Is the Reverse Engineering legal? Because reverse engineering can be used to reconstruct source code, it walks a fine line in intellectual property law. Many software license agreements strictly forbid reverse engineering. Software companies fear (and rightly so) that their trade secret algorithms and methods will be more directly revealed through reverse engineering than they are through external machine observation. However, there is no general-purpose law against reverse engineering.
Because reverse engineering is a crucial step in removing copy protection schemes, there is some confusion regarding its legality. Patching software to defeat copy protection or digital rights management schemes is illegal. Reverse engineering software is not. If the law changes and reverse engineering is made illegal, then a serious blow will be dealt to the common user of software (especially the common and curious user). A law completely outlawing reverse engineering would be like a law making it illegal to open the hood of your car to repair it. Under such a system, car users would be required by law to go to the dealership for all repairs and maintenance.
There are laws about the copyright that someone who reverse-engineers must take care of in open source projects, and the common approach to this problem is to divide the programmers into 2 groups. Group 1 is the one who disassembles the code of the program/firmware and writes the specifications. The second group that makes a program using these specifications.
Under a few circumstances, fair use allows the reproduction of copyrighted material without the owner’s permission. In terms of reverse engineering and fair use, the law tends to favor the reverser. However, negatively affecting the value of the original product will almost never result in it being categorized as “fair use.” Also keep in mind that fair use does not permit breaking the user license terms.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was put into place in 1998 in order to make any service or device with purpose of undermining or removing DRM (Digital Rights Management) copyright infringement. The act forbids any service or device from being designed to circumvent, or even being marketed to circumvent any DRM.
There is, however, an exception in the DMCA stating that reverse engineering can be done under the purposes of inter-operability between software components
End User License Agreement (EULA)
An end user license agreement (or EULA) is a legal contract between the software manufacturer and the user. It explains the terms under which the user may use the software, giving a list of conditions of what the user may and may not do. This contract can state anything from the number of copies that can be made to conditions under which it can be reverse engineered.
When you purchase or install software, you are typically presented with an end-user license agreement (EULA) on a click-through screen. This is a legal agreement that you are asked to read and agree to the software license. When you download software on-line, you are typically asked to press “I AGREE” in response to a EULA document displayed on the Web site.
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