The Federal Court has awarded $50,000 in damages to a mining company after a former employee was found to have breached his employment contract as well as copyright legislation for downloading thousands of computer files as a “trophy” for his time at the company.
Andrew Koudstaal, a former software engineer with Leica Geosystems, downloaded and copied approximately 190,000 files – or more than 60 gigabytes of data – onto his hard drive shortly before resigning in November 2011.
The employer discovered Koudstaal had taken the files when a marketing executive for the Leica Geosystems and friend of the former employee saw a folder named “Leica” on a television screen that was linked to his hard drive in January 2012.
An order to access Koudstaal’s domestic premises and seize the data storage device was subsequently granted by the court in February 2012.
The engineer told the court he had downloaded the files because he wanted a “trophy” so that if anyone questioned the quality of his work he would have physical proof of his time at the company.
While Leica Geosystems did not suffer any financial losses as a result of the downloaded files, the court found Koudstaal’s actions demonstrated a “flagrant” breach of copyright.
Employment lawyer Peter Vitale told SmartCompany the case shows how businesses’ copyright can be protected by both legislation and an employment contract.
“It demonstrates that copyright law can be used as an additional weapon to protect confidential information,” Vitale says.
“This employee was found not only to be in breach of copyright but also to have breached his obligations of confidentiality.”
Vitale says this case is another example of why employees are prohibited from acting against the interests of their employer.
“The reality is that the majority of confidential information cases these days which involve employers have some element of electronic communication about them,” he says.
“More often than not the breach is discovered by having a look at the former employee’s email. You find that they’ve been emailing wads of confidential information to their personal email address shortly before they finish employment. It’s not uncommon.”
SmartCompany contacted Leica Geosystems for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.