibre Design, including ACIS, a modeling software component technology licensed to Alibre from Spatial Corporation, a division of Dassault Systemes SA.

The internal architecture of the software, including specific class names used in Java components of the application, are the same as those in Alibre Design except for the replacement of the name Alibre with RaceCAD, Alibre maintains.

E-mail to the address posted on the RaceCAD Web site went unanswered.

Alibre has posted advertisements on Google Inc.’s Web site in English and Russian to warn those who use the search term RaceCAD that it is illegal. The company is also demanding that those who used RaceCAD remove it from their systems.

Grayson said the employee in question was a software developer who had worked for Alibre for a little less than two years and had routine access to the code. He says there was little Alibre could have done to prevent the incident.

“We did a thorough technical review of our security precautions and decided that we were doing everything that can reasonably be done without seriously impacting our development productivity. We feel this is analogous to a bank teller stealing cash from the drawer.”

Russia has faced frequent criticism for its failure to protect intellectual property rights. Experts say that though the country has done much to develop copyright laws, enforcement remains nearly non-existent. Market research firm IDC and the Business Software Alliance estimate that 87 per cent of all software used in Russia is pirated.

Earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin urged members of his government to do more to fight piracy. “I’m asking the Cabinet together with lawmakers to continue working to perfect legislation directed at strengthening the fight against piracy in the sphere of intellectual property rights,” Putin said in televised remarks.

Analysts say Russia’s failure to address concerns over copyright has been hurting its software industry, particularly in the increasingly lucrative global outsourcing market.

This episode will do little to allay those fears, said Alex Presnyak, Chief Technical Officer of SoftDev SPB, a St. Petersburg-based software developer specializing in CAD programs.

“This kind of incident can have a very negative effect on Russia’s reputation,” Presnyak said. “We’re doing everything we can in Russia to run our businesses like Western companies so when something like this happens it can be very damaging.”