The Legalities of Reverse-Engineering Games

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.

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  1. 0
    mona.adele says:

    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.



  2. 0
    ZippyDSMlee says:

    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!

  3. 0
    SeanB says:

    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 :(

  4. 0
    Thad says:

    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.

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