A weird loophole?

Discussion in 'Indie Related Chat' started by ggambett, Sep 3, 2005.

  1. ggambett

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    A while ago when discussing the release of the Quake3 engine as GPL, someone said "if you release your source code as GPL then someone can grab your code, recompile it, and offer a download that includes his binary and your freely distributable demo (or a link to it) which contains the assets, and sell it legally".

    That got me thinking. You don't need the code to be GPLd to do that! For example, games by PopCap have their resources in a folder. So what stops people from just reimplementing the game from scratch, using all the assets from, say, Bejewelled? You have all the content (which is the hard part in a Match3 game, right?), you even have the gameplay, it's like having a dream design document - you can actually play it!

    No, I'm not planning to do this. It's just a theoretical question. What do you think? Is this the definitive argument against leaving your assets unprotected?
     
  2. Raptisoft

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    Lol... my time is worth more than that.

    Hm... spend $19.99 or spend a month and a half redeveloping the game?

    That's like Chinese sweatshop prices... six cents an hour!
     
  3. soniCron

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    I think the difference is that you'd have to know how the resources are stored. With a GPL'd game, you've got the code to load the files already written. I don't have any PopCap games installed at the moment, but if the assets are just sitting freely on the drive, I can't see anything stopping someone from doing that. On the other hand, I've been known to open Reflexive's data file and rip out the music so I could listen to it in Windows Media Player whenever I want. (James, is that ok? I'm not sharing it with anyone else! :eek:)

    My wife showed me a site the other day, and while it was nothing more than one of the billion spammy ugly free Flash game sites, I really got a good look how widespread this blatant asset theft has spread. And I'm not really sure if this is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. None of the games were of any real quality (they looked like doo), but, as an artist, I'm sure it's nice to have a 14 year old like your background music enough to put it in their little game, albeit illegal.

    Tough call, but it's certainly happening already. (Though, not legally.)
     
  4. Kai Backman

    Original Member Indie Author IGF Finalist

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    IANAL. But no. It would be clearly illegal. This is how I have it set up, and I assume id has something similar. You are mixing two different and incompatible licenses.

    1. Quake3 the game that includes all the content. Licensed under a standard EULA that prohibits reverse engineering, redistribution and a host of other things.

    2. Quake3 engine source code. Licensed under GPL.

    The demo for all downlaodable games I know is freely distributable as long as nothing is changed. Adding your own binary on top of that is clearly changing. Yeah, yeah, you are just "adding" stuff. But it's still changing and is thus illegal.

    If what you said was true then you could rip anyones assets for anything, which clearly isn't true. A bit of common sense is always good. If something sounds really improbable, it usually is .. ;)
     
  5. soniCron

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    That's the thing: you don't have to change anything. Just distribute another binary next to the original install. You won't be changing the install, modifying any data, or anything of the sort. But you can subsequently ask the user to install another file (perhaps a free "upgrade?") that is the new binary, which uses the assets now already existing on the hard drive. Nothing illegal going on here, and you get a "free" version.

    However, I think the thought is in err here, in that you'd be spending quite a bit of time reprogramming the game to use someone else's assets. With GPL'd code, you wouldn't even have to reprogram it, so the barrier of entry is almost nil. Strip out the copy-protection code, and you've got the full version. It's not that simple if you're actually programming the whole game from scratch. So, it's possible, but far less likely to happen.
     
  6. ggambett

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    To clarify. When the user buys Bejewelled (from me) he gets an email with a download link to download the Bejewelled demo, and a second download link to download my binary. If the Bejewelled demo's EULA allows redistribution, this would be legal, right?

    I specifically mentioned PopCap's games because the files are stored in a perfectly accessible folder. So there's absolutely no reverse engineering, not even of an archive file format.
     
  7. ggambett

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    I'm not considering whether it does business sense or whether it's morally OK - just if it's legally OK. Just a thought experiment :)
     
  8. Kai Backman

    Original Member Indie Author IGF Finalist

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    Again IANAL, but this is plain wrong and both of you are being stubborn witn this nuts idea.. :) You are confusing technical feasibility with legality (and incidentally owning and licensing). When you receive or purchase a game you don't own those assets, you only license them. The license you have been granted does not let your executable use those assets. Even if the bytes physically reside on a HD you own, you don't own the IP those bytes represent. Just loading them into your second exe is illegal. Source code or not.

    If the original argument was true you could grab some demo from say Blizzard and do the same thing. This is plain silly. Sit down and think it through, it must be silly. If you two still don't believe me, do this trick with a product from Blizzard. Then write an email letting them know what you done and wait for them to send some nice people to really explain it to you .. ;)
     
  9. ggambett

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    So it's also illegal to open an Explorer window and look at the graphics files using the thumbnail view? Explorer is also an EXE which loads these same bits.

    I know this must be wrong or illegal. I just can't figure out where!
     
  10. milieu

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    The difference is distribution. Once you have a license for a product (whether through purchase or freely available), you can do just about anything to it in the privacy of your own home. Light it on fire. Reverse-compile it. Play it backwards and listen for Satanic messages.

    But this changes if you attempt to distribute those bits, by posting them online or selling them on a CD. You don't have a license to distribute the copyrighted materials, so you're now committing copyright violations.

    I would suspect that replacing the exe could be considered a derivative work, which is also protected by copyright. If a second exe is stripping away copy-protection, then it probably violates the DMCA in the US.
     
  11. Hiro_Antagonist

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    If you sold, or gave away, the ability for people to play a popcap game indefinitely without buying it, you are violating their copyright and causing them actual damages. You can (and should) be sued under those circumstances, because you are costing them money in a deliberately malicious manner.

    Looking at the graphics in explorer isn't at all displacing sales of the game. Making a clone that uses their copyrighted materials very much would.

    To be honest, I don't follow your logic at all as to how it would be okay to rip off popcap or any other company in this (or any other) manner...

    Of course, I ANAL.

    -Hiro_Antagonist
     
  12. Pyabo

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    This is clearly a case where that "common sense" tool I mentioned in the previous thread comes in handy. :)

    Just because a demo game is freely distributed by PopCap (note, by PopCap, not by you), doesn't give you license to use the images in any way.
     
  13. soniCron

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    How is this a violation of their copyright? If the user installs PopCap's game onto their own computer, they can do whatever they want with the data, provided they don't redistribute it. Now, consider this:

    Bejeweled, FREE!

    Download Bejeweled
    Download Security Update for Bejeweled

    Instructions:
    1. Download and install "Download Bejeweled."
    2. Download and install "Download Security Update for Bejeweled."
    3. Enjoy!

    Now, this may be wrong, but in what manner is this illegal?
     
  14. cliffski

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    this is another reason why lawyers cause so many problems. Anyone with any common sense would say that this is illegal, yet you will always find some slimey-ass lawyer who would argue that its not. This is why we need systems that work with the spirit, rather than the letter of the law. That goes the opposite way too, copyright is clealry not intended to prevent you making personal backups of dvs or games.
     
  15. soniCron

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    I disagree. I think it's wrong, but hardly illegal. Is it illegal to open a Quake 3 PK3 datafile with WinZIP? Should the makers of WinZIP be fined for such a thing? Should I?
     
  16. milieu

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    If this "security update" removes copy protection, then it's illegal in the U.S. under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). It's illegal again to distribute such a program.

    The end-user is not the one who will be charged. The person who created and hosted this program could face civil and criminal charges. From my brief reading of the act (available at this link ):

    Section 1201 of the DMCA covers "Circumvention of copyright protection systems", and also includes distribution:

    The act also allows civil lawsuits of up to $2500 per violation. So you serve the ISP and the person posting the patch, you get their server logs, and you sue for that much per download. If you need extra money, go download it a couple more times before filing.

    Yes, this is a US law, and someone could host it elsewhere. But more and more countries are adopting similar laws. Most ISPs do not want to mess with DMCA violations because they can be held liable as well if they knowingly allow a violation to continue, i.e., by hosting the person's site.

    So now this patch is down to being hosted on some backwoods server in China. How many of your customers will be downloading a mysterious EXE from Shanghai and running it on their computer to save $20?
     
  17. Matthew

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    I think the original point wasn't about a patch to remove copy protection, but rather creating a new .EXE that mimics the functionality of a game (and uses the assets of a game as originally installed by it).

    IANAL, either, but my understanding is that the illegality here stems from copyright infringement. In particular, copyright owners have exclusive rights governing the distribution and performance of their material. This could be construed as a performance.

    Additionally, vicarious copyright infringement if you are profiting by doing this.
     
  18. Robert Cummings

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    no offense but to most people you look like an idiot saying "I ANAL". I know you're aware of this but I suggest you stop saying that.
    I don't know what it stands for but it isn't something you want to keep saying bacause frankly it's silly no matter how you look at it. Like I said, I'm not out to get you. Thats my impression. You both sound like idiots.
     
  19. Robert Cummings

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    You're not purchasing the software, you're purchasing the right to use it. Wake up. It's a license.

    So yes, circumventing that without paying for it, is illegal.
     
  20. ggambett

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    "I Am Not A Lawyer"

    Thanks for an actual reply to the argument, at last :) I didn't think about the "performance" issue, but it may be the relevant factor here.

    You don't remove copy protection, you don't distribute a modified version of the program, and you don't even distribute the unmodified program. You give the user an EXE you made 100% yourself, and tell him "go download the Bejewelled Demo".

    I know, dammit! I personally think anyone attempting to do what I described is quite stupid and is looking for trouble, to say the least. It's common sense, I agree. But I proposed this as a thought experiment only if you like, the idea soniCron introduced in the Quake3 thread got me thinking. So assume I'm in fact stupid and/or suicidal. What's the specific law that makes this illegal?

    So, as I said above, is it copyright infringement to see these images which the installer leaves in a folder with Windows Explorer? Is it illegal to see these images with an image viewer such as ACDSee? Is it illegal to see these images with a program I made?
     

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