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.

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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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InfophileI know the ZE series was in the red in Japan, but international series boosted it to profitability. That may not mean it's more profitable in the west, but it does mean ZE3 wouldn't exist without the western market.07/04/2015 - 7:54am
Consterwhy aren't "Video game players" an option on the poll? :P07/04/2015 - 5:19am
Andrew EisenThat was quick! Pretty accurate cosplay of the new Ghostbuster uniform and proton pack: https://twitter.com/mirabellemusing/status/61673135125394227207/03/2015 - 6:23pm
Matthew Wilson@mast I dont know, but I do know it got a cult fallowing here.07/03/2015 - 6:22pm
MastermuneWasn't the Zero Escape series more popular here than in Japan?07/03/2015 - 6:19pm
Matthew Wilson@mast given the game was revealed in the US, I wouldnt be shocked if it was released at the same time.07/03/2015 - 6:15pm
MastermuneI don't trust the big AAA worldwide simultaneous releases though.07/03/2015 - 5:57pm
Mastermune@Infophile I have come to the conclusion that smaller games like zero escape, JRPG's and the like are actually worth preordering sinc they are limited quantities and since they usually release in japan first we know if there are any issues.07/03/2015 - 5:56pm
Infophile@Matthew! Awesome news. I'd preorder on that shout alone if I didn't have a policy against preordering anymore.07/03/2015 - 5:16pm
Matthew Wilsonzero escape 3 was announced today.07/03/2015 - 4:21pm
Matthew Wilson@pnx I am guessing a ddoss since that is what happened to neogaf, but sony needs to do a investment in psn as a whole. steam is still the most reliable and fastest digital platform I use.07/03/2015 - 3:06pm
PHX Corphttp://www.vg247.com/2015/07/03/psn-is-down-sony-investigating/ not again: PSN is down, Sony investigating07/03/2015 - 3:04pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.vg247.com/2015/07/03/digital-extremes-trespasser-keystone-pc/ if true, this is funny and embarrassing for Digital Extremes. companies need too have better security.07/03/2015 - 2:57pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.gamespot.com/videos/the-point-destiny-the-hardcore-gamers-slot-machine/2300-6425852/ this is very good, and well researched.07/03/2015 - 12:41pm
InfophileOther features to become standard: The ability to remap controls however the hell I want. Quicksave at any time (especially for handheld and mobile games). Plus everything Andrew said07/03/2015 - 10:43am
InfophileRegion-freeing becomes tricky for games with a strong online component though, especially when the servers are run by different branches in different regions.07/03/2015 - 10:41am
InfophileI'm in favor of getting rid of region-locking for any purchased games. I can understand an exception for free, ad-supported games, as many ads are only relevant in certain regions, and it's a ridiculous hassle to get ads for all regions.07/03/2015 - 10:40am
PHX Corphttp://kotaku.com/payday-2-has-been-broken-on-xbox-one-for-three-weeks-1715384186 Payday 2 Has Been Broken On Xbox One For Three Weeks07/03/2015 - 8:44am
Matthew Wilsonhttps://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/3bxduw/why_was_riama_along_with_a_number_of_other_large/ here is a more complete acount of whats going on.07/03/2015 - 1:32am
Matthew Wilsonredit is on fire right now. most subreddits have been set to private.07/03/2015 - 1:24am
 

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