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PlayStation Reverse Engineering Stands Up In Court 138

Posted by timothy
from the chalk-one-up dept.
hobbs writes: "The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Sony, suing Connectix (Bleem) for reverse engineering their PlayStation BIOS. This wasn't about copyright, just reverse engineering, which the courts say fell under "fair use". CNET Article
I find this interesting in the States since reverse engineering here is not usually well accepted/protected legally."
This seems like a small clearing in the creeping intellectual property tangle. Of course, that law suit probably wasn't any help to Bleem, despite the outcome. [Updated 3rd Oct 0:13 GMT by timothy] Thanks to the several readers who have pointed out by e-mail or in comments, as Kufat does, that "Bleem is not made by connectix. Connectix makes Virtual Game Station; Bleem is a competitor to VGS."
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PlayStation Reverse Engineering Stands Up In Court

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  • by FortKnox (169099)
    Playstation 2 is due out shortly. Why would they still care?
    PS2 is supposed to allow you to play PS games, also. They should have nothing to worry about...


    -- "Microsoft can never die! They make the best damn joysticks around!"
  • i dont work there or anything, but on a guess i'd say equipment costs, rent for their business' offices, paychecks for the guys who reverse engineered it, etc.

    personally, i expect the total cost is more than $150,000 in that respect.
    (which is to say that, to me, that number does look little.)


    Darth -- Nil Mortifi, Sine Lucre

  • You seem to have missed the point. The point is that it's stupid to have a law that allows you to reverse engineer for compatibility reasons as long as the original product doesn't encrypt its content (even with trivial encryption), but not allow reverse engineering of those who do, even for fair use purposes. That's why the law makes no sense.

    Maybe Kaplan's ruling will help clear things up. Since he's basically saying that fair use is overridden by the DMCA clause prohibiting the circumvention of "a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title." This will either wake people up to what's going on, and it will get fixed by Congress, or big corporations will rally behind the ruling and Congress will go cower in the corner, allowing the ruling to become permanent law.

  • Denial of cert means the lower court decision stands, yes. However, it doesn't mean the Court agrees with the lower court's decision.

    If the Court agrees with something, then the Court's opinion becomes the law of the land, from Washington DC to Guam and Puerto Rico. If the court disagrees with something, the Court's opinion applies over the same region. If the Court takes notice of anything, it affects the entire nation.

    Appellate courts only affect regions of the country, not the country itself. The Court of Appeals which supported Connectix has defined caselaw, but only for that region.

    If the Court agreed with the lower court, then the Connectix case would be caselaw for the entire country. Similarly if the court disagreed. Since the Court denied cert, that means the Court is saying "this isn't worth our limited time".

    What often happens in matters such as these is that the Court will wait for another, similar case to be decided differently in another circuit. If the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decides a case one way, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decides a similar case another way, then that creates an inconsistency in how the law is applied. The Court will then step in and declare one of the two interpretations to be correct, thus removing the inconsistency.

    Wait for another reverse-engineering suit to be filed in another circuit, and wait for it to be decided differently. Then the Court will grant cert, and we'll finally have definitive SCOTUS guidance on the reverse engineering issue.
  • 2.The playstation is hardware, can't copyright that.

    Sony was sueing Connectix (which isn't Bleem) about the copying of the PlayStation BIOS, which is software (well, firmware if you want to be picky). The court said that copying as part of an effort to reverse engineer is lawful fair use.

  • Given the current state of the USPTO, I'd have to disagree with that.

    ;-)
  • I'm going to play the whiny Linux zealot for a while. When, oh when, will we have a Playstation Emulator for Linux? Seriously though, does anyone know of any bleem!-style projects under way to emulate Playstation on Linux?
  • I think even thinking it up after the patent (and you never even heard of it) still falls under the patent.
  • The point is that it's stupid to have a law that allows you to reverse engineer for compatibility reasons as long as the original product doesn't encrypt its content (even with trivial encryption), but not allow reverse engineering of those who do, even for fair use purposes.
    Oh, absolutely. I was hoping I had made that clear. In fact, part of the reason why I'm arguing that the DMCA does prohibit DeCSS is that I want to see the DMCA on trial here, not DeCSS. If DeCSS gets off on a technicality and the DMCA still stands, then we have accomplished nothing.
  • This is one thing that always bothered me about the DeCSS case. The tack I would have taken would have been to address the meaning and interpretation of the word "effective".

    This is what needs to be stressed when and if Digital Convergence ever files suit against anybody as well.

    You can't just wave a magic wand (or XOR) operation over some allegedly secret material and claim "There, I have effectively protected it." It just doesn't stand up in the clear light of day. As with the CueCat device, the DVD protection scheme turned out to be not very effective at all, didn't it? In my mind the reknown 2600.com defense team adopted a flawed defensive posture by stressing the need for a Linux capable playback capability. They went about it the wrong way. By examining the term "effective" they would, IMHO, not only won the case but struck a blow at the evil DMCA itself.
  • If its okay to emulate a Playstation, and the Playstation 2 can play DVD's...

  • Last time I checked, fair use covered criticism and classroom use, not reverse engineering, which is what this is. But I guess times have changed. I'm not familiar with the "fair use doctrine" cited in the article. I mean, I look at the statutes I'm familiar with and I don't see the word doctrine anywhere :)

    Mind you, they're not now using the Sony bios, right? So they should not be sued for using it today, which is the only thing fair use COULD cover - And it wouldn't. Or at least shouldn't. If Sony is going to sue them for anything, they should sue them for the arguably illegal (though stupidly so) reverse engineering.

    I own a playstation. I do not own Bleem!. I don't own a mac, so VGS would do me no good regardless. I play my playstation games (all of which I've paid for, so far) on a real playstation because the experience is complete; Sure, Bleem! and VGS might have better graphics (Bleem! certainly does) but you just have to spend more money to use a dual shock controller, and my television (25") is bigger than my monitor (19").

    So, I wasn't following the saga from day one, but if Connectix was distributing Sony BIOS with their systems at any point, they should be punished. If the only thing they ever used it for was reverse engineering, that's more or less protected and they didn't do anything wrong.

    That's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  • First, Connectix VGS and Bleem are separate, but similar products.

    Second, Sony is probably correct that it didn't cost much more than $150,000 to develop VGS. Even if it cost $1 million, this is 1/500th the cost that Sony had to develop the machine, which at the time was a very advanced machine.

    Third, the reason Sony sued Connectix was that they purported that VGS was only developed because Connectix literally copied the BIOS from a Playstation (a little like copying ROMs for MAME). I do not know that factuality of that statement. It appears that Connectix went through some serious hurdles to make sure they had a comletely from scratch replacement, but that they may not have been as rigid in doing so as to avoid a lawsuit.

    Sony brings up the financial issue partly to distract from the real issue, but partly to demonstrate how easily this supposed copyright infringement (as opposed to outright reverse engineering) assisted Connectix in becoming a Playstation competitor.

    We should all be very grateful to the 9th District court and the Supremes on this one, since it looks like this will ultimately cause the MPAA a lot of trouble as they continue to litigate against DeCSS, DivX, and any other DVD players, decoders, etc, which are not sanctioned by their lackeys, er, members.
  • Bleem! doesn't allow people to copy Playstation CD's, it only allows them to play them.

    DeCSS allows people to both view/play and copy DVDs to different format.

    I believe this is the crucial difference.
    --

  • If we can reverse engineer stuff legally (take that, cuecat!), then can we reverse engineer One Click Shopping too? It seems like a pretty simple idea, and coming up with a clean room implementation wouldn't be that hard...
  • by Cy Guy (56083) on Monday October 02, 2000 @09:48AM (#738488) Homepage Journal
    The cnet story is very poorly written, so I understand how it was interpretted by the original submittor, but Supreme Court ruling only confirmed the 9th Circuits ruling [cnet.com] that SONY was not entitled to injunctive relief, therefor allowing the release of the Mac version of Virtual Game Station.

    Here is today's ruling as report by the wire services. AP [yahoo.com].

    "The court, without comment Monday, let Connectix continue selling its Virtual Game Station until a lower court rules on Sony's claim of unfair competition."

  • I wish companies would depend upon trade secrets. Then all they'd have to do is keep their employees under NDA and that'd be the end of the IP war zone. Companies realize however that their "secrets" are extremely obvious once they show their implementation and that's why patents and the DMCA exist.

    As I tell the president of my company (and anyone else who'll listen) I'm all about protecting implementation, but trying to protect a process is just plain wrong!
  • by Vermifax (3687)
    They didn't distribute Sony's BIOS, they distrubuted their own bios. It just so happens that both Sony's bios and Connetix's are capabable of running Playstation video games. Reverse-engineering has been upheld as fair use for at least as long as we have had PC's

    Vermifax
  • But the law says it IS legal to reverse engineer, as long as the team who inspected the code, algorithm, etc. etc. does not produce the reverse engineered work...
  • They actually read the laws... and they know that the DMCA prohibits reverse engineering of copyright protection technologies.

    Having read the law [loc.gov], I'm at a loss to understand your comment. Paragraph (f) titled "reverse engineering" seems to explicitly say the opposite (when done for the purpose of functional interoperability):

    (1) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a)(1)(A), a person who has lawfully obtained the right to use a copy of a computer program may circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a particular portion of that program for the sole purpose of identifying and analyzing those elements of the program that are necessary to achieve interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, and that have not previously been readily available to the person engaging in the circumvention, to the extent any such acts of identification and analysis do not constitute infringement under this title.
  • by bran880 (84112) on Monday October 02, 2000 @09:29AM (#738493)
    Connectix's VGS emulator is not Bleem (made by Bleem Inc.). IIRC, Bleem didn't use the bios at all and Sony couldn't sue them over that.

  • It's a good thing that we are allowed to decompile things. It's such a good way to learn how things work. This right should never be taken away.
  • It could be argued that the PSX bios is what controls the copyrights held by PSX developers, and that the compilation process is a sort of trivial encryption. Sure it is "encrypted" in a well known fashion with a commonly known "key," but so are DVDs. The point is, depending on the level of abstraction, laws can mean many different things.

    Tell me what makes you so afraid
    Of all those people you say you hate

  • If they actually get out of this without a major lawsuit on their ass then I'll be the first to cheer. Don't expect so, though...
  • Compaq made the first 100% compatible PC clones. There were three essential items that had to be reproduced to make a true clone:

    1) The processor -- no problem, IBM used a standard, off the shelf Intel Chip
    2) The OS -- no problem, IBM contracted MS-DOS, but neglected to acquire an *exclusive* contract with MS. Boy how it came back to bite them.
    3) The BIOS, used for booting and low level disk access. This was IBM's proprietary chip, and thus a problem.

    Compaq could buy the OS and processor, but not the BIOS. So, they reverse engineered it. Compaq brought in a team of engineers, handed them an IBM BIOS and told them "document every single thing this chip does". The engineers did their work and came up with a very thick document which provided a full functional description of the part. Compaq paid them, and sent them on their way. Then a second group was brought in, who had never met the first group and never seen the part. They were handed the functional description and told "build me a chip that does exactly this", and they did. Thus the Compaq BIOS was born.

    With the BIOS they had all the parts they needed to build clones, and that they did. IBM took them to court, but the courts ruled that Compaq's implementation was built in a completely "clean room" fashion, and was thus perfectly legal. Woe to IBM. This, of course, threw the doors wide open and other clone makers started in. Soon, IBM lost the PC market to smaller, faster companies, and that brings us to today.

    Ah...PC history. Historically, Compaq has been a rather important company (first clone, first portable PC clone, first 386-based PC). It's too bad their modern machines are so terrible.

    --Lenny
  • Sadly, such a program would _still_ be acting as a circumventing device, and be illegal for as long as the boneheaded DMCA is law.

    It doesn't matter what it does with the output, or how difficult it is to do stuff with the output - if it can get to the input, that's too bad.
  • I'm not an accountant or anything, but how does bleem cost $150,000 to produce? Here's the claim: "Sony says it spent three years and $500 million to develop PlayStation and now faces direct competition from a company that spent only $150,000 in development costs. The Connectix Virtual Game System lets personal computers run games designed for PlayStation" I would assume that sony would want to lie and make this number look little, not as big as it is.
  • As far as I can tell, somebody marketing a product that, although very different, does the same thing as yours, is completely fair. That's why Palm hasn't sued Microsoft for making Outlook. They both hold addresses, send e-mail, and are susecptible to viruses, but one is a hardware solution that is easily portable (Palm), and the other is a software solution that requires a fast computer (never run Outlook on anything &ltPentium 2) and some installation time.

    Likewise, both the Playstation and Bleem play Playstation games, but the Playstation requires two wires to hook up, only plays PSX games and music cds, and plays PSX games the way they were designed. Bleem requires several minutes of installation time, a CD verification procedure, boot up time, and computer hardware that costs over twice as much as a PSX. And the result? Have you ever seen Chrono Cross on Bleem? Not a pretty sight...

    Tell me what makes you so afraid
    Of all those people you say you hate

  • by sulli (195030) on Monday October 02, 2000 @09:30AM (#738501) Journal
    The impact on other cases such as DeCSS may be quite substantial and positive. After all, what are LiVid and related tools but a VGS-like implementation to play DVDs? And if so, is not css-descramble just a component of such a solution? If this sort of reverse engineering is protected under fair use, then so also DVDs, methinks.

    Thank heavens for the Ninth Circuit.

  • Anonymous Cowards, take note: Telling a moderator what to do is always the fastest way to (-1, Flamebait).
  • A_friggin_MEN!!!!!!! I am glad to see that I am not the only one who IMMEDIATELY saw the DeCSS implications. That was a complete mistrial IMHO. (DeCSS fiasco)

    Lets see... It is OK to reverse engineer Sony's P2, BUT BAD!!! Norwegian hacker for reverse enigneering the completely corrupt, monopolistic bastards of the MPAA's CSS. Just shows you that the Judge truely was biased.

    Greatoak.

  • Umm you don't need copyright protection to protect your trade secrets! That is a whole different type of intellectual property! Also, you don't need the DMCA and prohibitions on reverse-engineering to have either a workable copyright system or a system where companies find it worth while to be involved in "information-based" business (Information Technology, Content providers, etc).

    Unless you are going to try to argue there was no innovation or content developed before the DMCA was passed. In which case I'd ask whether you worked for the MPAA, the RIAA, Microsoft, or just forgot to take your medication. :)

  • Methods can't be copyrighted, they can only be patented. DeCSS isn't patented * [harvard.edu] .

    DMCA covers devices that control access to copyrighted works (eg CSS). AFAIK, changing the delivery method is all good, as long as the new method also prevents copying.
    --

  • Sheesh, I should hope that this trick isn't illegal. Otherwise one could argue that 20 years of IBM PC-combatible hegemony was all based on an illegal technology.
  • You can't copyright a method (algorithm), only an implementation of it. You can patent an algorithm (at least in the USA) but I don't think that algorithm is patented. You can also just keep it secret (as they tried to do) but that offers no protection if the secret leaks out (as the MPAA have discovered).
  • &ltsarcasm&gtThe hardware prices drop off even faster for consoles, because the hardware is more outdated than PC hardware.&lt/sarcasm&gt

    You're correct with that assumption that consoles don't drop off sharply in price because their vendors realize that they have a guaranteed customer (the PlayStation, after release, didn't get any less popular) and they can keep the prices high on their outdated components for longer than they ordinarily would.

    Tell me what makes you so afraid
    Of all those people you say you hate

  • It looks like what you did ould be considered reverse engineering. I doubt you will be seeing your seize and desist [slashdot.org] letter as you wanted. I suppose this is a good thing!

  • That's a patent. Reverse Engineering a patented thing still falls under the patent.
  • DMCA provides for devices that allow for interoperability, but outlaws devices that allow copyright infringement. Doesn't that mean that it matters what a program does with its output?
    --
  • Yes, there's no copyright control device to be circumvented. That's why DMCA wasn't used as an argument, they were trying to argue something about the IP in the BIOS.
    --
  • Only Denial of Preliminary Injunction Upheld

    Not quite. If you read further in the link you posted, you'll see that, based on the Appeals Court ruling that the Supreme Court just upheld, Sony's various copyright claims were dismissed by the trial court. In other words, the Supreme Couort ruling upholds the dismissal of the copyright claims, leaving only a trade secret claim and an unfair competition claim, both of which are pretty weak without some other improper activity to leverage. Sony doesn't have a snowball's chance of winning...

  • Paragraph (f) titled "reverse engineering" seems to explicitly say the opposite (when done for the purpose of functional interoperability):
    Like I said, it's more complicated than I made it out to be. My only point was that this case has very little bearing on the DeCSS case, since the entire anti-circumvention law (including what you cite) just didn't apply to Connectix.

    Having said that, I don't think that the clause you cite lets DeCSS off the hook. As I read it, it says that it would be legal to use DeCSS to develop a legal program, but DeCSS itself remains illegal. No, it doesn't make any sense... that's why it's a bad law.
  • But the law says it IS legal to reverse engineer
    Does it? Where? You may very well be right.

    I always thought that it was illegal to reverse engineer in a "dirty" manner, but that "clean" reverse engineering was not explicitly declared legal. (After all, in the absence of any other laws, you would assume that clean reverse engineering is legal, right?)
  • They already tried to sue makers of modchips. The case was dismissed if I recall correctly. Basically, the courts said that once a person bought the hardware, it was theirs to do with as they will. If they want to take it apart and soldier a mod chip in, it was their right. Just don't come crying to Sony if you fry it. A very sane and reasonable descision, of course this was before DMCA.

  • Amazon's one-click shopping is protected by patent, not copyright, so there is no issue of fair use. As part of the patent, Amazon detailed how to implement one-click shopping, so there would really be no point in trying to reverse engineer it anyway....
  • Connectix/ Bleem can probably sue for damages caused by the suit, and most likely get their attorneys fee back.

    No. Under American law, absent a special statutory provision or really, really abusive conduct (e.g., suing someone for something which is absolutely and completely fictional) a defendant can't sue to recover attorneys' fees from a losing plaintiff.

  • Ok...

    True or false?

    A version of DeCSS with encryption would be legal
  • Since the Supreme Court is refusing to hear the case, they're not doing the one important thing the Supreme Court does:

    Setting a precident

    Without a precident there's no reason a company won't do this again in another case with the same circumstances.

  • whatever the amount of money, sony will want to make the number appear reasonable (I.E. large enough to be believable by your average american). If bleem cost so little, then we have 2 major points to consider
    1. why would they lie?
    We can easily imagine some enterprising young computer geek coming up with 10 grand to start a company, but $150000? then it looks like a battle of large companies, and who cares. just don't pick on the little guy
    2. why did Sony have to spend $500 million to develop something that took $10000 to steal?
    how irresponsible were the executives at sony to be so careless? what will the stockholders think? better make that number look big so as not to get the entire board of directors fired.
  • Here's my take on it... reverse engineering is perfectly legal, if done right. Releasing public documents that completely describe the protocol is fine. Using the knowledge of the protocol to write a program that circumvents copy protection: bad. Even if it's trivial to go from {description of protocol} to {program that copy unprotects}, it's still illegal to do.
    --
  • AFAIK Sony and other console companies do indeed make money off the actual console, and the retailers don't. While working at a retailer I checked the mark-ups on Playstations and their games and it seems that sony'd make more money off the part they sold us for $150-ish and we marked up 1% than for the part they sold us for $25 and we marked up 50%. Naturally more cash does come through game sales, but I'm sure they don't lose money on the actual console.
  • by rjh (40933) <rjh@sixdemonbag.org> on Monday October 02, 2000 @09:58AM (#738524)
    This is something which arises so frequently that it's become a major annoyance to the Court. The Court will deny cert ("deny cert" == "refuse to hear arguments") on a case, and presto, the popular press and most of America thinks that means anything.

    It means nothing.

    Denying cert only means the Court won't hear arguments. It doesn't mean the Court thinks the legal reasoning is correct; it doesn't mean the Court is approving the lower court's decision; it doesn't mean anything .

    Many cases are denied cert because their legal issues are not as clear as the Court would like ("bad cases make for bad law", as the axiom goes), or the Court wants to give it a few years to let legal scholarship tackle the issues, or the Court thinks this is an issue which Congress will soon issue "direction" (read: legislation) on, or... any of dozens of reasons.

    It is tremendously unwise to think that the Court's denial of cert means anything, no matter what the Court says in their response.

    Don't get happy; the Court hasn't done anything for us.
  • Actually, one of Bleem!'s selling points is that you can play "back-ups" of any playstation game, because Sony's copy protection scheme was not implemented.

    That is why Sony is trying to get rid of it...remember, they lose money on every console they sell, they only make money through licensing. If everyone used Bleem! to play copied discs, they would be hurt.
  • AFAIK, a program that read in a DVD and produced an MPEG that had SCMS (serial copy management system) on it, such that it couldn't be recopied... that would be legal.
    --
  • A better question is: Other than the DMCA -- which has a narrow though not insignificant scope -- what makes you think that reverse engineering is not legally protected in the States?
  • Sony has argued that "Sony has spent 3 years and $500M to develop the PlayStation" whereas "Connectix spent only $150k" and "[the ruling] permits free-riding competitors to siphon off the originator's fair return soon after the original is released".

    The facts of this may be true, but the reasoning is totally bogus. The law, rightly or wrongly, protects investment in technology (patents) content (copyrights). It does not protect successful platforms from competition.

    The PlayStation's (still) enormous value as an asset derives only from its success and wide adoption, which guarantees that you will find games to buy for it and other users to talk about it. This is the same reason Windows is valuable.

    The PlayStation's value does not derive from any technology, since that is now old hat. Perhaps if Connectix had created another cheap hardware console it could be alleged that they copied something that allows very cheap manufacturing or some such. But Connectix used a straightforward implementation on desktop hardware, so there can be no such issue.

    So, one could be sorry for Sony that they now have competition, but legally they have no leg to stand on. There is no legal barrier to emulating a succesful platform, and that is a good thing, even as it allows the later players to "free ride" on the pioneer's success.

    Pavlos

    Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I have not even read the facts of the case.

  • This article seemed extreamely biased to me. Although the writter did not come straight out and say that VGS is bad, it was diffenately along the lines that Sony said this and Sony said that. Basically, there are several things that the article failed to take into consideration.

    The main thing is that VGS and Bleem are used by an extreamely small share of the market. Playstation is not going to be phased out by Bleem or VGS. Bleem is extreamely buggy, and its compatability low. Trust me, I have it. VGS has a much higher compatability, but does not offer enhanced graphics and stuff. And frankly, who wants to play on your 15 inch monitor when you got a 36 inch TV in the living room for the Playstation? Actually, I do. But I am the exception, not the rule. I bought Bleem just to play Gran Turismo and Spyro. These companies are not digging into Sony's profits in anyway that is probobly hurting Sony.

  • "why did Sony have to spend $500 million to develop something that took $10000 to steal?"

    This is not a valid argument. In fact, it cuts to the core of why IP protection is so improtant.

    It takes a LOT of money to develop a new piece of IP and always takes a tiny fraction to reporduce it ocne created.

    By that argument there shouldn't be any book publishers because it costys so much mroe to pay an author then to run off illegitimate copies.

  • Bullshit.
    Denial of cert means nothing, and various Supreme Court justices over the years have lamented how many people seem to think denial of cert is meaningful.
    Popular opinion gives meaning. If a Judge says 'I don't want to hear this case, but that doesn't mean anything', but everybody else hears 'I don't want to hear the case, because it's a waste of time; I agree with the lower court', then the second statement is the one that's right, even if it's not the one that's correct. Society is based on common belief. Murder is against our cultural mores, and therefore is illegal. When enough people think that murder is OK, it will be come legal, in practice if not in written law. Well, by not listening to the case, the justices give the appearence, and when enough people believe that appearence for whatever reason, it becomes truth, of agreeing with the lower courts. That may not be their intention, but it's probably the end result, and that's what matters.
  • I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know if what I'm saying will hold any water, but... Could it be that the reason the court found in favor of Connectix was that they did not violate the patent? The patent held by Sony may be entirely hardware. If Connectix can discover what the hardware does and create a software-based system to operate the same way, then Connectix has created an innovative and unique product, thus free from copyright violation. It all depends on what Sony actually claims it owns. Connectix does not provide a system for reverse engineering/pirating the games themselves (last I checked); they simply provide an alternate medium for legal use of the games.
  • by cluge (114877) on Monday October 02, 2000 @10:00AM (#738533) Homepage
    This wasn't about copyright, just reverse engineering, which the courts say fell under "fair use". CNET Article I find this interesting in the States since reverse engineering here is not usually well accepted/protected legally."

    I find the last statement odd, reverse engineering is a time honored tradition that goes back a long way. Remember all the early "non-ibm" BIOSes were reverse engineered. The hoops that manufacturers went through to insure the integrity of the reverse engineering were pretty intense. For a long time reverse engineering for the BIOS was done as follows.

    • team 1 of engineers inspects pokes and generally fiddles with a known BIOS, and then writes a report on what a BIOS should do based on what they discovered the BIOS that they were fooling with did.
    • team 2 of engineers who have 0 contact with team 1 then use said report to design a new bios without ever seeing the source code or the other bios in action.
    I think in most states laws were passed or clarified in Court so that the procedure became greatly streamlined. This allowed a lot of smaller players to get into business and do some reverse engineering WITHOUT needing to pay 2 separate teams of engineers. The problem had been some recent bad legislation that seems to contradict time honored reverse engineering/fair use laws.

    The other problem is our patent system. I think this is a small victory, the real challenge lays ahead. That challenge is deciding what can and cannot be patented.

    Too bad that it had to drag on for so long before a decision was rendered. If your pockets are deep enough you can sue, even if your wrong. The technological window time wise is so small that any chance your competition had is gone before the litigation is finished.

    I wonder what this means for Cue cat?

  • Here's the "real" story :
    They got the code, not by reverse engineering, but through the illuminati (they know everything, ya know)...
    The courts jumped in, but since the illuminati move everything with their 'invisible hand', and have such immense power, they forced the courts to concede. And the courts did.
    To further prove my theory, this post should get moderated down to -1 soon after I post it, so those that actually see if will know the truth!
    IT'S ALL A CONSPIRACY! ;-)


    -- "Microsoft can never die! They make the best damn joysticks around!"
  • by jjr (6873)
    To be only legal when big companies do it. But not when individuals do it. Well I hope that the cue:cat hackers get thier day in court and win.
  • Connectix reverse engineered the Playstation for the purpose of allowing Playstation games to interoperate with an IBM-PC. This is fully covered under the DMCA. Nothing has changed.
    --
  • Wrong on both, unfortunately.

    The DMCA is not about circumventing a copyrighted protection method. The copyright status of the method is irrelevant to the DMCA. THe DMCA is about circumventing a protection method that protects a copyrighted work. The relevant copyright is on the protected work, not the protection method. This is an important distinction. Also, you can violate the DMCA without infringing copyright, as they are two seperate charges. "Fair use" will get you off on a infringement charge, but not on a DMCA charge. Judge Kaplan's ruling set that precedent, unfortunately. (Just ask the DeCSS defendants who have been ordered to not deal in DeCSS, and to pay the court for the procedings against them.)

    The DMCA states: "No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title".

    Check out the relevant section of the DMCA for yourself: 17 USC 1201 [cornell.edu]

  • Right...so you patent an unspecified device that implements the algorithm. This patents the algorith for all practical purposes, as it prevents anyone else from creating a device that implements the algorithm without your permission. This would also preclude writing software which causes a computer to implement the algorithm.
  • This decision seems to NOT make any sense what so ever. Weren't there areticles a few months ago if not weeks on how the Linux DVD hackers were getting flack about this? Didn't they get sease and decist orders or something? They took the device and reverse engineered it and came up with drivers and now where are Linux DVD drivers?

    I think it is a political / money issue. Where is Sony and the Connectix? sony is based out of japan, is Connectix us based? hmm.

    I also wonder who is shelling out more money here?

    I don't want a lot, I just want it all!
    Flame away, I have a hose!

  • So then whatever became of the companies that tried reverse engineering Apple II's (anyone remember the Laser 128?) and Macintoshes?
  • http://www.connectix.com/products/cvgs.html#

    For the product.

    I don't want a lot, I just want it all!
    Flame away, I have a hose!

  • Okay...Isn't there a clear difference between patent infringement and reverse engineering. To revers engineer all parties involved have to be CLEAN...meaning they have never seen any of the patent protected code. This is the part that the DeCSS people have to show as a defense. That they in no way used the patents or code they covered to break the DSS encryption. If everything is clean then the court is going to give you 1st Amendment protection. What you cannot do is use the patent protected products to learn how they work and break the encryption they use. Example... In my new SuperCool Widget Program you know that if the CD data contains: MHBJ GQ ALLI and this is displayed as: NICK IS COOL Then if you can figure out the coding scheme all is OKAY. But, if you have any access to the code then you are in violation of any patent I have. In other words, as long as the DeCSS guys NEVER EVER looked at inside of the DVD players then all should be COOL! Remember that unless you are using an IBM you are probably using a reverse engineered BIOS (never looked but I presume this ThinkPad probably has a RE'd BIOS). IBM tried to prevent this by publishing the source code to their BIOS...thereby reducing the number of available CLEAN engineers. Luckily some were found who were smart and had NEVER seen the code. If any of this is wrong then feel free to correct me...I'm just an idiot who likes to type. oh, yeah...the Supreme Court didn't rule on anything. They just declined to decide the case until all issues relating to unfair competition were decided by lower courts. They prefer to rule on complete cases, rather then bits and pieces.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Remember way back when there were no IBM clones?

    If i am not mistaken, Phoenix was the one that
    reverse engineered IBM's bios and made their own,
    thus allowing us to use IBM clones.

    Also remember the court case that followed, it
    was even back then turned over. One of the very
    first cases involving intellectual property, of
    this nature.

  • by Tremul (190113)
    I believe that there fear is that they will contineu their tactic of reverse engineering and do the same with PS2. The signifigance of doing it with PS1 is that they can preemptively stop them from repeating with PS2.
  • There is a difference between interacting with a program to understand how it works (or writing a second program to interface with it) and just dumping the binary to look at the machine code.

    Almost certainly the latter is illegal, which I believe is what you are talking about.

    If you can look at the machine code and make use of it in your own program, just look at ALL the machine code and you can copy ALL of their software! That can't be right.

  • I think this was supposed to be marked (+2, Funny), but whatever :-P
  • if someone guesses coca-cola's formula, and duplicates it exact,...

    William Poundstone's "Big Secrets" book (ISBN: 0688048307) has the Coca-Cola (tm) formula, reverse engineered. Lot of good that will do you. Want to sell franchises, on the basis of just your formula, to others to open up bottling plants all over the world?

    Since its a trade secret not a patent that means someone can market the soda as a cokelike-copy right?

    Well, no, not exactly. You can market the same formula but you would not be wise to call it by any name that might confuse people who wish to buy the trademarked beverage.

    Since it's a trade secret, supposedly locked up in a safe with access only by a few people, the formula is safe--even if a formula is published, who's to know if it's really the right one?

    Reverse engineering is not theft--it is a normal engineering practice with a long, honorable history. Of course, some companies howl when others perform successful reverse engineering and figure out how their products are made--and where the weaknesses are--but then those same companies do the same thing to any competitor anyway. I think instead of calling it by a jargon word, we ought to see it as legitimate competition, exactly what we need instead of monopolies to promote progress.

  • Actually, there was a company that reverse engineered the MacOS back in the 1980s. They sold a machine with a both a 386 and a 030 which could run either Mac or DOS programs.

    They used another Windowing toolkit (Motif? GEM?), there was no Finder, and a few major applications (such as Excel) wouldn't run.

    I wish I could remember the name of this beast -- a trip to the stacks of a library that got MacWeek and the like is probably necessary, because time on the web started in about 1997.
  • My understanding was that Laser didn't reuse ROMs -- they stole code from Apple's ROM. Which is how Apple successfully sued them out of business.
  • No, it does remain unspecified. The algorithm is described in great detail, but the device is usually pretty general. The actual description of the device might be "A device consisting of an electronic microprocessor, a mass storage unit, and volatile electronic memory" or something like that. I've seen such patent applications. They describe the device so vaguely that ANY computer which implements the very detailed algorithm will violate the patent. That's the point.
  • The district court in the DeCSS said that it does not matter if the anti-circumvention provisions prevent fair use. The judge claimed that that must have been the way Congress intended it to be. Of course, this nonsense should be reversed, but that won't directly follow from the Connectix case.
  • But the precedent was set. They refused to hear the case, thus validating the lower courts decision. This precedent is now nation wide unless I don't understand something. If I am wrong please correct me, as I would rather know the truth then be right.
    Molog

    So Linus, what are we doing tonight?

  • by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) on Monday October 02, 2000 @10:14AM (#738559) Homepage
    See, the "encoding" of the programs into a form executable by a Play Station is intended to let them run on a Play Station. It was not specifically intented to "effectively control access to a [copyrighted] work.". So the DMCA doesn't apply. Now if Sony releases a new Play Station, deliberately encrypts their games' code (even with a trivial 1 bit encryption) and makes the new Play Station decrypt the code to run it, and intends the encryption to "effectively control access to a [copyrighted] work." (specifically their games), then they could win a DMCA suit.

    So all the need to do is say it contains some encryption routine, implement their XOR 0xFF encryption or something similar, use it in their new games and consoles, and presto, reverse-engineering it is now illegal in at least one jurisdiction. Law is strange, isn't it?

    Thank goodness I'm not a lawyer, I couldn't force myself to deal with such illogical laws on a day to day basis, I'd go nuts.

  • by rlk (1089)
    A better analogy would be disassembling your own copy of Photoshop. But ask a lawyer first.
  • Doing nothing is, by definition, doing something. By not even listening to the case, and by extention, not challenging the lower court's ruiling, they are giving their tacit agreement. The ruiling stands through the action of the higher court, even if the action in question is refusing to take action.
  • But doesn't a denial of cert mean that the decision of the lower court stands?
  • by Millennium (2451)
    While not quite the ideal outcome, we can definitely chalk one up for The Good Guys here.

    The ideal outcome for this would have been for the SC to hear the case and explicitly rule in Connectix's favor; that would make things a lot less ambiguous. But this is certainly much better than nothing at all (or worse, a ruling in Sony's favor).

    Now, the inevitable question: how can this best be applied to DeCSS and the DMCA?
    ----------
  • i'm curious. in the blurb you mention that, in the States..... reverse engineering here is not usually well accepted/protected legally" - is it well protected elsewhere?


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  • by jayfoo2 (170671) on Monday October 02, 2000 @09:32AM (#738572)
    Now I'm not a lawyer, or even all that bright, but doesn't this ruling have serious implications for other 'products' that are created as a result of reverse engineering.

    So my small brain spits out two theorys, anyone know which is (more) correct.

    Theory 1.

    It's the content that is copyrighted, not the delivery method, thus copying the content would be illegal, but changing the delivery method (i.e. DeCSS) is all good.

    Theory 2

    Hold on there sparky, this has nothing to do with DeCSS or anything else because the motion picture industry has declared the method itself copyrighted. Sony just missed that trick.

    Anyone?
  • by bonzoesc (155812) <bkerley&brycekerley,net> on Monday October 02, 2000 @09:33AM (#738573) Homepage
    Logically, if you can reverse engineer a complex computing device like a PlayStation, then it ought to be legal to at least link to the results of reverse engineering a simple encryption methond, right? Well, the courts seem to be unable to relate their results to each other for some sort of consistency. With this ruling (which is better than Judge Kaplan's against 2600), it can be reasoned that emulating a simple DVD player is as legal as emulating a PlayStation.

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    Of all those people you say you hate

  • When the supreme court refuses to hear a case without comment, the lower courts decision is binding in its jurisdiction, but there is no nationwide precedent set.

    So in another federal district, a similar case could be heard and decided differently, and there would be discord that the supreme court would be more likely to resolve.

    Of course, as has been mentioned, this is just the appeal of the Preliminary Injunction, so the trial hasn't even taken place yet. It's not surprising that the SC didn't rule on it since it was a reasonable decision.
  • ...though it's entirely possible. It would involve the software developers at Bleem! or Connectix to get off their duffs and convert the executable to Win32; as they stand right now, they will only execute in Windows 9x. I didn't filch the Volume 10 Sony demo disk for nothing!
  • by kaphka (50736) <1nv7b001@sneakemail.com> on Monday October 02, 2000 @10:41AM (#738586)
    Well, the courts seem to be unable to relate their results to each other for some sort of consistency. With this ruling (which is better than Judge Kaplan's against 2600), it can be reasoned that emulating a simple DVD player is as legal as emulating a PlayStation.
    Fortunately, the courts are still smarter than most Slashdot posters. (Congress is another story...) They actually read the laws... and they know that the DMCA [eff.org] prohibits reverse engineering of copyright protection technologies. VGS is not designed to "circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title." DeCSS is. (I know, it's a little more complicated than that. I've been through all the arguments.)

    So, to answer all those wise asses who ask, "Am I violating the DMCA when I use an emulator? Am I violating the DMCA when I view the source of a web page? Am I violating the DMCA when I wash my socks?": No.

    I highly recommend that everyone read the text of the DMCA, as linked above. It's an important issue which will only become more important in the coming years, so it would help if everyone knows what they're arguing about.
  • Yes, but it is not a bining precedent nationwide, just in the lower court's jurisdiction.
  • by kaphka (50736) <1nv7b001@sneakemail.com> on Monday October 02, 2000 @11:11AM (#738588)
    I've posted this in reply to another comment here, but that's just going to get buried, and everyone else here seems to be making the same mistake. IANAL.

    The Connectix case was about traditional copyright law. Sony said, "Reverse engineering is illegal!" Various judges said, "No, reverse engineering is not illegal."

    The DeCSS case is about the DMCA [eff.org]. The MPAA is saying, "Reverse engineering a copyright protection mechanism is illegal!" It remains to be seen what the judges will say to that, but the DMCA seems to be on the MPAA's side.*

    Let's try some basic logic here.

    "It is not always illegal to reverse engineer."
    "It is illegal to reverse engineer a copyright protection system."

    Those two statements do not contradict eachother. Consider:

    "It is not always illegal to swing a baseball bat."
    "It is illegal to swing a baseball bat at someone's head."

    Does that help? I'm sorry if this is not the most articulate explanation, but people constantly misunderstand legal issues due to a poor grasp of simple logic. I can't think of a better way to explain it, so I have to settle for speaking slowly and using small words.

    * I know, there's a lot of room for argument here, but it's still a very different situation.
  • So it's illegal to look at command.com in a hex editor? I think not. It would be illegal to copy significant portions of the code for my own product, but looking and understanding is ok. I could then write a report about it, give the report to another engineer, and he could implement a command.com replacement. This is called clean room reverse engineerng and is how Compaq first produced a PC-BIOS clone.

  • There's a more important reason why it's meaningless. The Playstation is no longer a viable system to drive profit share.

    Granted, it still has a few games coming out for it (amazing considering the console's age), but I've never actually seen a court go after a emulator for something that wasn't currently profitable.

    Keep in mind the PSX's age, the introduction of the PS2 and the N64/Ultra HLE case. The Ultra HLE N64 emulator was almost immediately taken down, because Nintendo was going to sue the makers for lost profits. The PSX is old and by the time this particular case came around the courts no longer wanted to hear it.

    I'm hedging my bet that if someone creates a PS2 emulator within the next year (a much more impressive task, given its highly customized chips) that Sony will go after them immediately, and the courts will cite the emulator as a much more viable case of profit loss.

  • by imp (7585)
    This certainly is good news for people working to interoperate with other people's software. It also goes a long way towards pulling the fangs of the DMCA, which tries to limit reverse engineering of circumvention devices. This should be a boost to people who are doing the CUE Cat stuff since they aren't even copying the software, and even if they used the decompiled binaries to get an understanding of the protocol (which isn't strictly needed, given how easy it was to figure out), they would be safe.

    I wonder what affect, if any, it will have on the DeCSS case?

  • Keep in mind, if it wasn't for reverse engineering, we would not have PC clones. No Dell, no Compaq, no AST.

    What we really need is a free (beer and speech) development environment for the newer console systems.

  • Reverse engineering is EXACTLY how the WinTel PC industry began. As long as one does a clean room reverse engineering and doesn't violate patents, there really isn't much anyone can do about it other than spend a lot of money loosing in court.

    It is only a recent trend where reverse engineering has been given a bad name (DeCSS). More specifically, when someone over at Connectix makes a playstation 2 BIOS, its okay. Yet, when someone over in Norway figures out who DVD players work it's piracy. The distinction between the two is Connectix is a for profit company, while distributers of DeCSS are Hackers. As well all know, what is good for a company is good for America and Hackers (like those evil 2600 kids) are out to destroy the nation.

    So logically, what needs to be done is some "Hackers" need to start a for profit company to sell DVD players for Linux (at .$50 a download) and see what happens.

  • Denial of cert means nothing .

    "By not even listening to the case, and by extention, not challenging the lower court's ruling, they are giving their tacit agreement."

    Give me just one example of a case which has had cert denied, which the Court has later agreed with. There are none. Denial of cert means nothing, and various Supreme Court justices over the years have lamented how many people seem to think denial of cert is meaningful.

    "The ruling stands through the action of the higher court, even if the action in question is refusing to take action."

    No; the action in question was not the refusal to take action, it was a refusal to review the case. The Court cannot give their tacit agreement to something they haven't even heard. All the Court did was say no; everything more than that, you're writing into it.

    If you like, do a Google! search for Supreme Court quotations. You'll find a lot of references to cert in it, and their frustration with people who think denial of cert is meaningful.
  • The 9th Circuit said Connectix's activities were protected under the ''fair use doctrine,'' which permits copying of software when necessary to understand the way a program works.

    I think that this, plus the Betamax case, should be strong enough to make the DeCSS case go the right way on appeals. Heck, the PS case was under the shadow of the DMCA as well.

    While ambious, I really hope that the DeCSS is the one that is pushed all the way to the SC to kill the DMCA bill, or at least provisions that trend on fair use. The 'success' of this case shows that the legal background is there.

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