back to article Cops storm Nginx's Moscow offices after a Russian biz claims it owns world's most widely used web server, not F5

Nginx's Moscow office was raided today by police after the ownership of the popular web server's source code was disputed. We understand the cops showed up after Russian company Rambler Group formally complained it owned the code, and that Nginx was thus infringing its rights, highlighting the country's rather interesting …

  1. Garymrrsn

    My knee jerk reaction says the Russian government wants control of it.

    1. Benson's Cycle

      No!

      Владимир Владимирович сказал мне на прошлой неделе, что в слухах не было правды о том, что это произойдет.

      1. gerdesj Silver badge
    2. rmason Silver badge

      They just want money.

      If code changes are made, it'll fork and carry on.

      They've been after him for ages, but they waited, waited until nginx sold for $600M+ before acting.

      This is purely financial. The storm troppers kicking his door in, is just how they roll.

      1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        > The storm troppers kicking his door in, is just how they roll.

        Hence the phrase:

        "Gone tropper"

      2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        You can fork legal open source. If the claim stands up that the software actually is property of Rambler, you may have source code but you can't legally use that.

    3. Mark 65

      Depends on how his employment contract reads. In the West you certainly get ones that state all works created whilst employed by X are the property of X (including outside of office hours) - don't see why Russia would be any different in this regard.

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    This is a case of Russian business stealing American corporate tactics with ex employees.

    1. Muppet Boss

      >This is a case of Russian business stealing American corporate tactics with ex employees.

      Nope, this is completely homebrewed, unfriendly takeover attempts in Russia usually involve the raider filing a criminal complaint with friendly police (in this case it is Sberbank, the largest Russian bank owing the complainant and known to aggressively accumulate high-tech assets), the victim's owners and management being jailed on pretrial detention grounds (there is no bail in Russia) and then negotiations start.

      In the Nginx's case the police seem to have opened a case for "copyright infringement carried out by an organized group" which carries a maximum of 6 years jail time.

      It is also very destructive tactics for Russia economically as successful businesses and their owners are being pushed abroad to jurisdictions where business disputes are resolved by commercial arbitration rather than criminal court and the owners do not risk losing freedom for having a successful business.

      It does not take much for F5 to shut down their Moscow office and "evacuate" valuable employees to a friendlier country. Mr. Sysoev who was reported to be released by the police and not formally charged with anything would be wise to pack his bags quick, too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > It is also very destructive tactics for Russia economically

        Russia is essentially a mafia-style kleptocracy that is rotten from the top down. The state- and the companies it controls (including Rambler)- are nothing more than an extension of this.

        Putin presented himself as a technocrat who would clean up such people, then once in power revealed his true colours as just another- well, the most powerful- one of them by carrying out what was (in effect) little more than a shakedown forcing those same corrupt interests to let him in on the action.

        So, why would they care any more than the mafioso setting alight (say) a bar they no longer have any need for? Putin-era Russia has never made any pretence of having anything positive to offer, at least outside the propaganda stream aimed at their own people. Their strategy has always been to (attempt to) drag everyone else down to their own stewing-in-their-own-mess level.

        1. Muppet Boss

          >So, why would they care any more than the mafioso setting alight (say) a bar they no longer have any need for? Putin-era Russia has never made any pretence of having anything positive to offer, at least outside the propaganda stream aimed at their own people.

          It will be fair to say that for the first 10 years of Mr. Putin in power, between 2000-2010, real wages in Russia grew 160% and number of people below poverty fell from 29% to 11%. Then, as so often happens in Russia, the aging tsar started 'wondering where the lions are'.

        2. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

          Putin-era Russia has never made any pretence of having anything positive to offer

          Indeed, damn that public health care. People can't even die in the street anymore in freedom, because they can't afford to pay for life saving medical procedures.

          Nothing ever good has come from providing free healthcare to your citizens.

    2. gnarlymarley Bronze badge

      This is a case of Russian business stealing American corporate tactics with ex employees.

      Actually from what I remember, the company was started to support it years after the software was first wrote. Which means the code would have been sold or given away.

      1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

        Yes, nginx was always free software. The company nginx was set up to support it on a similar business model to Redhat with Linux, or Covalent with Apache.

        Indeed, you can see other commonality. Just as certain Silicon Valley bigcos have packaged and supported Apache, so Taobao has its own nginx-derivative tengine. Fully API-compatible but with some extra goodies the Taobao folks wanted. I expect there's two-way traffic between the two, though until nginx backports tengine's support for loadable modules, the latter has the edge as a developer platform.

  3. tfewster Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Either Igor Sysoev wrote Nginx using company resources, in which case they'll have proof.

    Or he wrote it in his own time, in which case it depends on Russian employment law ("All your derivative works, including your children, belong to us"?).

    1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

      Nah

      Doubt it matters as this point, as 17 years have passed.. and they did nothing, and if yiu dont enforce your rights, you lose them.

      Now, lets see the details about this in russian law..

      1. missingegg

        Re: Nah

        At least in the USA, that's not how copyright works. You don't have to actively enforce your rights to retain them. Perhaps you're thinking about trademark rights, which have a very different legal framework?

      2. rmason Silver badge

        Re: Nah

        I don't claim to know anything about russian law, but they've been after him for ages.

        What changed is nginx sold for above $600m , so the people in question, Rambler.ru , sold the case to someone with cash to persue it. They didn't suddenly decide to go for him, they were woken up by the $$$$$$

      3. JourneymanD

        Re: Nah

        Russian legislations suggests that unless you've been specifically assigned to perform a certain task (including developing anything) whatever you have created is yours alone automatically.

    2. Muppet Boss

      >Either Igor Sysoev wrote Nginx using company resources, in which case they'll have proof.

      >Or he wrote it in his own time, in which case it depends on Russian employment law ("All your derivative works, including your children, belong to us"?).

      Not as easy, the former Rambler (complainant) COO is publicly saying there was a verbal agreement between Mr. Sysoev and Rambler that Mr. Sysoev would be free develop his own project and keep all rights and Rambler would be able to use it in their infrastructure (think Linus Torvalds in Transmeta). Formally Mr. Sysoev was not tasked with developing this software as he was responsible for system administration and search engine, however it seems obvious that the company allowed him enough time to work on his own project as it was mutually beneficial.

      Seems to be a random hit-and-run attempt anyway since Rambler never previously asserted copyright, which is for almost 20 years and nginx source code is copyrighted by Mr. Sysoev for the same period. The employment law from that period is that their had the rights to terminate his employment due to consistently not performing his duties (doing personal things on company time), however unless his job description specifically included software development _and_ Rambler originally copyrighted the product (such as placing the copyright notice in the source code), proving copyright now would not be practical.

      1. localzuk

        " verbal agreement"

        Worth the paper it was written on.

    3. rshpount

      According to Russian law, work belongs to employer if it was created as a part of regular employee duties or if employee was explicitly tasked to do it. Simply using company resources or doing something on company time is not enough for company to claim ownership. Since Sysoev worked as a network administrator at Rambler and was not tasked with creating a web server or any software development duties, Rambler has no claim. The burden of proof is actually on Ramblet to show paperwork that they directed to write nginx. Furthermore, former Rambler management, including Sysoev direct manager at that time, state that they are ready to testify that nginx was discussed and explicitly excluded from work covered by Rambler copyright. So, basically, frivolous law suit Russian style.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        "The burden of proof is actually on Ramblet to show paperwork that they directed to write nginx."

        How hard can it be to produce a piece of paper sating just that?

        Sure, Sysoev and his lawyers will claim it's a fake, but he's working for US company and this is a Soviet Russian court, so who are they more likely to believe?

        'Truth' and 'facts' don't mean much any more.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Do you have any experience dealing with Russian courts? They are actually no more dysfunctional then american courts as far as copyright law is concerned (which in fact is a really low bar). In theory, as a result of Socialist past, Russian law provides a lot more protection to employee vs american one. This is why Russian companies are obsessed with paperwork, since burden of proof is almost always on them. Everything needs to be signed, stamped, and often handwritten.

          As far as producing proof, Sysoev has a sworn testimony of his direct manager that nginx was a personal project and Rambler did not direct to create it.

          Bribing a right person, or simply having right connections, would allow to get legal process started and potentially even get someone detained, but winning a law suite is a different story. Especially since with $600M two people can play the bribing game, or simply hire local lawyers with right connections.

          1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge
            Holmes

            I've only observed State trials in Russia, and these do indeed have the startling riding-roughshod characteristics stated variously above.

            You say that normal commercial/civil trials do not have those characteristics, rather instead being effectively like normal Western trials. Assuming this is true, then :

            We should be able to gauge the actual level of involvement of the Russian State by how the trial proceeds.

            Rational:

            Rambler acting alone.

            Startling levels of trampling of evidence, facts, and law:

            Rambler acting as catspaw for the State.

          2. phuzz Silver badge

            "They are actually no more dysfunctional then american courts"

            I assume you meant that as a complement, but as a non-American it really makes me worried.

  4. Rainer

    Meanwhile on reddit

    A guy from Russia claims that Rambler.ru was acquired by Sberbank a while ago (largest state-owned bank) and this is the "usual" way to extract money and instill state-influence over a Russian or foreign business. It's "business as usual" for Russia, literally.

    1. Sitaram Chamarty

      Re: Meanwhile on reddit

      Over on reddit and/or twitter, there appeared to be several people who said the same thing.

      1. stiine Silver badge

        Re: Meanwhile on reddit

        Also, that Cypriot-registered law firm is bankrolled/owned by a Russian oligarch (i think he's an oligarch) but I don't trust google translate much farther than that on the info i was able to find.

    2. Benson's Cycle

      Re: Meanwhile on reddit

      If I had £1 for every company that has ever acquired another with some IP, and the law department has sought to justify its costs in the takeover by trying to use the IP to shake down someone...I'd probably be able to afford half an hour with an IP lawyer.

      Remember that though "Biznesmen" may be the Russian for "near-Mafiosi", they learnt the word from the Americans that came over to "help" them between 1990 and 2000.

  5. Temmokan

    There are more references in the below post (in Russian):

    https://habr.com/ru/company/itsumma/blog/479942/

    in short: one of Rambler's former top management persons tells that Ramblers claims are void. This is why they caused the police raid (to create as many problems for Sysoev and current Nginx PLUS owners as possible).

    It's funny to see that Rambler kept silent for 15 years, and only "recalled" the would-be copyright infringement after the commercial derivative has been sold for much money.

  6. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change
    Holmes

    Prior Art

    There's a family tree of mainstream open-source webservers. There's a common grandparent (NCSA) and parent (Apache 1.x) to three modern children. Apache 2 (obviously), but also both lightppd and nginx have deep roots in earlier NCSA/Apache. They took common roots in different directions: Apache 2 focussed more on making itself a versatile applications platform, while lightppd and more successfully nginx concentrated on a high-performance core on the premise that applications would be separated out - for example in PHP.

    Even today after so many years of divergence, common roots become abundantly clear from the respective APIs if you write modules for these servers.

    I wouldn't want to belittle Syseov's own work and the value he added, but in the best traditions of open source (among other things) he was standing on the shoulders of giants. I wonder if Rambler has done (or even attempted) the groundwork to identify IP that can be attributed to Syseov rather than prior art?

    The underlying issue - an employer's claim over an employee's work - is one that's been widely known and guarded against in Open Source since the 1990s. For example, the ASF requires legal consent on file from both contributors and their employers before contributors can be granted commit privileges.

    1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: Prior Art

      I do not think the term "prior art" applies to copyright cases. Also, I very much doubt that nginx or lighthttpd could be described as "derived work" in relation to Apache, which is what you are implying. Sure, they implement largely overlapping set of protocols and have a module system, but I am quite certain that they are entirely independent projects - this claim is based on significant differences of server architecture.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Prior Art

        So the Oracle-Google Android api case must have completely passed you by...

        1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

          Re: Prior Art

          I do not believe nginx and Apache modules are interchangeable or source compatible, in case you are referring to module API. And in case you are not, I do not see how Google/Oracle trial could be relevant here.

          1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

            Re: Prior Art

            I didn't say interchangeable, just that they have common roots. Though they are indeed sufficiently similar that pretty-much anything from Apache 1.3 just needs "changing the plug" to port to nginx.

            In fact nginx is probably closer to Apache 1.3 than either of them is to Apache 2.x, but that's because of the different directions the servers have taken, with Apache 2 having added things like its more sophisticated filtering, database connection pooling, etc.

            Yes, some of it is entirely different: nginx was way ahead of apache in adopting an event-driven core processing model (which may well have been Syseov's #1 motivation for a new server). But if you want to make an IP claim, you'd have to figure out what's new vs what's adopted from elsewhere. I was wondering whether Rambler has undertaken that not-inconsiderable task.

            1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

              Re: Prior Art

              I didn't say interchangeable, just that they have common roots. Though they are indeed sufficiently similar that pretty-much anything from Apache 1.3 ...

              That's not how copyright works. Also, Apache is nowhere in the picture because (back to topic) "Prior Art" does not apply in copyright cases - it only applies to patent law. Unless Russian IP law is somehow different?

            2. teknopaul Silver badge

              Re: Prior Art

              I'm pretty familiar with all the nginx source, it looks a lot like the work of one person to me. Its not a huge amount of code.

              What makes you think it is similar to Apache 1.3? 1.3 was one process per request, didn't scale well but easy to write request handlers. Nginx is a different model, an event loop in a single thread. Its a lot of work to port a 1.3 web service to nginx if your modules do anything other than process headers in a single thread without doing any I/O. To write nginx modules you need to write everything in something akin to nodejs code style, you dont get closures or any bells and whistles from C lang, so its non trivial

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Prior Art

                I was under the impression that nginx used some of the techniques used by the usenet server innd and its related utilities to parallel requests and those didn't fit into the NCSA -> Apache 1 model.

    2. Jon 37

      Re: Prior Art

      That's not how copyright works.

      Copyright is all about copying code (or music or ...). Copyright doesn't cover *ideas*. (Although the US courts have ruled that copyright can cover a single chord, or a big set of function prototypes).

      So the fact that there are previous webservers that may have provided inspiration, or the APIs that solve the same problems as previous webservers may be similar just because they solve the same problem, is irrelevant. There's no allegation that any *code* was copied from the previous webservers.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Prior Art

      Prior art is patents (protecting ideas). Often conflated with copyright (protecting implementation).

  7. trevorde

    Welcome to Russia

    Where copyright owns you!

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "He claims he wrote the software in his spare time"

    If he wrote it on his home machine, then fine, but if he wrote it on company hardware, then sorry, but it belongs to the company.

    1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: "He claims he wrote the software in his spare time"

      Apparently not true, in case of software written in Russia at the start of the century. As explained above.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "He claims he wrote the software in his spare time"

      Ah, so you're an expert on Russian employment law and know all this for a fact?

      That's great! Now can you please explain in more detail how you came to this conclusion for those of us who aren't as clearly experienced as yourself? Thanks.

  9. JourneymanD

    Igor Ashmanov, Rambler's former CEO refutes the claims that Sysoyev used his job hours and Rambler's resources to develop nginx, whereas his 'vacant time' would start after leaving the office. The following is a translation from Russian of his remarks:

    '1. That's bullshit. Our legislation lacks things like this. One has to prove this deliberately; an employee would have a specific task to be assigned to him. 'Using company resources' or 'during the job time' - no, doesn't work. Everything's permitted, and the author retains his intellectual property rights.

    2. Besides, upon Sysoyev's employment - and it was me who hired him in 2000, - we'd had an express term that he had his own project and full rights to keep working on it. It was called like mod_accel at the time, Nginx name showed up in circa 2001-2002.

    I can testify this in court if necessary. And my partner at Ashmanov and Partners and Kribrum, Dmitri Pashko, Rambler's technical director at that time, and Sysoyev's immediate boss - would do the same, I think.

    3. Sysoyev worked as a sysadmin at Rambler. He was never tasked with developing any software there at all.

    4. I guess, Rambler has zero documents pertaining to the matter, aside from a non-existent tech task to develop a web-server. '

    It's almost amusing to see this, in fact, given Ashmanov's usual stance.

    Problem is that with Russian courts it's not the claims' validity that defines their merit and the eventual outcome of a trial.

    Russian Sberbank, one of the largest banks in Russia, and essentially a government-controlled entity, has acquired 46.5% share at Rambler earlier this year, as such becoming one of just three stakeholders (Alexandr Mamut has another 46.5%, 7% are with Ekaterina Lapshina's Era Capital). This makes Rambler a pretty much gov't-controlled entity too. And this attack on nginx looks pretty much state-backed.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Which clearly contradicts the linked ElReg article claim that "Nginx (the toolkit) was originally created in 2002 to serve Rambler (then Russia's second-largest website) and open-sourced in 2004."

      1. JourneymanD

        This claim is a mistake.

        Rambler wasn't even the first user of this server, Zvuki.ru was, a decades-old and still pretty much active music encyclopedia/media portal. It still runs on nginx, btw.

        Besides, Rambler had never claimed any ownership to nginx until right now; and nginx always had been copyrighted to mr. Sysoyev, and nobody bothered (again, until now).

    2. rshpount

      My friends won several law suites worth hundreds of millions of dollars against Sberbank (related to real estate bought with Sberbank loans). No bribes were exchanged. Suites were won on merit. Everyone, except their lawyers, was surprised. Lawyers said it was normal, since Sberbank does very basic shakedowns and does not expect resistance.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wish the poor guy all of the best, and if the opportunity arise, to get the hell out of Russia to another country, and hope he does not get extradicted.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What licence header is on NGINX source files?

    ...If the code is GPL or BSD, it doesn't really matter who owns the copyright.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: What licence header is on NGINX source files?

      >If the code is GPL or BSD, it doesn't really matter who owns the copyright.

      Part of the claim is to determine who was the original owner of the source code and thus had the right to grant licencing rights ...

    2. Kiwi Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: What licence header is on NGINX source files?

      ...If the code is GPL or BSD, it doesn't really matter who owns the copyright.

      Actually if I write something and release it under a restrictive copyright, then you take all or some of the code and release it under GPL etc, it does matter - you were not the original rights owner and had no right to release the work under that license.

      Likewise (though I believe irrelevant in this case), if your employee contract says anything you do while working for me belongs to me, and you write and release code under GPL, you also didn't have the legal right to do so (moral rights are another matter, especially if it was written on your own time and resources and not relevant to/in competition with my business).

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: What licence header is on NGINX source files?

        Of course in that case an employer might release software as GPL - for instance to get back a version with more features and/or fewer bugs, due to third party effort.

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