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.

9 comments

IP Litigator Scrutinizes Videogame Art

December 3, 2009 -

Where does art inspired by videogames fall under the fair use doctrine? A U.S. Intellectual Property lawyer takes a look at just such a topic in an interesting entry on his blog.

Ben Manevitz centers his article on three pieces of art from Brock Davis, which show interpreted scenes from Dig Dug, Donkey Kong and Missile Command.

The four factors (for the U.S.) for determining fair use are:

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted workas a whole;
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Manevitz argues that the art in question meets the criteria of points 1 and 4:

The fair use analysis is actually fairly straightforward. You've got a transformative use that will have no impact on the market for the games, or even the potential derivative market for the games. That's factors one and four in favor of fair use.

The author claims that the works do not meet the second factor however:

Admittedly, the game screen is a creative work, which puts factor 2 in the not-fair-use column and it could be argued that the amount taken is substantial - it would depend on the determination of what, exactly, constituted the work; is it the game overall or individual screens.

Manevitz goes on to examine possible trademark implications:

… Atari might be able to argue that a consumer seeing the paintings might be confused as to the source or - in this case the stronger argument - sponsorship of the paintings.

He concludes that game makers might be able to make an “objectively reasonable trademark infringement case against the artist,” before noting that the “saving grace” for the artist might be “the practical factors militating against the manufacturer's bringing suit, to wit, the negative publicity, the paucity of available damages, the relative age (value) of the marks allegedly infringed, etc.”

5 comments

In Congress, DMCA Reformer Lands Key Subcommittee Chair

January 9, 2009 -

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) has been picked to lead an important Congressional subcommittee, and that's good news for game consumers.

As MediaPost reports, Boucher will chair the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. From MediaPost:

As a longtime proponent of consumers' rights to lawfully copy films, books and other material, Boucher is considered a likely opponent of any entertainment industry efforts to restrict the Web. Among other measures, he is likely to oppose attempts to require Internet service providers to filter networks for pirated material.

Boucher also has tried to revamp the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to make it more consumer-friendly... Boucher's bill would have specified that the anti-circumvention rules do not apply in certain situations, such as when the purpose of getting around the restrictions was to access a work in order to criticize it or report about it...

In 2002, Boucher authored a strident column extolling the benefits of fair use... Boucher also supports net neutrality initiatives, as does President-elect Barack Obama.

In 2007 the Entertainment Consumers Association endorsed Rep. Boucher's fair use legislation, although the bill ultimately failed to pass.

Full Disclosure Dept: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics

3 comments

Spore + Porn = Sporn

July 31, 2008 -

Will Wright's Spore, due for a September 7th release, is one of most anticipated PC titles ever.

But, as CNN reports, some users of the Creature Creator utility, released last month, have built animals which are apparently intent on breeding. Or, at least coupling.

...Buried among the more wholesome attempts [at Spore creature creation] were two-legged dancing testicles, a "giant breast monster" and a four-legged, "phallic fornication machine," for starters...

 

For EA, the developer of "Spore," it's the downside to tapping into the booming user-generated content arena, which has made sites like YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, Facebook and Second Life so popular... Many of the popular user-generated content sites have faced similar challenges in trying to control obscene material...

 

The creatures are not just static. Users can create animated scenarios for the characters to engage in, some of which include sexually graphic acts.

When EA got word of the "Sporn" creations, it began working with YouTube to pull them down. Spore executive producer Lucy Bradshaw told CNN:

Whether it's modeling clay, dolls or crayons, a small number of people can be counted on to use it for something vulgar.

CNN also spoke to the "Spornmaster," a 37-year-old man who has created a number of reproductively equipped Sporn creatures:

I admit it is silly and juvenile, but I don't think there's anything perverted, vile or awful about it. If people find it offensive, they can simply not search for it online. No one is forcing anyone to see this content.

One Spore fan told CNN:

I consider this very similar to child pornography, at least to the extent of distributing the material to children.

GP: Buzzfeed has additional NSFW links...

71 comments

ESA Annual Report: Game Industry Policy to "Push Back" Against Fair Use

July 31, 2008 -

The ESA's 2008 Annual Report indicates that the video game industry hopes to uphold the controversial Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) against critics who claim that it restricts Fair Use of copyrighted material.

Based on the following passage from the report, the industry's position seems to be that gamers can create user-generated content only to the extent that in-game tools allow them to do so:

The interplay Between Fair Use and Digital Rights Management User generated content (UGC) is a high-profile policy issue in the copyright community, sparked by the phenomenal success of social networking sites like YouTube.

 

Influential policy papers from the U.K. IP Office and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) cite UGC as a tremendous social benefit of the Internet and call upon policymakers to tweak current legal regimes to better accommodate UGC. This issue has captured the imagination of critics of the current U.S. copyright system, who argue that Digital Rights Management restrictions confound legitimate fair use.

 

ESA IP Policy staff is bolstering its ability to push back against this assertion. In discussions with domestic and foreign IP officials and the OECD, ESA emphasized the rich and varied UGC-features currently incorporated into DRM-protected games.
 

 

 
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Andrew EisenThe story you just linked to? The story you asked if anyone had seen? Yes, THAT obnoxiousness. I've heard it parroted for nearly two years now.11/27/2014 - 7:57pm
ZippyDSMleeAndrew Eisen: That shes an ex con man?11/27/2014 - 7:54pm
Andrew EisenI've heard the same obnoxious horse poo for years. It's nothing new.11/27/2014 - 7:45pm
ZippyDSMleeAlso anyone see this? http://guardianlv.com/2014/11/anita-sarkeesian-unmasked-feminist-icon-or-con-artist/11/27/2014 - 7:28pm
ZippyDSMleeEvil within is a badly designed game.11/27/2014 - 7:28pm
Andrew EisenSure but you said "widens," hence my confusion. Looking into it, yep, there's a tweak to completely re-frame the image, adding more info at the top and bottom. You apparently need a fairly beefy rig to keep it running smooth when you do that though.11/27/2014 - 6:48pm
Matthew Wilsonthere is vertical fov, not just horizontal fov11/27/2014 - 6:38pm
Andrew EisenWell, you can widen it to 3:1 or even 10:1 but I don't know why you'd want to. From what I understand it's the missing visual info at the top and bottom that some object to, not that there isn't enough on either side.11/27/2014 - 6:36pm
Matthew WilsonI think it widenss the fov, so you get to see more.11/27/2014 - 6:31pm
Andrew EisenI don't see how as doing so would not add any visual information to the top or bottom of the screen.11/27/2014 - 6:04pm
Matthew Wilsonfrom what I read, getting rid of the black bars and stretching it out made for a better play experience.11/27/2014 - 5:59pm
Andrew EisenFrom what I hear, there's a ton of "look up and shoot at the guys above you" stuff in the game that the wider frame doesn't accommodate such actions well.11/27/2014 - 5:55pm
Andrew EisenHaving a game run in scope is not necessarily a bad thing but like any aspect ratio, you have to compose your shots correctly.11/27/2014 - 5:55pm
Neo_DrKefkaThe Evil Within was pretty bad and to make it worse the way the screen size made it hard for you to see even on a big screen it really hurt the game. Being Artistic is great but when you focus on art rather than what sells you run the risk of that happen11/27/2014 - 5:33pm
Matthew WilsonI kinda hope this is not true. http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2014/11/nintendo_might_not_be_making_more_gamecube_controller_adapters_at_the_moment11/27/2014 - 1:34pm
Matthew WilsonI saw that. I wish people would stop preording, but sadly that will never happen.11/27/2014 - 1:26pm
Papa MidnightUbisoft has cancelled the Season Pass for Assassin's Creed: Unity (http://www.reddit.com/r/pcmasterrace/comments/2ni2ac/ubisoft_cancel_season_pass_for_ac_unity/)11/27/2014 - 1:08pm
NeenekoBut now I can use the christmas discount justification too,11/27/2014 - 11:46am
NeenekoI am also sorely temped by Civ:BE, mostly because I have a demo coming up and I know my productivity will tank.11/27/2014 - 11:45am
MaskedPixelanteThe Evil Within is only a month old, right? And it's already 66% off...11/27/2014 - 10:29am
 

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