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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ZippyDSMleeGot one of my "books" (such as it is) finished, 17k words, here is the first chapter. http://zippydsmlee.tumblr.com/post/123483609450/chronicles-of-the-lord-of-power-lost-and08/04/2015 - 12:56am
Andrew EisenPeople decided to hate her before she said anything and to this day are desperately search for something, anything to justify that decision.08/04/2015 - 12:56am
MattsworknameExactly andrw anita had teh ire of some people in the movment and as a result she got dragged into the mess . Not fair, not pleasent, but thats all there to it. Moving on08/04/2015 - 12:55am
Andrew EisenHow did she piss off a large group? By announcing the intention to produce a series of videos examining the representation of females in video games if enough people were interested in the project to donate $6k. That horrible monster!08/04/2015 - 12:54am
Mattsworknamethe whole thing exploded. The ethics targerts were actually stuff like polygon, kotaku, Gamesutra, Leagh alexander, Etc etc. Anita was just an extra name they could throw on the pile08/04/2015 - 12:52am
Andrew EisenSarkeesian isn't a journalist. If GamerGate is SOLELY about ethics in games journalism it shouldn't have any interest in her. Point made. Move on.08/04/2015 - 12:47am
MattsworknameIP: Cause she got caught in a larger issue by pissing off a large group. As andrew and I have discussed in the past, the issues at hand with her videos are more about content and context then ethics, she just got pulled into the larger fight about it when08/04/2015 - 12:47am
MattsworknameI find it hard to dispute his points andrew, though you are right ,his points are often focused on VERY specific statements and concerns, of that you are correct08/04/2015 - 12:45am
Andrew EisenOh well. At least it was only seven and a half minutes.08/04/2015 - 12:45am
IronPatriotMattswork, if Gamergate is actually about ethics in journalism, why is Sarkeesian a major gamergate target?08/04/2015 - 12:45am
Andrew EisenI watched Chris's video. It's pretty lousy. He has a serious problem with strawman arguments, taking things out of context and arguing pieces of an argument in turn rather than the overarching point.08/04/2015 - 12:44am
MattsworknameGot it andrew08/04/2015 - 12:43am
Andrew EisenI deleted the other one too. Abbreviating the f-word does not make it okay.08/04/2015 - 12:43am
MattsworknameAndrewL fine fine , sorry, ill try to keep that stuff out of the box08/04/2015 - 12:42am
Andrew EisenMatt - I deleted your comment. Keep that out of the Shout box.08/04/2015 - 12:39am
MattsworknameIP: ahh, but theres the rub, I never brought up that arugment today, only you have, so i never failed to prove anything, you were the one who brought up that old canard08/04/2015 - 12:38am
IronPatriotMattsworkname makes an ugly personal attack and admits the video fails to prove any breach of ethics by sarkeesian08/04/2015 - 12:37am
IronPatriotThe video fails to prove breaches of journalistic ethics by Sarkeesian. So that means gamergate's obsession with her is NOT about ethics, right?08/04/2015 - 12:34am
MattsworknameIP: yet you also are not disputing the videos content08/04/2015 - 12:31am
IronPatriotMattsworkname, thanks for the gamergate obsession with Sarkeesian, proving that "ethics" concerns are a LIE.08/04/2015 - 12:31am
 

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