Intellectual Property - Electronic Copyright  


Study Guide

  1. Basic Ideas:
    • What is interoperability?
      Interoperability  is the ability of a system or a product to work with other systems or products without special effort on the part of the customer.

    • What is Reverse Engineering 
      Reverse engineering is taking apart an object to see how it works in order to duplicate or enhance the object. It's a practice taken from older industries that is now frequently used on computer hardware and software.  Software reverse engineering involves reversing a program's machine code back into the source code that it was written in, using program language statements.
    • Why is Reverse Engineering done?
      Software reverse engineering is done to retrieve the source code of a program because the source code was lost, to study how the program performs certain operations, to improve the performance of a program, to fix a bug (correct an error in the program when the source code is not available), to identify malicious content in a program such as a virus, or to adapt a program written for use with one microprocessor for use with a differently-designed microprocessor. Reverse engineering for the sole purpose of copying or duplicating programs constitutes a copyright violation and is illegal. In some cases, the licensed use of software specifically prohibits reverse engineering. 

  2. Current Cases Involving Reverse Engineering and/or Interoperability 
    • DeCSS Overview -...a program called DeCSS, which cracks the security code in the DVD Content Scrambling System. That, in turn, allows people to view digital movies through unauthorized players, such as computers running the Linux operating system. 

    • Microsoft and Kerberos - Microsoft "extends" Kerberos making a slight change so that Microsoft's version is not fully interoperable with the standard version found at hundreds of universities, financial institutions and other firms across the world...

    • Microsoft vs. AOL - Microsoft entered the on-line messenger market by releasing a package that allowed user to chat with both AOL and MSN Messenger user.  They did this by getting access to AOL code and server.  AOL then blocked Microsoft's access. The battle continued until MS backed off trying to link their users with AOL's users. 
      • Did MS have a right to try to link it's MSN Messenger and AOL's Instant Messenger without AOL's permission?
      • If so, does AOL have the right to stop them?
      • Is it in the best interest of the customers to allow forced integration of software systems?
      • In this case should an Industry standard be imposed to open the market?
      • Why should AOL not be the sole benefactor of there dominates and innovation in this area?
      • What if AT&T decided to block you from calling a MCI customer?

    • Massachusetts: Microsoft vs. OpenDocument - The Massachusetts legeslature decided to require that all state documents either be kept in Adobe's PDF format or the XML based OpenDocument format. The result of this could mean that the state of Massachusetts would not be able to use Microsoft Office if Microsoft did not support the OpenDocument format. There reasoning was that they wanted all documents to be readable in the future and for all citizens to have free access to the documents.
      • Are there any reasons, ethical or not, for Microsoft not to support OpenDocument?
      • Do you think there is an ethical responsibility for a government agency, funded by the people, to use an open and free document that guarentees citizens access to documents?
      • Does Microsoft have an ethical responsibility to make sure that users of their software will be able to open their own document formats in the future?

DMCA: A Road Bump in Reverse Engineering

Since the Digital Millinium Copyright Act outlawed the breaking of copy protection measures, reverse engineering has dealt a major blow. Everything from online game systems, to garage door openers, to ink cartridges have lawsuits involving one party reverse engineering a product and having to circumvent a copy protection measure. Generally most courts have favored the reverse engineering, unless by reverse engineering it specifically allowed illegal activity, as was the case in the online game system clone. In other such cases, the offending party was simply finding a means to replace a part if it were to wear out or run out. So while many companies have tried to use the DMCA to stop reverse engineering, in most instances it is perfectly legal.


Relevant links 

  • A definition of Interoperability 
  • Sun Sues Microsoft over Java 
  • Reasons for Interoperability 



    Index of Topics