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Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

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Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by finale00 » Wed Jan 18, 2012 8:20 am

As (most) of us here probably do some sort of "resource hacking" of sorts, we've probably also thought about whether the stuff we do is actually ethical or not. By ethical, I mean as someone who may be a developer himself, or perhaps a professional in the industry, or just someone that has "mad skills" of sorts and naturally takes pride in her own work.

For example, game localization. Always a good cause (right?), especially when the chances that a company will pick up the game and release it in the language of your choice just isn't very likely.

Or maybe model/image conversion. Taking models of your favorite characters and doing all sorts of things with them. Perverted or not.

Save game editing. Makes your life easier, why not? Can't be hurting anyone too much.

But at the end of the day, we're pretty much hacking software that isn't ours, and taking data that the owners PROBABLY didn't want us to be taking and using on our own accord. Even if we don't release it, but considering the nature of this forum and some of the tools available (*coughnoesiscoughmultiexcough*) it's become fairly easy to stumble upon data that shouldn't have been too easily available with a couple clicks of your mouse.

We might have given it some casual thought at some point in our careers, but has anyone been particularly interested in reverse engineering as a topic of discussion and went out to read all sorts of material and possibly even scholarly articles related to all of this?

On another note, america's internet censoring bill. Are we (xentax itself) fucked?

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by howfie » Wed Jan 18, 2012 7:51 pm

That bill is as good as dead. The obama administration has already said they don't like it. Annoying though that almost every web page i visit I have to turn off javascript to avoid being redirected to some shitty web page. Even if they do pass they won't shut down newsgroups. They can't stop pirating. They can only make it harder.

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by 0xFAIL » Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:57 pm

The classical term 'reverse engineering' is centered around decompiling executables files iirc.
If I write 'reverse engineering' below I mean 'reverse engineering file formats' not working around with assembler.
I will also ignore any hacker ethics about this topic, cause it's simply out of scope.


I think if there is no harm done it's okay to search around in video game data.

Harm:
handing over exploits/passwords/encryption methods for cheaters/hackers to use (only problematic in MP games) if the master server is still online

Exploring the thoughts of other programmers is interesting and understanding data structures is fun.

In my opinion mod tools make every game more fun. Wanna run around as Link in Skyrim? No problem! Sales lost for developer? Zero! (GTA,Lunar Magic,...)

For me it comes down to the intention of the person making the tools.

E.g. I still don't get it why there was only a closed source model viewer for the Metroid Prime series.
(It was the decision of the creators not to publish the source or add a converter)
or why the 3D object converter tool seems (I don't want to accuse him!) to be made of the sweat of others
(did that guy really reverse that many 3D model formats? If he did: kudos for doing so)

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by Dinoguy1000 » Thu Jan 19, 2012 1:36 am

As far as I'm concerned, if you're not charging money for your work (asking for donations vis-a-vis XeNTaX is fine IMHO), and you're not doing it for crackers and the like, it's fine - but you also need to respect the devs' requests; if they ask that you refrain from or stop reverse-engineering a game of theirs, you should stop, at least while you try to get more info on why they don't want you to and try to get them to reverse their position.

There are also devs that not only don't mind, but actively encourage reverse-engineering of their games; probably the most famous would be Valve. Mojang's position is similar, though more extreme; Notch has explicitly said that if you can't afford Minecraft, you should pirate it (and hopefully, then, when you *can* afford it, you'll pay for it).

As for SOPA and PIPA, they are horrible, evil pieces of legislation, and the MPAA and RIAA aren't going to let them just die; it is literally their entire business model at stake here (instead of innovating to keep up with new technology, the MPAA and RIAA simply attempt to legislate it out of existence; they've been doing so for decades, and at this point, it's highly doubtful they could do anything else). If they do pass, you'd better believe this place will be fucked (though only for people in the U.S.; the legislation provides for blocking websites at the DNS level, which is different from outright taking sites down, and websites blocked in this way can still be accessed via their IP address).
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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by Ninja » Fri Jan 20, 2012 6:21 pm

Isn't there some law that says if your doing it for educational purposes it's ok?
Can't you call it data mining? A legitimate field in modern computer science.
There are even jobs for doing it:- 'Senior Analyst Data Mining and Optimization', which is what exactly?

I see two different approaches to the subject where games are concerned, those companies that absolutely refuse to allow any changes to their work and those that encourage it.

The ones that don't like you doing it fail to understand that modding and hacking of their games is part of the history of the game, and thus send out DMCA notices to everyone that even looks at their content funny, even to go as far as shutting down youtube videos showing the game content. They usually think calling a file format 'propriety' makes it legally theirs. These are mostly startup companies less than 10 years old.

On the other hand you have fairly well established companies that although don't always encourage modding, accept that it is going to happen, and that it is part of the history of the game, they usually fully understand the business model and life cycle of the game.

My personal opinion is that by sharing modeling, animation, texturing, and compression techniques on sites like this your providing a valuable resource not only to players and modders but also to the game industry itself.
Your providing a knowledge base that amateurs and professionals can learn from, is providing this knowledge unethical?

As for those companies that really don't like reverse engineering, you can effectively ban that content from this site, it is guaranteed that some other site will be set up specifically for those games/applications, although they would find it very difficult to enforce discussions of their techniques unless they went and payed for a patent license.

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by howfie » Fri Jan 20, 2012 7:02 pm

yeah, it's legal in the US as long as you aren't doing it to implement and sell trade secrets you get from it I think. there are some limits to the legality of it and it varies from continent to continent. data mining is discovering rules from data (think classic netflix problem about association rules, you are trying to infer or learn something from a large amount of data, which is why data mining and machine learning are like butt-buddies), so reverse engineering is not data mining. in RE the goal isn't to discover rules; it's simply just to convert the data back to its original form.

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by Surveyor » Sun Jan 22, 2012 2:09 pm

Hello,

Here's my POV, for me there are the guys who create the tools and the guys who use these tools, I'll talk about them both.

I personnaly don't care about juridistics when it comes to making game extraction/export tools, I fully understand that the thing is illegal, for every game you install on your PC, there's this huge EULA (End User Licence Agreement) that people rarely read and that clearly says messing with their data can result in law pursuits. Now depending on where you live, this EULA may or may not be applicable. Some countries (where I happen to live) have NO digital rights at all, and as a result, you're free to do whatever you want and nobody is going to bother you. And here where ethics come into play, anyone who hacks/makes tools does it for a reason, it may be for fun, for fame, for money, to learn, ... For me, it was a part of a fan-game developement project, I used the extracted data to make a game and thus freed myself from the need for artists and modelers (who either kept asking for money for the smallest of works, or when it was for free, they vanished in a couple of days ... the bastards!!!) The game was created using UDK (Unreal Developement Kit) to showcase my programming skills, and posted here: http://forums.epicgames.com/threads/858664-Paradisiaque
The game was refused for submission, and I can understand that as Epic forum is -most probably- located in the US and they sure don't want the owners of my game data (Tecmo among others) to pay them a visit.

Speaking of Tecmo, I'm sure everyone remembers the Dead or Alive Extreme 1 incident that resulted in severe sanctions against the forum owners, and ironically these condemned people did no harm by themsleves, their only sin was to host the forums, which brings us to the tools users, and again, everyone uses the tools for some reason: to make mods, to learn modeling, some even collect the models for the fun of it (just like collecting stamps). Some on the other hand, make evil and perverted things with those models, I find this revolting to see my tools (which took me many sleepless nights to complete) used in such a manner (making DMC4 and Resident evil 5 porn), and that's why I decided to stop sharing my tools.

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by howfie » Wed Jan 25, 2012 7:42 am

Yep, someone took one of my tools and posted most of the models online on some web site. I wasn't too happy with that ha ha ha but you really can't control that. People are going to use your tools for some other reason than you usually intended. Sucks but in the end I do this for myself and for hopefully for other budding game programmers who want to look at the internals of professional games to help them learn how to program professional games as well. So just to let you know I probably wouldn't be here reversing games and trying to put the models in my own engine either if I hadn't run into your RE5 extractor lol... I had to prove to my friends that Jill's pussy wasn't a pussy but a seam from texture discontinuity LOL! That's how I found this screwed up place. Don't let the occasional misuse prevent you from sharing your tools!

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by MrAdults » Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:30 am

People do that shit all the time with mesh2rdm and Noesis. I yell at them when I notice it, but I'm pretty sure most of the time I don't notice it, because this is the only engineering/models-oriented forum I read. So I only hear about it when someone specifically goes out of their way to come to me and go "hey, look at what this asshole is doing."

I consider the private act of reverse engineering in itself to be no different than reading a book, and I view the act of translating disassembly or other binary to something higher-level as basically translating a book written in a strange language that no one really innately reads to a human-readable language. But by the same logic, if you took a commercially published book and translated it to another language and released the translation for free, it would still be copyright infringement. Which is where I think the genuine grey area usually comes into reverse-engineering. If you're directly translating disassembly, that can be questionable. If you're writing brand new code designed to handle some existing data, I think this is less-questionable, but still sort of questionable depending on your perspective. I don't believe that it should be questionable at all, from a standpoint of pure idealism, because what you're writing is conceived of from scratch (mind you for the purpose for understanding copyrighted data), and the tool you're releasing to interpret the data would be akin to releasing a magical looking glass that translates a book for you. The key point is that the magical glass still requires you to own the original book to be useful. If this looking glass is provided for free and at no financial gain whatsoever to the creator of the glass, then morally I see absolutely no issue.

But as has already been mentioned, the very act of reverse engineering is usually forbidden by the EULA for any given product. I think this is bullshit, and that it shouldn't be enforceable. I'm not sure whether it actually would be enforceable in a US court or not, because I don't know of any cases where it's come up unattached to the duplication/re-creation of logic/code from existing binary. I see the two things as very separate issues. One is like translating a book and re-releasing the book, while the other is basically just...reading the book. You shouldn't be able to tell someone that they can't read a book. This is why I also see a clear distinction between directly translating disassembly and writing new code from scratch to handle data. (by noticing patterns in the data or anything else that doesn't involve directly building from copyrighted binary)

In a sane world, it would all be alright, so long as we aren't distributing or directly duplicating anyone else's property. But of course laws can never be so simple, and we never know how otherwise-insane laws will hold up until they're actually put to the test in court. We're sadly in a rather precarious state at the moment, where we have a lot of conflicting and unreasonable laws that just haven't been put to the test, so everything we do (in the US, anyway) is like walking on egg shells where one of many thousands of giant corporate fists might slam down and put an end to our efforts at any given time.

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by Mr.Mouse » Thu Jan 26, 2012 8:16 pm

howfie wrote: People are going to use your tools for some other reason than you usually intended.
Like some moron deciding to use nuclear fission to create a weapon of mass destruction, and then some other nobrainer actually ordering the use of it.

It falls or stands by what you name reverse engineering. I have always used a simple hex editor to figure out file formats, using logic and the process of deduction. Like a puzzle, really. That's also what made it interesting.

Opening up a disassembler and working out a piece of programming is also in some ways the same process, but in other ways like reading a book, as said. But that last statement doesn't hold up in many cases. The product you bought, like a game for instance, is the output of the program, so to speak. Like buying an electronic book, that is reading the text out loud for you, without showing any text. If you'd then open up the book and try to extract the process that makes the device read the text out loud, and find a way to replace the text spoken with another, you have effectively modified the original. The question then remains, what you do next with it. If you simply use your new modded tool to have it read more books for you, otherwise not possible, I think there is no harm there. If you use the device and copy the technology to create and sell your own electronic books, that is an other story. The issue then comes: how did you get the other text to be read? Did you download it as it was ripped from another device? You probably should have payed for that text. Now if you copied the text from an actual book in your cupboard and converted it somehow to the format the device can read, it would be your own intellectual property. But even then, the hard copy book you used the text from has copyrights, barring you from replicating it.

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by TheWatcher » Sat Apr 07, 2012 2:39 am

Hi everybody,

In my country -- a small country in beween Poland and Russia -- the Republic of Belarus which was a former Soviet republic and since then has been Europe's last dictatorship regime for about 18 years now, designing and maintaining such a tool as Noesis, or 3D Object Converter, or Deep Exploration, whathaveyou, would certainly fall within the scope of developing an emulator software product and would be granted a derivative copyright coverage.

Amateur 3D content viewers and editors normally do not use the game developer's verbatim code for their intended purposes. Instead, they rather use their own developer's code based on the knowledge gained by studying the principles and effects of the original code, including the application of reverse engineering methods to gain such knowledge. And this is perfectly legit even in such precedent-driven legislatures as is found in the United States of America and other British-related cultures.

Reverse engineering is a natural scientific method of studying the Universe. Remember yourself breaking up a toy car to see what's inside? Way back when you were only 2 or 3? :wink:

To keep your R&D enthusiasm up and running satisfactorily while still observing the limits of lawful reverse engineering, you should however stick to the following basic principles:
1. You should have a legal copy of the original software you intend to study and/or reverse engineer;
2. You should not make the disassembly/reverse engineering results available to public at large;
3. You should not make the tools you designed and/or used to specifically disassemble/reverse engineer a particular piece of original software available to public at large;
4. Your derivative product should improve upon the consumer qualities of original software in at least one noticeable/evident/prominent way.

For further reading up on the matter with respect to the Unated States law, I'd suggest the following links:
1. Copyright and DMCA -- http://chillingeffects.org/copyright/
2. Reverse engineering -- http://chillingeffects.org/reverse/

You can also find there some useful tips on what to do if some money-monger threatens you with a lawsuit or has taken you or your provider unawares with a C&D order and the like.

Hope this helps the forum community, and particularly, the site administration and owners who are obviously US residents. :)

Keep up the good work, guys! :bravo:

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by Dinoguy1000 » Sat Apr 07, 2012 2:56 am

TheWatcher wrote:Hope this helps the forum community, and particularly, the site administration and owners who are obviously US residents. :)
Actually, I think I'm the only currently active staffer that lives in the U.S.; everyone else for whom I know theirlocation of residence is over in Europe. :wink:

Also, am I the only one who finds the "bravo" smilie creepy as all hell?
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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by TheWatcher » Sat Apr 07, 2012 3:19 am

Dinoguy1000 wrote:Actually, I think I'm the only currently active staffer that lives in the U.S.; everyone else for whom I know theirlocation of residence is over in Europe. :wink:
Oh yeah, but for all I know the server and the server provider (and the databases) may well be over there in the States... :wink:
Dinoguy1000 wrote:Also, am I the only one who finds the "bravo" smilie creepy as all hell?
Frankly, I was looking for a more appropriate and natural "thumb up" or "thumbs up" smiley but found no some such in stock...

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by finale00 » Sat Apr 07, 2012 3:22 am

:dance: how about this one.

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Re: Your opinion on the ethics of reverse engineering

Post by Mr.Mouse » Sat Apr 07, 2012 8:19 am

MrAdults and Dinoguy are from the US, the rest from somewhere else. Nice post TheWatcher. I particularly like the analogy with fundamental science. We as scientists reverse engineer the universe to understand it, so we can improve on it or intervene, or at least use it to our greater benefit. That is humanity's birth right.

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