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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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
MattsworknameYou know andrew, those are actualy rock solid ideas, I woudl like those features a bunch ,especially with games that a cut scene heavly. looking at you kojima!07/03/2015 - 1:18am
Andrew EisenActually, "things I'd like to see become standard in video games" ain't a bad idea for one of my future YouTube videos.07/03/2015 - 1:05am
Andrew EisenYou know what I'd really like to see become standard? The ability to pause cutscenes. Rewind and skip (with "Are you sure?") would be nice too. Oh, and maybe display the duration of the cutscene when it's paused.07/03/2015 - 1:03am
Mattsworknameonly reason to do region locking now is to be dicks your consumer base. Granted, we see that ALOT these days07/03/2015 - 12:48am
MattsworknameI understand the concerns about the region locking thing, I just thing that if you buy a game legitimately, no matter where it's from or what langauge it's in, you should be allowed to play it. the argument about piracy was proven false years ago, the07/03/2015 - 12:47am
Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.theverge.com/culture/2015/7/2/8888243/reddit-subreddits-private-after-ama-victoria-taylor-fired bad optics by Reddit.07/03/2015 - 12:33am
Goth_SkunkI'm in full agreement on the subtitles issue. I also believe that every game should come with a single-player component, and be playable without an internet connection. Except MMOs.07/02/2015 - 10:51pm
TechnogeekRegion locking bans seem like something that'll be very difficult to pass into law. I'm fully on board with the subtitle requirement, though.07/02/2015 - 10:00pm
MattsworknameFor example, all games with any for form of spoken dialoge should be i subtitled, and region locking in any form should be illegal07/02/2015 - 9:03pm
MattsworknameDoes anyone feel that there should be a set standard for all games in terms of certain basic features. Ie subtitles, region lock, etc07/02/2015 - 9:01pm
MattsworknameSo, now that the Article stuff is over, I want to bring up another subject07/02/2015 - 9:01pm
PHX Corphttps://trustygem.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/windows-10-insider-preview-phase-3/ My Thoughts on Windows 10 Insider Preview07/02/2015 - 6:17pm
Matthew Wilsonhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?t=18&v=CbGmrySQLIg looks like Inafune is giving capcom the middle finger.07/02/2015 - 5:05pm
TechnogeekUnfortunately, the shoutbox moves fast enough that I can't find why I got that impression, so if was indeed erroneous I do apologize.07/02/2015 - 4:34pm
TechnogeekBut yeah, as far as my earlier comment re: you and the article, I did get the impression at some point that you felt there should have been some sort of reprecussions for the article's existence.07/02/2015 - 4:34pm
TechnogeekI got expletive-censored for posting something a few weeks back wherein I expressed my shock that I agreed with you about something, Skunk; so you're not the only one being hit with that stick.07/02/2015 - 4:31pm
Andrew EisenI know you don't. And you haven't recently so all's well.07/02/2015 - 4:25pm
Goth_SkunkI don't think I misrepresented anything.07/02/2015 - 4:24pm
 

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