Is Emulating How A Piece Of Software Functions Copyright Infringement? UK Court Doesn't Think So...

from the but-we'll-have-to-wait-and-see dept

It's pretty widely accepted that for there to be copyright infringement of software, the actual code has to be copied. Reverse engineering is not considered infringing. However, software giant SAS is apparently challenging that view and has sued a small company, World Programming Ltd. in the UK and the US, claiming that it copied SAS manuals and source code in creating its own version of the software. The British High Court ruled last week that, while World Programming infringed on copyright in copying the manuals, and also used SAS software beyond the scope of its licensing agreement, it didn't think that reverse engineering aspects of SAS software infringed, though it sent that part of the case to the European Court of Justice to make sure that this ruling fits within the European software directive. Hopefully, the ECJ agrees. Otherwise, it could create quite a mess for anyone who reverse engineers aspects of another company's software.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    mike allen (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 2:49am

    hardwear manufacturers have done this for years. i dont see any reason why reverse engineering could possible copyright infringment. Perhaps SAS are eunning short on money and suing all in sight.

     

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  2.  
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    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 3:51am

    Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    Reverse Engineering software is the process of breaking the Executable code down into the original source code, and if this is done and the code is then used to build the product it should be infringement because it is taking someone elses work and using it.

    I may not agree with software patents, but copyright is there to keep someone from using my work to profit from, and either I get protection here or I get it from patents, take away both and you damage the industry in my opinion.

     

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  3.  
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    Liam (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 4:44am

    Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    It's impossible to take an executable file and get the original source code. You can view it as assembly and see how it works, but you can never get to the original source code. So no copyright has been broken in reverse engineering software.

     

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  4.  
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    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 5:35am

    Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    REALLY????? Impossible???

    Hmm I guess then 2 years ago when I decompiled an old program that I had lost my sourcode to, I performed an impossible miricle then....

    Dude decompiling executables to source has been around for 30 years. The decompiled code can be returned from the EXE. Depending on the language and compiler that was used you might lose comments or variable names but the code is the same out as in....

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 5:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    Decompiled code is horrendous.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 5:56am

    All programmers reverse engineer. That's the beauty of the craft and what makes it unique. The fact that you can execute an awesome program and sit in wonder at some of the innovations. Of course you want to do that and being a programmer allows you to. It is the challenge to be able to do what the other guy did and in many cases what it took a whole team do. This is innovation on it's grandest scale.

     

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  7.  
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    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 5:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    Decompiled code CAN BE horrendous, if the original was bad... Most decent decompilers will return the code to nearly identical code to the original...

    Doing this to someone elses code for the purpose of using their work should be illegal. I'm not sure where the actual laws stand, but I know in all of my contracts my lawyer has included clauses that basically state that the user is financially responsible for 10 times the cost of the software, or 10 times the damages caused whichever is greater for allowing this to happen.

    So either way if one of my clients allows this to happen to one of my companies products they are on the hook for a substantial amount of money.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    No it is not you dumbass.

    Take AIDA one of the most well know disassemblers on the market for Windows platform.

    You can decompile a program it will use assumptions to create the disassembled code that doesn't mean it is equal to the original is just that "it knows" about a loop and implement the decompiler version of that loop, and it can be the same as the original or can be different.

    Please don't talk about things you have no idea how they work.

    Decompiling an old program with a new disassembler will almost always result in optimised code did you know that?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    It can be even argued that a compiler delivers a new form of the code i.e. new expression of the idea.

     

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  10.  
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    darryl, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:16am

    Reading source code is not reverse engineering

    claiming that it copied SAS manuals and source code in creating its own version of the software.


    Yes, Reverse engineering, is a accepted method of emulation and if that is what they did there would not be a problem.

    But it **IS** copyright infringement when they look at or use the documentation of the software, or the actual SOURCE code itself.

    Looking at the source code, or reading the technical manual is not reverse engineering, its copying.

    And what the court said, is the same they cant really use the manuals, and they are not sure, but will check about using the source code.


    I accept reverse engineering, is or has been agreed as acceptable, as is the case with the IBM BIOS, where they looked at the functionality, and not the code, or the manuals. They emulated the functionality.

    BTW: that does not get you out of any possible patent violations, if your RE achieves the result by duplicating a patented algorithm or method, RE does not present a defense.

    And even RE, true Reverse engineering, with no reference to the original source code, or tech manuals is a gray area, and is delt with on a case by case basis..

    None of this increases innovation, and its effort to waste, its re-inventing the wheel every time you want to design a car.

    It does not increase competition, or innovation and does not give the comsumer more variety, just 2 versions of the same thing, or more than 2 versions.

    You could employ the engineers to do 'forward engineering', which is actually the only engineering there is, the rest is copying. its just how you copy it that might let you get away with it.

    Im not sure in this case,

    but it appears clear they did not reverse engineer, they simply looked at the manuals and source code and copied that functionality.

    That is not reverse engineering.

    As you know,

    Reverse engineering is something different, you do not look at the manuals or code, or the way the original manufactures achieved a function.

    You look at the function, and you develop your own independent method of achieving that function, WITHOUT looking at how the original method is applied.

    Seem your trying to blur the lines of logic here, and trying to blend reading the source code and manuals with reverse engineering, and the two are not the same.

    As you clearly know...

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:24am

    Re:

    hardware

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:28am

    This is what you get when you don't use open source.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    Now I see you are not a dumbass, you are just a lying prick.

    When things don't go your way you change what you say with the wind.

     

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  14.  
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    xs (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:36am

    How can software patent infringement and legal reverse engineering coexist?

    If reverse engineering software is completely legal, wouldn't that pretty much negate the software patent altogether? You may claim a patent on your software, but I only have to legally reverse engineer it. Don't understand where infringement can happen.

     

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  15.  
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    Liam (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    But that was not the original source code, just what the decompiler created. It is impossible to get the original source code. No copyright on decompiled source code.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:38am

    It does not increase competition, or innovation and does not give the comsumer more variety, just 2 versions of the same thing, or more than 2 versions.


    Hmmm...please get any linux distro they all have as you know a package manager that gives everyone thousands of software at their fingertips for free, where inside each category you have the simple and the complex, for me that doesn't sound like only 2 of anything, it is more likely to have thousands of options it even becomes difficult to choose from.

     

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  17.  
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    Liam (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    I don't know what sort of programs you are decompiling but if you are getting code back that is nearly identical to the original then you have got to be working on some pretty badly coded things.

    You would fine someone 10x the cost of the program for running it through a decompiler? Aren't you a nice guy.

     

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  18.  
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    Free Capitalist (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 7:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    Most decent decompilers will return the code to nearly identical code to the original...

    Disagree completely. Even a simple disassemble can be sloppy, somewhat inaccurate and require doctoring to make readable assembler code.

    De-compiling to C on up is not going to get you anything really close to the "original source", though in some cases it may net more useful source code. (looks around the room)

    Why should it be illegal to observe a process? The nature of reverse engineering is learning through observation.

     

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  19.  
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    Free Capitalist (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 7:34am

    Re: Reading source code is not reverse engineering

    tl ; dr entirely

    However I do agree the article was unclear on whether they actually stole and copied the source code, or reverse engineered it. In one sentence they said
    copied SAS manuals and source code in developing its own software offering.

    But later on they only cited copying of the manuals.
    Copyright certainly would have been violated if they copied the original source code rather than reverse engineering it.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 8:15am

    I'm confused

    I seem to remember techdirt talking about how software patents are a bad idea because any good programmer could just observe some software and then write something that did the same thing. Seems like the same thing applies to copyrighted software too. If that is true then why would anyone ever need to reverse engineer software at all?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    I only have a limited experience of reverse engineering, but I once disassembled a simple "Hello World!" program written in C. The result was pretty bad. Thousands of assembly lines. It was a nightmare.

    I once found a disassembler that could disassemble into C...somewhat (I think it was RecStudio or something). The result was still pretty bad.

    Reverse engineering is NOT easy. It requires an in-depth knowledge of programming, especially assembly and C. The guy that manages to pull it off should be praised for his skill, not arrested.

    And I really don't know where you got this amazing decompiler of yours. Can you provide a link?

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 9:04am

    Re: Reading source code is not reverse engineering

    "None of this increases innovation, and its effort to waste, its re-inventing the wheel every time you want to design a car.

    It does not increase competition, or innovation and does not give the comsumer more variety, just 2 versions of the same thing, or more than 2 versions."

    Most Linux drivers had to be reverse engineered from windows drivers because manufacturers did not provide Linux drivers or source code. Are you saying that that effort is a waste of time? That we should all be stuck with windows because some dolt refuses to make drivers?

    How would your "forward engineering" work in this case? Make drivers from scratch? Or just build new hardware that copied what the other one did? That would be a monumental waste of effort and time, all because manufacturers REFUSED to cooperate.

     

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  23.  
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    nasch (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 9:42am

    Re: Re: Re: Reverse Engineering Should be Infringement IF

    I know maybe I'm piling on, but...

    REALLY????? Impossible???

    Yes, it is impossible to be sure you get the original source code, and extremely unlikely that you get it at all.

    Hmm I guess then 2 years ago when I decompiled an old program that I had lost my sourcode to, I performed an impossible miricle then....

    No, you just didn't get the original source.

    the code is the same out as in.

    No, it's not. Compiling and decompiling are not symmetrical processes.

     

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  24.  
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    nasch (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 9:44am

    Re: How can software patent infringement and legal reverse engineering coexist?

    This case is about copyright infringement, not patent infringemnt.

     

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  25.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 10:00am

    Re: Reading source code is not reverse engineering

    COPYING the manuals is infringing. READING the manuals to emulate the way the software works isn't infringing.

    Apparently these guys did both. The judge declared that the COPYING part is right. But the other company is also claiming that simply by using the manual to emulate their software is also infringing, which it is not.

     

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  26.  
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    Ron Rezendes (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 10:06am

    Re: Reading source code is not reverse engineering

    "None of this increases innovation, and its effort to waste, its re-inventing the wheel every time you want to design a car.

    It does not increase competition, or innovation and does not give the comsumer more variety, just 2 versions of the same thing, or more than 2 versions."

    I disagree completely. Two versions of the same thing will not have the same price, typically. It's called competition. Without competition, the sole provider lacks any incentive to improve the product or innovate. It is the very heart of a free market.

    Epic fail, two handed face-palm!

     

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  27.  
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    xs (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 2:12pm

    Re: I'm confused

    What you describe is exact what reverse engineering is. Looking at how a software works, guess at how it works, then produces another that does exactly the same thing. You don't have to resort to decompile to call it reverse engineering.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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