The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

January 25, 2010 -

Attorney Mona Ibrahim has published an analysis of the legal implications involved in reverse-engineering games.

The article follows a hypothetical game developer who is frustrated that her favorite game has poor server support, so she reverse-engineers the network protocols to create a private, lag-free server.  The concept isn't so far-fetched: guides on how to create a private World of Warcraft server abound and some reverse-engineered games, like SWGEmu have gained quite a bit of attention.

Ibrahim's article outlines the various laws and doctrines that come into play with reverse-engineering, from the Copyright Act to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and provides practical examples of where enterprising coders can go wrong.

For instance, regarding the DMCA, Ibrahim notes:

If Mallory's new server doesn't provide the same safeguards that control access to the original game servers (like a CD key or a version verification protocol), then her own server is circumventing access controls to the online component of the game. Therefore, by distributing the program, means (such as DIY instructions), or code to access servers that don't use the game's original access controls, she would be violating the anti-circumvention provision.

The article concludes that while reverse engineering itself is not illegal, it does run a gauntlet of legal issues and that "[t]his isn't the type of project you want to pursue if you're risk averse".


Dan Rosenthal is a legal analyst for the games industry.


Comments

Re: The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

While I appreciate the write up, I am not a Gamasutra columnist. I would be a horrible columnist. I don't have that kind of time. But again, thanks for the nod.

 

 

Re: The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

The DMCA(Draconian malice copyright act) goes to far to try and marginalize something legal. IMO things that bypass copy protection both hardware and software based need to follow only acouple rules to be legal and untouchable, It must prove that they do more than allow unprotected "retail" item's to be used on or "only unlock" the device or piece of software in question. IE for it to be fair use it has to offer more features to a device or allow you full access to the software you have purchased and that the mods/cracks,ect can not have unlicensed patent,code or copy right within it.



So for a device a mod/hack,ect HAS to use more media and file types than the current up to date device to become fair use.


Software can be unlocked if you own it or if it adds more things beyond the current up to date device use more media and file types or decode its files for moddfcaction  or add a configuration utility that adds more features to a games basic menus of control,graphics,audio,ect.


You must build the mod/crack/hack with 100% paid licensed or public domain patent,code or copy right.



This about competition and openness and allowing for us to mod when we see a problem with X or Y no one outside the community of bored geeks is willing to fix or address, if business will not do it we will and this is how America became better by people adding on to current ideas and making things better(not putting out a death grip over every little thing and suing people into he dark ages if they dare think.....)!


Until lobbying is a hanging offense I choose anarchy! CP/IP laws should not effect the daily life of common people! http://zippydsmlee.wordpress.com/


Copyright infringement is nothing more than civil disobedience to a bad set of laws. Let's renegotiate them.

---

http://zippydsm.deviantart.com/

Re: The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

Would you believe I was, just moments before clicking on my GP feed, pondering this very issue?  Thanks for the link -- this is the kind of thing I think about.

Re: The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

Well if they're modding Star Wars Galaxy to the days before it got raped into a fail WoW clone then im all for it.

http://www.magicinkgaming.com/

Re: The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

It's first form was pretty fail even without remaking it into it's final version.

Re: The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

I helped stress test that emu, it wasn't bad. Ran pretty well actually, even in pre-beta phase.

Re: The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

Regarding private servers on WoW, I have heard that whiel Blizzartd doesn't like it, they hardly do much to stop it.

Re: The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

I haven't kept up on Blizzard's current policy on third-party servers, but I know they successfully sued over bnetd, a third-party alternative to battle.net.

Re: The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

not entirely correct. Having played on privates for years, and even run my own a couple times, they're not as apathetic as you'd think.

When they take down a server, it goes so quickly that the comunity usually doesn't know why it's gone, and the other servers don't want to talk about it, for fear of attracting attention. Seen it happen.

I miss my wow server, just ran out of time to run it properly :(

 
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Andrew EisenSleaker - I'd say that's likely. From my experience, most who have a problem with Sarkeesian's videos either want to hate them in the first place (for whatever reason) or honestly misunderstand what they're about and what they're saying.08/29/2014 - 3:16pm
james_fudgeWe appreciate your support :)08/29/2014 - 2:55pm
TechnogeekIt gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, the gaming community is not statistically indistinguishable from consisting entirely of people that your average Xbox Live caricature would look at and go "maybe you should tone it down a little bit".08/29/2014 - 2:49pm
TechnogeekI just want to say that while I've disagreed with the staff of this site on several occasions, it's still good to see that they're not automatically dismissing Anita's videos as a "misandrist scam" or whatever the preferred dismissive term is these days.08/29/2014 - 2:49pm
E. Zachary KnightZippy, So you can't find even one?08/29/2014 - 1:04pm
ZippyDSMleeAndrew Eisen:Right because shes prefect and never exaggerates... *rolls eyes*08/29/2014 - 12:53pm
SleakerAnd honestly, nearly all of the games she references, or images she depicts I've always cringed at and wondered why they were included in games to begin with, from pinups through explicit sexual depictions or direct abuse. I think it's cheap storytelling.08/29/2014 - 12:35pm
Sleaker@AE - aren't most people fundamentally misunderstanding her at this point? haha.. On a related note I think a lot of the backlash is coming from males that think she is telling them their 'Generic Male Fantasy' is bad and wrong.08/29/2014 - 12:33pm
Andrew EisenAnd no, I don't think the female community would be upset over the performance of a case study in and of itself. Possibly the mostivations behind such a study, the methodology or conclusions but not the mere idea of a case study.08/29/2014 - 12:29pm
Andrew EisenAmusingly, these videos aren't saying you can't/shouldn't use tropes or that sexual representations are inherently problematic so those are very silly things to have a problem with and indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the series.08/29/2014 - 12:29pm
SleakerDo you think the female community would get extremely angry over a male doing a case study on the negative impact of sex-novels and their unrealistic depiction of males and how widespread they are in american culture?08/29/2014 - 12:25pm
SleakerThe other thing that people might find problematic is that they see no problem with sexual representations of females (or males) in games. And realistically, why is there anything wrong with sexual representations in fiction?08/29/2014 - 12:24pm
SleakerTo even discuss or bring up these issues at a cultural level to begin with. Going straight for games to many probably feels like a huge overstepping given that it's interactive story in many cases, and when you're telling a story why can't you use tropes.08/29/2014 - 12:21pm
SleakerI think a large part of the controversy stems from the idea that games aren't culture setters, but culture reactors, and simply depict what is already in culture. So people don't care that games use tropes or are blind to them because we've failed ...08/29/2014 - 12:20pm
AvalongodBesides, what better way to make her point for her than to respond to her opinion by behaving like a misogynistic asshole. Sure, it may be a troll account, but that doesn't make it "ok"08/29/2014 - 12:19pm
AvalongodWhether Sarkeesian is "right" or "wrong" is not relevant, neither she nor any other woman should have to expect that her opinion will be met with death threats or even just sexist language.08/29/2014 - 12:18pm
Andrew EisenOh, may as well. Zip, I challenge you to cite three specific examples from the TvW videos (use direct quotes and time stamps) and explain how/why they ring hollow or are over exaggerated.08/29/2014 - 11:56am
Andrew EisenZip - Bullies on both sides? What both sides? And of course bullies are worse than people who aren't bullies.08/29/2014 - 11:23am
Neeneko(2) yes, male tropes also have problems and gender studies looks at those too. But this highlights a privilage problem, the idea that if male issues are not brought up too female issues should not be discussed.08/29/2014 - 10:42am
Neeneko@ZippyDSMlee - jumping back (1) one can acknowledge systemic problems without requiring every male be a Neanderthal.08/29/2014 - 10:42am
 

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