Re: [stella] is "disassembly" legal?

Subject: Re: [stella] is "disassembly" legal?
From: jimn8@xxxxxxxxxx (Jim Nitchals)
Date: Mon, 15 Sep 1997 11:27:03 -0700 (PDT)
> My main question is, can companies say that it's illegal to disassemble
> software, when courts have ruled in favor of the "first sale doctrine" which
> states that the owner of a product can do any darn thing they wish to it?

I can't answer that (IANAL), but I can offer you some advice regarding
the act of disassembling software.  Practically speaking: since nobody
can stop you from doing it, why not?  There's only one good reason not
to.  Sorry, this answer takes some explaining.

If you do so, then write a program of your own that competes in any way
with the code you disassembled, you're wide open to copyright infringement
lawsuits.  Back in the 2600 days, programmers regularly disassembled and
stole ideas from each other.  Nobody sued because everyone was guilty to
some extent, even if subconsciously  ;)

At Electronic Arts, where I reverse engineered the NES and Sega Genesis,
two teams were at work on the problem.  One team would disassemble code
then pass abstract descriptions of what they learned about the machine
to a land shark, umm, I mean lawyer.  The lawyer then reviewed it and
gave it a clean bill of health before passing it to the other team, who
would attempt to write software from scratch based on those descriptions.
There was never *any* direct communication between sides, and those who
were exposed to disassembled code were NOT allowed to later work on games
for those systems.  This way there was never a question of theft of code,
even if unintentional.

The same legal team supervised Compaq's BIOS development.  It all comes
down to why you're doing the disassembling, and how serious your opponent
might be if you're developing competing products.

> Sorry if this is off topic, but its a question that affects alot of us in one
> way or another.

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