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Legal Issues of Opening Up Proprietary Standards? 269

Posted by Cliff
from the consequences-of-reverse-engineering dept.
mrjb asks: "The Alesis HD24 is a 24-track, hard disk audio recorder with a built-in 10 megabit FTP server. To improve on file transfer speed, Alesis offers an external Firewire drive with a program called FST/Connect which reads the disks under Windows. I've contacted Alesis about a Linux solution, but none is planned. Also, they are (understandably) not very eager to reveal the file system specs. After a few days of staring at hex codes, I now know enough about the FS to read HD24 IDE disks under Linux (no Firewire required). As I know I benefit from the efforts of the Samba and OpenOffice teams, I'd love to share this info. I'm not, however, the least bit interested in Alesis suing me (in fact, I might want to send them my CV at some point). What would your advice be in such a delicate situation of conflicting interests?"
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Legal Issues of Opening Up Proprietary Standards?

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  • Proof? (Score:5, Funny)

    by guyfromindia (812078) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:17PM (#14859104) Homepage
    BTW, the article doesnt have a link for some of us lazy folks...
    Here is a link to the product (Alesis HD24)... [alesis.com]
    Just curious... how can you prove that you didnt have any inside information on the specs and that you decoded it all by yourself?
    • Re:Proof? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alex P Keaton in da (882660) on Monday March 06, 2006 @02:25PM (#14859815) Homepage
      Not be an ass, but why not consult a lawyer? Or ask your question where the people have legal degrees, or have spent 5 or 10 or 20 years studying and practicing law, rather than a board where people have spent 5 or 10 or 50 yearss studying tech.
      Would you ask a group of doctors how to rebuild you car engine? I would hope you would ask an auto mechanic.
      • Re:Proof? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dnoyeb (547705) on Monday March 06, 2006 @05:58PM (#14862076) Homepage Journal
        Because hes not asking a legal question. The original question has to do with not pissing off the company and nothing to do with winning a legal battle against them.

        Admittedly its kind of strange to ask someone else how not to hurt another parties feelings.
      • Re:Proof? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Ray Radlein (711289) on Monday March 06, 2006 @07:33PM (#14862798) Homepage
        The reason to Ask Slashdot about it is that there might be people here who have first-hand knowledge of the legal issues behind reverse-engineering proprietray products -- not because they are lawyers, but because they have done reverse engineering of their own. It's all well and good to say "consult a lawyer," but what type of lawyer? At the very least, someone who has done this themselves may be able to put them in touch with IP lawyers who specialize in "clean room" reverse enigineering issues.
    • Re:Proof? (Score:3, Informative)

      by budgenator (254554)
      why worrry about inside info when
      With their patent-pending method of writing to the hard drive, HD24 and HD24XR are the first hard disk recorders built from the ground up exclusively for the purpose of recording music instead of data
      It is probably going to be patent encumbered. The Patent will protect the device no matter how public knowlege its interface is!
    • by autopr0n (534291) on Monday March 06, 2006 @04:26PM (#14861191) Homepage Journal
      Unless he signed an NDA, he's free to do whatever he wants, as long as it dosn't violate their copyrights. (If you're wondering, the reason Compaq was so careful about their clean-room implementation was that their BIOS was certain to duplicate IBM's BIOS, which was published openly. They only way they could prove they weren't violating copyrights was to prove no one on their team had ever seen it)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:20PM (#14859142)
    Find an anonymous ftp site that accepts this kind of information for this area, which in turn will be let loose into the wild.
  • by Krach42 (227798) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:21PM (#14859148) Homepage Journal
    Reverse Engineering is generally not illegal.

    But, to CYA, your best bet is to just write up the specs as you understand them, then have someone else write the driver for the community.

    You don't even have to share those specs. Give the author the specs, have him write the driver, then publish it, without your specs. Now, anyone who wants to reverse engineer the driver you wrote, is investigating a full layer of indirection from you. They're not even looking at the specs you wrote, but rather the code that was written upon those specs.
    • How about... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sterno (16320) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:29PM (#14859249) Homepage
      Before he does that, what he really ought to be doing is talking to an attorney. An attorney can give you advice on what measures you can take to minimize your legal exposure here. That advice may include what you need to do to assure that you've done this in a clean manner. Having specs you hand off to somebody else may not provide the kind of validation that is needed.

      In the end though you can do this 100% on the up and up and still get sued. A good lawyer will tell you that. Will they win the lawsuit? Not if you do this right, but then how many thousands of dollars will you blow defending the lawsuit, whether you win or not.

      Whatever you decide to do an attorney can give you a clear perspective on what the ramifications are.
      • Good point. Of course, I was taking the whole thing of "If you have a legal question, talk to a lawyer" as a fundamental unstated rule.

        Of course, then you forget to even talk to a lawyer.

        But it's still the best legal advice at all times.
      • "In the end though you can do this 100% on the up and up and still get sued. A good lawyer will tell you that."

        He can NOT do this at all and still get sued. A good lawyer will tell him that too. Interesting system the lawyers have devised in which everyone so blatantly should have a lawyer on staff and everyone who can afford them does.

        The best thing would probably be to release the information anonymously. He can still be sued (as with every other course of action) but this way he can be sure to take a leg
    • Yes, this sounds completely legal. That's not the point. He wants to have the manufacturer still like him as well.

      My advice: Get a lawyer now. Someone who's informed on this topic of law. Tell the lawyer what you have got, and what you want from the company. Have the lawyer call the company and get some form of assurance that you haven't killed the company. In writing. Make it clear to the lawyer that you don't want to issue threats, you just want to cover your ass.

      Play by companies rules, which incl
    • Reverse Engineering is generally not illegal.
      Unless it's forbidden by the agreement under which you licensed the technology — which it almost always is.

      Cliff, for the last time: stop accepting Ask Slashdots that want legal advice. Or else you'll be consulting a lawyer yourself!

    • If your going to go down that road do some reading up on Abstraction filtration comparison [google.co.uk] first, then throw a little reverse engineering [google.co.uk] into the search to get some more specific info.
    • Funny? No, True! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BobPaul (710574) *
      In the US the same person can't disassemble and examine as the person whose writing the new code.

      If all you did was look at the file system, you're ok (but you have to prove that.) If you disassembled their windows driver, then all you can do is make a spec like the parent said.

      It's the same way Compaq cloned the IBM PC Bios. They had to setup a clean room environment for the actual developers handing them only the spec written by the disassemblers.

      But most importantly, talk to a lawyer ;)
  • Fair use? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nexxuz (895394)
    Wouldn't this fall into the fair use catagory? I mean if you purchase the equipment then don't you have the right to be able to use it?
  • IANAL, don't do anything based on slashdot. But if you determined all that stuff without access to any proprietary documents, then you are free to do release it. Reverse engineering is still legal. If you had access to someones proprietary information, however, then you'd better not or talk to a real live lawyer who can give you legal advice.

    I think the only sticky part may revolve around the DMCA if by releasing this info you are enabling piracy. It doesn't look like it, but someone may try to wrap it that
  • by dsanfte (443781) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:24PM (#14859185) Journal
    Write up a spec sheet, get onto an anonymizer service, and e-mail the specs to either someone interested in writing a driver, or a hobbyist e-mail list. Or write the driver yourself and publish the source in the same manner. Either way, just use an anonymizer service.

    If you're looking to take credit for it, well, (possibly) getting sued is the price you pay for fame.
  • Difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jeffs72 (711141) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:24PM (#14859186) Journal
    The problem I see here is that you aren't developing something new and giving back to the OS community with this, you are reverse engineering a (presumably) patented product and wanting to release that knowledge into the OS community.

    If I were you I'd be awfully careful with what you are doing. Maybe you could just release some sort of closed source linux tool to allow access to this device so your needs are met, and even send it to them so they can release a linux client if they want.

    No matter what your feelings are on patent and IP, you still need to tread lightly with their stuff. Esp since you probably contacted them with email so they have documented proof that you went and asked 1st, knew they didnt want to release one, so then set out to reverse engineer it anyway.

    But, kudos to you. I'd go the honest route with them, send them your source, say here ya go, I did this cause I LOVE your product and want to use it with Linux, I hope you can appreciate that, and make this available to your customers like me.

    • by Nevynxxx (932175) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:29PM (#14859251)
      Why not get your working driver, and email the company asking if they would release a driver written by you in any form. Then negotiate either payment, or open-ness.
    • Re:Difference (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ratboy666 (104074)
      From the post -

      The vendor didn't want to release the fs info. The post author is NOT the vendor.

      Since it was reversed, this implies others can reverse it.

      Why not release the results? The vendor is simply unwilling to support Linux (implied, BSD) OS. This way, they AREN'T supporting it.

      Will the author get sued? If the author lives in the USA, maybe, otherwise almost certainly not. The author wants to work for the company? So, go ahead and publish -- it will get their attention. And if its not in a positive w
    • I think it's highly doubtful that their filesystem is patented (see how quickly it was reverse engineered) -- and that's all his software deals with. Their chance for dictating terms to him was when he requested documentation on the system; they've declined to provide it to him, so he reverse-engineered it. If he can get legal advice indicating that the risk from releasing his software is permissible, then I don't see any reason for him to offer Alesis another chance at determining how *his* software will b
      • I think it's highly doubtful that their filesystem is patented (see how quickly it was reverse engineered) -- and that's all his software deals with. Their chance for dictating terms to him was when he requested documentation on the system; they've declined to provide it to him, so he reverse-engineered it. If he can get legal advice indicating that the risk from releasing his software is permissible, then I don't see any reason for him to offer Alesis another chance at determining how *his* software will b
    • Re:Difference (Score:2, Insightful)

      by GigsVT (208848) *
      aren't developing something new and giving back to the OS community with this, you are reverse engineering a (presumably) patented product and wanting to release that knowledge into the OS community.

      You claim there's a difference, but this is exactly what OpenOffice and Samba did.
    • Re:Difference (Score:3, Informative)

      by aprilsound (412645)

      you are reverse engineering a (presumably) patented product

      If the product was patented, then the spec would be available via the patent office, therefore, no reverse engineering would be needed. If it was patented, it wouldnt matter if it was reverse engineered because the spec would still be under patent.

      The issue here is more one of trade-secret. If the company has taken resonable measures to protect the spec, then they could claim that you stole a trade secret, which is a crime.

      I don't think trade

      • Re:Difference (Score:3, Informative)

        by Overzeetop (214511)
        Regardless of the measures they took, if he didn't have a contract with them that prevented his reverse-engineering, I think they're SOL. That's the danger of a trade secret - if somebody figures it out without inside knowledge (ie: theft), then there's no restriction on them from building your product or releasing the information.

        Now, if there's a EULA involved with the purchase...well, we all know that's where the fun begins, right?
      • Re:Difference (Score:3, Informative)

        by tricorn (199664)

        If you can figure it out without doing something illegal, like stealing the specs from the company, violating an NDA or license you've signed, then it isn't a trade secret any more. To be a trade secret, it has to be KEPT secret. DMCA doesn't protect trade secrets that are obfuscated through cryptography, it protects copyrighted content. If the ex-trade-secrets that you discover don't allow you to infringe copyright, then DMCA doesn't fall into it either (remember the garage door opener case?).

  • Depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:25PM (#14859195)
    As always, this is not legal advice, if you get legal advice on Slashdot, get your head checked.

    If you reverse engineered their disk standard by yourself, you are fine legally, There's nothing illegal about reverse engineering (exception copy restriction technology per the DMCA). Now if you used some of their developer docs or something to do it you could be on the hook if they made you agree not to use them for reverse engineering before giving them to you. However if this was all on your own, then there's no worries.

    Now, this doesn't mean they can't sue you it just means they won't win if you are competently represented. They could still file a suit and it probably would get past inital hearings, so you'd actually have to fight it in court.

    As for employment, well if you release this and it pisses them off then you can expect they won't employ you, and they'll be within their rights to do so. So if you are seriously thinking about getting a job with them, you might want to reconsider.

    Something else I will point out, though I am not advocating, is that the Internet is large, spans international borders, and is not well monitored. If you don't care about credit and don't do things to draw attention to yourself (like posting on Slashdot) there's no reason you couldn't do an anonymous release on a website in a country that doesn't much care, like Russia.
    • Depends is right (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hey! (33014)
      Depends on all kinds of circumstances. The number one is whether or not there are patents involved. How you obtained the information needed to create compatible drivers is important too, as what you may have done up to that point. For example, if you accepted a EULA under windows before poking around the device using Linux, then a lot may depend on the circumstances of the EULA.

      Asking /. folks advice on this is like finding a bomb in a movie theater, then defusing it, taking and audience poll as to whet
    • The folks who hack Dish Network DVR receivers to let you read and retrieve the data from them do this exact same thing. They analyzed the hard drives, figured out the file system, figured out the video formatting, and wrote tools to extract, decipher, and transfer to a PC. See the DishRip Yahoo forum for more information.

      All of this is absolutely 100% legal because they only touch those Dish Network DVRs that have no data encryption . They are (rightfully so) ruthlessly intollerant of anyone trying to h
  • by Otter (3800)
    I don't understand what your concern is. You're not under an NDA, presumably, so I don't see where there's any legal issue at all. The part about maybe wanting a job there is another matter, obviously. (IANAL, also obviously...)
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by replicant108 (690832) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:39PM (#14859343) Journal
      What's remarkable is that the IP lobbyists have managed to generate such a level of paranoia that people are frightened to use their God-given gifts to advance technology and the interests of the community.

      If reverse-engineering is outlawed, then technological progress is at risk.
      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Otter (3800) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:45PM (#14859401) Journal
        Well, that's half of the problem, but the idiots yelling "IT'S A VIOLATION OF TEH DMCA!!! YUO NEED TO MOVE TO RUSSIA!!!" on every case of perfectly legitimate reverse engineering are the other half. That's why it's important to explain that this guy is (unless he signed an NDA or the like) on perfectly safe ground, instead of feeding the persecution fantasies of the mob.
        • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by fossa (212602)

          But there are two questions: Is it legal? and, Will there be a lawsuit? It seems that releasing the code would be completely legal. Even so, nobody wants to invite a lawsuit, particularly given the legal environment in the US. Win, lose, or settle, a lawsuit will end up costing time and money. This is truly depressing and unjust. What can we do about it? And on top of all that, the author wants to remain on good terms with the corporation for a possible job application.

        • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by russotto (537200) on Monday March 06, 2006 @02:48PM (#14860053) Journal
          The problem is that some of the idiots yelling "VIOLATION" have lawyers. See the Blizzard v. Bnetd case. Even if you haven't signed an NDA, they can get you for reverse-engineering their code, either through the DMCA or by pulling out the shrink-wrap EULA.

          It's utter bullshit, but bullshit with powerful backers.

          On the positive side, with wireless, anonymity is trivial.
  • by digidave (259925) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:27PM (#14859221)
    Try emailing a public contact at Samba and see if they can give you any advice. They obviously had to figure this out a long time ago.

    You could also contact a lawyer.
  • by TTimo (253584) <ttimo&ttimo,net> on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:37PM (#14859327) Homepage
    You might want to investigate how the people writing Linux drivers for the Broadcom bcm43xx ( Airport Express ) went about it. One team sticking to write the specs, and a seperate one working from the specs into a working driver.

    http://linux-bcom4301.sourceforge.net/go/progress [sourceforge.net]
  • Easy, dude. Write up the specs, hop onto someone's open wireless network, and post the file online from there. ;)
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:42PM (#14859374) Journal
    The music industry is notoriously "closed mouthed" about letting anyone know how their electronic products work at a technical level. Ever since the mid 80's or so though, companies have been reverse-engineering these instruments and devices, and *selling* commercial products that work with them, not to mention work on freeware projects along the same lines.

    For example, I used to own a Roland S-50 sampling synthesizer. It saved its sample data on 720K 3.5" floppy disks. But people with PCs quickly realized it would be much more useful if you could take standard WAV sound files and dump them into the synth via MIDI. Many other makes and models of sampling synths and rack-mounted samplers were in the same boat. The manufacturers (like Roland) had poor documentation for the MIDI "system exclusive" commands that would be required to upload or download the sample data, so a few people worked at reverse engineering all of this on their own. Eventually, prodcuts were sold like "SampleVision" which knew how to do this for many dozens of samplers on the market.

    Rather than being sued, it seemed like the synth makers actually ended up endorsing the products, providing links to them from their own web sites - because they learned it made their products more desirable to purchase.
    • What you say is true, but there is a difference here. The products you mention are, presumably, closed source products. MrJB is talking about releasing an open source product. The closed source product did not reveal the "trade secrets" of Roland and other companies.

      Releasing an open source product could be considered revealing the trade secrets of the company and MrJB could quite easily be sued for it.

      Now, a possible solution for MrJB MIGHT BE(IANAL) to release a binary only kernel module, assuming he can
  • I understand the value of this question as a conversation topic, but..
    Honestly, the best thing you can do is talk to a professional that actually knows something about this, rather than a whole bunch geeks who have nothing better to do than post stuff on Slashdot that is highly apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, especially considering that a lot is at stake here for you.
  • by Orrin Bloquy (898571) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:49PM (#14859458) Journal
    Chapter 12's permission vis-a-vis reverse engineering for compatibility purposes refers to copy protection and issues pertaining to copyright, not generic protocols:

    http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap12.html#120 1 [copyright.gov]

    Scroll down to "(f) Reverse Engineering." This section has to do with permitting one vendor to reverse engineer protected/encrypted content.

    The notion of reverse engineering a driver for a pipeline which does not encrypt or otherwise disguise its content is theoretically outside the aegis of the DMCA.

    Apple used (or misused, depending on your perspective) the DMCA against the OSx86 website because it infringed on protection measures Apple specifically set in place to prevent OSX from installing on whiteboxes. Real told its board members that they might be DMCAed over Fairplay because it unlocks copy protection on iTMS purchases.

    If the submitter did not discover any authentication methods or trust related protocols in his reverse engineering, and his driver does not have code which specifically spoofs a platform or other form of identification, it sounds to this non-lawyer like a non-issue.

    There may be other legal issues at hand, but AFAIK the DMCA is chiefly concerned with those who circumvent deliberate measures to protect copyright, and simply refusing to publicly document a protocol isn't the same thing.

    Now, if the driver somehow replicates code that the vendor had to *license* from Microsoft, Microsoft may have an issue with you. Again, check with a competent IP attorney.
  • by stroudie (173480) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:50PM (#14859467)
    Why don't you write it anyway (strictly for your own use, to start with), and then once it is working well (and you are happy with it), pitch it back to the manufacturer?

    If you look at it from their perspective: through reverse-engineering, you have created a driver for their product which potentially extends the market of that product for no up-front cost to them. What's more, assuming you don't release it into the wild without their consent, you have given them a chance to decide how they want to proceed with it -- you are playing fair with them.

    Worst case, they get all legal about it, and cease/desist/wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap-and-wat er, but assuming you find someone with some imagination, they might actually help you with it (or indeed, if you are really lucky, employ you...)
  • by the arbiter (696473) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:55PM (#14859521)
    To give you a little bit of perspective, I've worked for several Alesis dealers, the first back in 1985 when they were just getting off the ground.

    The company loves to sue. LOVES to.

    And they don't particularly care about the consequences, even if it hurts them. I've watched them pull product from major accounts because they'd gotten into some tiff with the store over policy.

    I'd keep your discovery under wraps.

    And, for what it's worth, I'd avoid working there.
  • solution (Score:2, Funny)

    by gigel (817544)
    remove your name from the source code
    zip the source code
    rename it pamela anderson new video (2006)
    share it on kazaa, dc++, bittorrent, etc, etc, etc
  • http://www.alesis.com/product.php?id=1 [alesis.com]

    The previous link provided has broken menus at the top.


  • Mining /. for legal advice is like owning a radio in the 1800s.

    The signal to noise ratio makes it pretty useless.

    I am not a lawyer, and you shouldn't be one either!

  • IANAL so advise you to either talk with the Samba team and their reverse engineering attempts and more appropriately to contact a lawyer. Having said the above though. Your efforts at reverse engineering sounds similar in the methods used by Samba, which is a look at what goes across the wire kind of thing. If you did not disassemble any of their code and similar things I don't see how anyone can come after you.
  • Don't be a whiny brat. Be an adult and make some choices about your priorities. Which is more important to you, avoiding possible lawsuits and possibly working for the company, or helping an open source project or two.

    You can't have both. Grow up.
  • Despite reply after reply saying 'IANAL but... screw the corporations!!!1', you're answering your own question - wouldn't you be annoyed if someone did this to you? Would you employ them?

    There's no law against farting, but letting one out at the end of an otherwise-succesful job interview's not going to get you far...
  • Ok Rule #1, DO NOT TRUST legal Advice on Slashdot...

    This is a good place for the debate of such a topic, but don't screw with your life based on the post of other Slashdotters, even myself.

    #1 Seek legal advice
    #2 Then proceed by probably making 'reasonable' inquires to the company expressing that if they don't support linux would they be willing to support 3rd party work that does. (After getting legal advice to help with the inquiry.)

    See, here is the problem, many have correctly stated things like certain t
  • by gorbachev (512743) on Monday March 06, 2006 @02:39PM (#14859957) Homepage
    Sell the company a Linux implementation. You make money, the company makes money, everyone is happy.

    Obviously the company might not be all that willing to do that, but if they are, it's a win-win situation.
  • I've owned Alesis Equipment, mainly effects pedals. They were HORRIBLE, hissed and generally sucked. If you found a way to get it working, keep it for yourself, and don't give them any single byte of it. Don't release it, either, I hear Alesis has had many lawsuits put out on others.

    In Soviet Russia, Alesis writes to YOU! (j/k)
  • I'm just a programmer, not a laywer. I have no interest in such matters. I'd just release it and then when I get a Cease and Desist I'd take it down. Write up a nasty note about how it's unfair and move on with my life. Someone in a country with more freedoms might pick up the project where I left off. (from Russia perhaps)

    And even though you got a C&D letter, you can still put it on your resume/CV. And some companies will hire someone just because he reverse engineered their stuff. It's pretty rare tha
  • If you believe in the _ideals_ of Free Software then you should release your code under the GNU licence without breaking the law.

    If you just want to give back to the community with little obligation on your own part then release it anonymously and let someone else run with it.

    If you're looking for work then by all means contact the company, show them what you did and explain to them why they should pay you to maintain their linux drivers -- if they're smart they'll recognized a great opportunity to expand i
  • It's painteted. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oliverthered (187439) <olivertheredNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Monday March 06, 2006 @03:24PM (#14860437) Journal
    "With their patent-pending method of writing to the hard drive HD24 and HD24XR are the first hard disk recorders built from the ground up" [alesis.com]

    So, go look up the patent [uspto.gov] (not need to do any reverse engineering and send it off to someone who lives in a country that doesn't have software patents. They will then be free to write a driver, but you won't be able to because you live in the US and have silly patent laws.

    They may try and sue your arse if you send them a linux driver and ask them distribute it because you've already infringed upon their patent.

    Note, it looks like the patent is still pending as none of the patents [uspto.gov] listed [uspto.gov] seem to be for a file system.
  • by aminorex (141494) on Monday March 06, 2006 @03:25PM (#14860451) Homepage Journal
    Release it pseudonymously, or have someone front for you, like Jon Lech Johannsen (sp?) fronts for MoRE. I'd be happy to act as an anonymizing layer between you and your release agent, if you wish.
  • by mellon (7048) * on Monday March 06, 2006 @03:54PM (#14860801) Homepage
    Generally speaking, if a company wants to make it difficult for you to use their product in some way that you consider important, the right thing to do is to not do business with them. That way you don't run into all of these hairy legal issues. Honestly, it's just not worth the trouble - why would you even want to go down this road?

    Reverse engineering their product may be legal, depending on the jurisdiction in which you live. Litigating it will cost you more than you can afford, unless you're rich.

    If you want to get a job there, you definitely mustn't release this stuff - given their (weird) stance on patents and file formats, it's extremely unlikely that the management there would let you be hired even if the geeks there were impressed with your work.
  • What to do (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday March 06, 2006 @04:31PM (#14861246) Homepage

    First thing you need to do is talk to a lawyer specializing in IP and patents. The company's very likely to try legal action against you if you release your driver, and you're going to need legal advice and help to deal with them. A couple of questions:

    1. Did you sign an agreement prohibiting reverse-engineering before they accepted your money? Unlikely, but if you did you're probably SOL.
    2. Did you click the "I Agree" button on an EULA prohibiting reverse-engineering? If you did, you really need a second lawyer, one specializing in the Uniform Commercial Code and dealing with vendors who attempt to prevent your use of a product after payment's been accepted and delivery taken. The only way to win against an EULA-based argument from the company would be to recast the whole thing as not an EULA issue, but one of the vendor attempting through the EULA to change the terms of a UCC default contract of sale after the fact.
    3. If you didn't sign any agreement and weren't presented with an EULA and can provide evidence of both, then you can probably beat them if you're willing to spend the money fighting them. Note that you'll still be out the money, and recovering it is a whole 'nother matter.
    4. Any patent, if and when issued, is more difficult to get around than the reverse-engineering portion. It depends heavily on exactly what they've patented, when they applied for the patent and when the application was published. This is why you need a lawyer who specializes in patent law.

    The main point above is that you're in for legal flack even if you're completely in the clear, so talk to a lawyer first.

With your bare hands?!?

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