A UCLA Ph.d student walked calmly into the engineering building on campus Wednesday and killed mechanical engineering professor, William Klug. According to police, the assailant, Mainak Sarkar, 38, accused Klug of stealing computer code from him and giving it to “someone else”. News companies immediately ran with the most accessible story–student recollections of the days events and colleagues giving account of how the slain professor was “kind” and “generous” and how “he will be missed”. But soon after the initial reports, news outlets started to address the assumed trigger for the shooting—Sarkar’s accusation that Klug stole his intellectual property. A reasonable question to start with for any journalist, would be to ask, “What was this code?” and “Did Klug steal it?”
Instead, however, reports focused on discrediting Sarkar’s accusation and defending the character of the slain–this of course done without actually investigating Sarkar’s complaint.
According to reports, Sarkar was a student of Klug who helped him defend his dissertation as a Ph.d candidate. An unnamed source told the LA Times that Klug bent over backwards to help Sarkar with his dissertation and the accusation was “absolutely untrue.”
“The idea that somebody took his ideas is absolutely psychotic.”
If the source knew that much, why not ask him about the nature of the code and how he/she can verify that that the intellectual property was not stolen…you know, with any certainty beyond Klug being a “nice guy”. The potential to make money has made people do far worse. If someone stole your intellectual property you likely spent years creating, would your anger drive you to psychosis?
Still, Sarkar was so angry about the alleged theft, he took to his blog moths before the shooting to pen this warning to future students of Klug:
“My name is Mainak Sarkar. I was this guy’s PhD student. We had personal differences. He cleverly stole all my code and gave it another student. He made me really sick,” he wrote. “Your enemy is your enemy. But your friend can do a lot more harm. Be careful about whom you trust.”
So, should some more investigation be done into the Sarkar’s claims? Yes! This is not to say that if his code had been stolen, Sarkar would have been justified in killing Klug; but context, especially when we talk about issues of violence on campuses, is helpful in understanding what took place and how to prevent it.
Code, as intellectual property, can be very lucrative and let’s face it, theft of intellectual property is not uncommon.
Police now allege Sarkar may have been responsible for the death of a woman in Minnesota before driving to the UCLA campus to shoot Klug, but the details are slow coming.