Reverse engineering court decision

Patrik Stridvall ps at
Mon Feb 5 13:20:05 CST 2001

> "Paul E. Merrell" wrote:
> > "Hypothetically, similar efforts taken by others to
> > reverse-engineer Microsoft Windows could be deemed justifiable
> > if the aim of those efforts were to make other companies'
> > programs, designed for Windows, run on an operating system
> > other than Windows. This assumes that the 9th Circuit ruling
> > holds up."
> As Paul mentioned in the quote he selected, the key item 
> involves moving an application to a
> different platform.  Application "portability" may legally no 
> longer require "porting"!  It may
> instead allow for "OS Compatibility Layers" to be written 
> instead.  This may also drive a needed
> wedge into the notion of migrating applications into the OS, 
> a strategy MS has evolved into a fine
> art.

One thing that is important to note is unless you do
an internal redesign of your application "porting"
will involve some sort of compabillity layer.

The difference is whether you have it distributed 
as part of your application or whether you distribute
it seperately.

In fact Wine can, in some meaning be both, depending whether you
use Wine to run the PE executable or whether you dynamically
link with Winelib or whether you statically link with Winelib.

In short if you try do make a legal difference between different
kind of porting you will get all sorts of logical inconsistancies.
> This affects far more than Wine:  One project that comes to 
> mind is MAME (games).  There are many
> more seemingly similar projects that are NOT affected, such 
> as MOL(Mac-on-Linux), Win4Lin, Plex86,
> VmWare and probably several others that actually run the 
> target OS, not emulate (clone) it.
> An extreme interpretation of this decision could be as 
> follows:  If I need a reason to legally
> clone a new feature in some market-leading desktop OS, all I 
> need to do is find an app (any app)
> that uses that feature, then declare my intent to make that 
> app run under some other (any other)
> OS.  It does not matter if the feature being emulated is 
> "documented" or not.  Taken further, it

One thing to note is that "documented", as I guess you suggest
by quoteing it, is a very vague term. If you are intelligent and
knowledgable enough you can simply look at the binary and "read"
what it does as accurately, and in some meaning even more so, as
a less knowledgable person could read any existing documentation
that might even be incorrect.

In short trying to make legal differance of what is reverse enginering
or what is not has severe problems.

> may even be possible to dispose of the specific API used to 
> implement the feature, and use a
> different one instead.
> Eventually (assuming this decision survives), the courts will 
> see that ALL such forms of reverse
> engineering should be legal WITHOUT the necessity of an app to port.

Probably, any alternative will have either severe logical problems 
or will be complete arbitrary, I think.
> However, this notion still needs to be more fully explored 
> via additional cases before its full
> scope can be determined.  Presently, the scope appears to be 
> very restricted:  The article points
> out that the DeCSS decision would probably not be affected in 
> any way.  In the current
> environment, this is probably true.  But what if you can 
> convince the courts to view DVD "content"
> as a "program"!  While this may seem obviously true to 
> technical folks, especially those who
> create multimedia apps and content for a living, it may take 
> many visits to court to properly
> communicate this understanding to the legal system.

I think from the legal defintion of a program in US Law
it should be obvious for a court as well. I don't remember
exactly what it said but a remember making that reflection
when I read it.
> Anyway, since most of the available content security systems 
> ARE software, and MS has already
> migrated theirs into the latest versions of Windows, this 
> entire issue already has the potential
> to snowball completely out of the control of OS and content 
> companies, and possibly even Congress
> itself.
> With the major media companies trying to tie software 
> protection and content protection together
> under copyright law (via laws such as DMCA and UCITA), this 
> may be just the wedge needed to pry
> them back apart.
Note that the issues of the legallity of Wine and DeCSS is connected
in an abstract sense. Among them the Amicus Brief from
the 65(!) Law Professors in the DeCSS argued that forbidding
DeCSS, regardless of whether it violates the first amendment or
not, lies outside the scope of the power of the Congress because
of the 10th amendment.

Following the same reasoning then _all_ reverse engineering
obviously does so as well.

> One can only hope, and patiently wait for the court decisions...

Personally I don't worry that much. First of all I live in Europe
secondly any kind of regulation of these kind of issues will
IMHO be either logically inconsistant or completely arbitrary.

Neither of the cases are likely to survive in the long run
for several reason among them.
1. Constitional/"Human rights" reasons
2. Legal enforcement is close to impossible
3. It is unlikely to serve the public good

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