Rom hacking area rules/law surrounding it.

Discussion in 'NDS - ROM Hacking and Translations' started by FAST6191, Jun 27, 2008.

Jun 27, 2008
  1. FAST6191

    Reporter FAST6191 Techromancer

    Nov 21, 2005
    United Kingdom
    Ordinarily I would put this in the site suggestions area but this seems more fitting. I will try to give personal and "factual" accounts but not having the greatest deal of respect for the law in these matters, namely computing/technology law, (and most other matters) it may be a bit difficult for me to pull off the latter.

    Reason for this is it seems there is some debate as to what goes and it needs to be cleared up. I can personally see myself hacking/learning until the day I die and will happily go up against/circumvent anything that prevents such matters but my own personal feelings are not the law.
    In such matters some like to know what I am/what I have done. Answer I am an engineer and consequently am compelled to know the basics and I have read up a bit so know a bit more than I might have to but I have no law qualifications and do not claim even to have studied it at great depth like I have say computers (I have never officially been taught anything beyond how to use MS work and not look like a complete idiot trying to do it high school IT).
    The law is a very complex thing and while I would like to summarise it in bullet points it can not realistically be done and also while laws are interesting they form the basis of a guide but not the whole one so moral input is needed and as such my post will aim to be law and not much more until a bit of debate has been had.


    The whole issue is very convoluted (the fact that there are entire law firms dealing solely with such matters should be enough to demonstrate that) with lots of holes and loops for all parties concerned.
    Ideally as the server is in France it would French law but for that I would have to go and read a book for several hours before I could even start such a debate so I will extend it to European law. This will generally be contrasted with US law (and in USA) but if others want to volunteer stuff pertinent to another area that would be great.
    For example laws can be interpreted in many ways and there are noted cases of people in the US taking actions in some manner elsewhere in the world still coming under some form of US law (and before conspiracy theories start this is in genuine court, no link to hand but a few weeks back a judge dropped a case as the defendants did not come from the US noting that the persons involved were not from the US ( <a href="" target="_blank"></a> carried the story), the corollary of this is US people can get got wherever with the right conditions).
    To this end this thread serves as little more than a thought exercise but hopefully it will be a valuable one.

    The current climate means people will tend to try to avoid a court case as a legal defense/attack is costly to mount (how many reading know how to address a judge and what your rights of appeal, evidence law or even know the grades of witness let alone anything more than that and the fact it changes country by country and state by state).
    Broadly speaking however there are two areas of law applicable here, to use the US terminology these are civil and criminal law. The former deals with two (or more with two parties being formed from the people concerned) parties trying to settle something while the latter is law according to the country you are in (and there are various levels of that). The most common in the circles dealt with here is civil law and is usually what is used for the likes of copyright violations, DMCA notices while criminal law can appear to start proceedings (as an example in the UK civil cases have less evidence gathering ability (for instance they can not compel and ISP to match an IP address to name) so a criminal case can be started (which can match IP to names) and then dropped. Criminal law will however appear when large sums of money are involved or with matters of cryptography, security (financial or physical) of an area or the country.

    There are also two types of law in as much as there is "book law" (what the government puts out in whatever method is used in the country/continent of choice) and case law (what a judge can interpret the law as for book law can be a bit vague, plain incorrect (how many politicians know electronics and computing to the levels required) or behind the times, a matter of great importance in the computing/electronics world where things like moore's "law" exists: old cryptography law* said no more than 56bit encryption in certain cases which was fine for the time but a modern home computer can crack it in seconds or less which makes it no use whatsoever and when new law can (quite rightly as a rushed law is usually full of holes) take some time to be debated). On the flip side case law also affords a measure of protection and there have been notable cases where people like the RIAA have dropped a case so as to prevent case law from being formed on an issue that would later complicate their activities. The word most likely to be found when researching case law is "precedent" which is usually found where a similar (or the same) situation has previously arisen yet is not detailed in "book law", however (and it gets complex) a judge can choose to follow/act on precedent or ignore it (and being accountable to people means there should be justification for the actions of a judge).

    *more on cryptography later but suffice it to say cryptography is considered munitions ( <a href="" target="_blank"></a> ) and is afforded a certain position in the law. For a crash course in cryptography see the rom hacking docs at the top of the forum (and in my signature).

    So some definitions:

    A very broad array of things are covered by this so some clarification is needed.
    Ostensibly it deals with a specific implementation of something. The intended purpose is to grant a monopoly to the copyright holder for a period of time (the length of which is a matter of extensive debate) so as to enable them to gain funds from it and make further works/retire/whatever. After this time people are free to do what they like (within the law anyhow) as it falls into public domain. There is an exception for personal use ("if I can build it") but it gets complicated when giving away or finances are involved.
    In computing world however there are only so many ways to do something effectively (it is entirely possible to make a 5000 megabyte program to add 2 single digit numbers stored in the program but nobody would do it as it is trivial to do simply) so you are allowed to have the same implementation provided you did not copy someone elses source code (the usual method to tell is to look at the mistakes made, people match code but rarely mistakes and as a code copier is usually lazy.....).
    Another interesting note is levels of rights available. Here a company can give/sell rights to part of something for various reasons (although thought not strictly copyright the original people behind the making of the transistor allowed hearing aid companies to not have to pay) and is the reason for the "all rights reserved" line of text you may see in places. Normally all rights are reserved but there are many notable exceptions as far as hacking and old games are concerned (stuff like half life mods and a lot of the spectrum stuff <a href="" target="_blank"></a> as simple examples).
    A term that can apply here is the so called "orphaned work". If you were to look at your job/university contract (for something that requires a creative output) you will probably see a clause giving your company the rights to things you make (sometimes even in your own time). However companies go bust or simply sell the rights to something. Eventually it may to pass that nobody has any claim to the works and thus things can happen. Like most areas of copyright law this is a hotly debated area so read up (this is not so important for DS roms but for older systems someone may like to port a game from (length of time for software copyright is multiple decades in most places).
    Sidenote/talking point: Antigua recently suspended all copyright for US concerns and had it upheld as justified: <a href="" target="_blank">;oref=slogin</a>.
    The real matter here is the word specific implementation, you may argue that a rom hack is your own work and thus you are free to do what you will with it. However the copyright law creators thought of this and in actuality a rom hack is most likely a "derived work" which is as the name implies a work built from a/upon a copyrighted source. However companies tend to ignore such efforts from this standpoint (compare it to time shifting mainly in VHS era in the UK) assuming no money is charged but ripping sprites and using them again will tend to get you noticed. Similarly if the hack is likely to damage the company/brand image then they may act but this usually comes under the auspices of trademark law (see below). A known example of derived works being subject to such things is microsoft against the DOA volleyball title hackers on the original xbox.
    Companies naturally dislike the spread of roms so patches tend to be distributed containing only the data from the hack (saves on bandwidth too). The interesting part comes when data from one rom is swapping into the other as is the case in undubbing games (where a different (but official) soundtrack is swapped for the same game (usually a different region or for censorship purposes).
    One more point is the exceptions permitted, education and criticism purposes mean copyright can be ignored (reverse engineering was taught as part of engineering) and there is also fair use. This is a minefield but it basically boils down to rights given to make backups of data and certain other things being able to overrule copyright. The DMCA analysis at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> is a fair starting point (the whole site is based around the concept of fair use when it comes to copying/altering video and as such is not too far removed from rom hacking and purposes of this site).

    <b>Patents</b>: First this section will only be defining software patents at any significant depth, general patents are a different legal entity. The definition is a method of doing something (that is non obvious and original as well as having to work: see perpetual motion machines and patents) will be given a monopoly for reasons much like copyright above. The difference is method being granted a monopoly rather than a specific implementation although there is some overlap in the case of drug companies (patents are given to concoctions which is close to a specific implementation).
    US patents are generally he who makes it first (and can go some way to proving it) while European patents are first past the post into the patent office (see early telephone patents). The mere fact the the US and Europe is mentioned should indicate that there is a regional difference although there is a fair amount of similarity owing to international meetings and agreements.
    More on this:
    <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
    Software patents are a matter of huge debate, the main argument against is software is maths and to patent maths is not the done thing ( <a href="" target="_blank"></a> ). Arguments for are copyright as mentioned is for a very specific thing; it is well known google the big search engine/ad broker uses a method by which the number of links to a site determines what rank (i.e. how far up the list it appears) it gets. The actual algorithm used is not able to be used by others but there is nothing stopping anyone else using the same concept and thus robbing them of business "just as good as google". The US has software patents while the EU does not (perhaps overly broad, more info here: <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and <a href="" target="_blank"></a> ).
    As far as rom hacking is concerned the only real interest comes with things like patented formats for multimedia but little has arisen in this matter (a media format lives and dies according to how many people support it so a patent is usually only enforced to stop what is perceived as rogue use by certain parties.
    Sidenote many cases arise where overly broad patents are defined ("I have a new invention for a circular thing upon which things can be moved for great distances") and then used to cause hassle. Such an action is generally known as patent trolling and an example could perhaps be found in the various controller lawsuits over the years (of course a small company holding a patent could be doing so legitimately).
    Patent pending and patent granted (both usually with a number so it is possible to look it up) are used to refer to processes still having their patents checked and those given a patent. Both are afforded approximately the same legal protection but the former is given while the patent application is being checked (there are millions of existing patents, new patents and not so many staff).

    In computing this is an agreement between the person wanting to do something and person "selling". There are millions (or more) possible licenses (often minor tweaks on existing licenses) and the only thing they have in common really is to restrict what you can do. Broadly speaking there are two sorts of license the "copyright" license and the "copyleft" license. Copyright tend to be for closed source applications people try to charge money for while copyleft tend to be associated with free products but there are countless examples of things in both camps and neither.
    The interesting part is whether they are applicable to situations and how they are enforced (that is to say are they overstepping their mark: a license can not demand your head if you do something wrong). The capital punishment example is a bit extreme but in reality an example could be a license prohibits reverse engineering but the DCMA (usually given as an example of a badly thought out copyright law, it is a US law although many places in the work have similar laws these days) takes precedence and has a clause saying reverse engineering OK if it is for compatibility purposes. Other examples include right of resale/transfer of ownership: <a href="" target="_blank"></a> (this is recent but in the past people paid for companies thus gaining them but keeping the original company on paper only thus keeping the software).
    When it comes to copyright licenses the law is very unclear as the above examples begin to detail and in the case of copyleft there is almost no law or cases of prosecution (successful or otherwise) for failing to comply with it (see also the software as a service aka SaaS debate).
    Another interesting fact is that in many places a license is invalid if you present it after the point of purchase (and the 30 minutes between the shop and your house....).
    With most licenses prohibiting reverse engineering it is fairly obvious where rom hacking appears in that (rom hacking being applied reverse engineering). Other aspects include licensing for distribution which is one of the headaches facing people bringing games out of Japan if they feature multiple anime/manga stars.

    <b>Trademark/servicemark</b>. This is the name and general likeness of a matter (trademark is physical while servicemark deals with a service). With regards to this the tetris company has been fairly active in this arena (to the point where even alterations of the name are gone after, a preemptive action but see tepples' tetnus on drugs: see may 25th 2008 posting: <a href="" target="_blank"></a> ) but there are precedents in things like the giana sisters: <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and more recently blizzard and the starcraft homebrew app). Outside of computer games the superbowl (the final match in the American football NFL season) has been known to use trademark law in a manner many would regard as overzealous.

    Cryptography and reverse engineering.
    As mentioned cryptography is considered munitions by most countries in the world ( <a href="" target="_blank"></a> ) and is afforded a certain position in the law different to the copyright talked about up to now. For a crash course in cryptography see the rom hacking docs at the top of the forum (and in my signature).
    It stems from governments facing challenges policing the people (conspiracy theorists would say tracking and perhaps that is not entirely incorrect) but these days laws exist to force decryption keys to be given up.
    At the more extreme levels rom hacking deals with matters of cryptography and thus run afoul of the various regulations in place concerning matters of it. Most commonly this would be laws saying decryption of stuff that is not yours/or you have the permission of the people concerned is not OK.
    In the case of the wii this is the so called common key and is in actuality the product of two very large prime numbers. Owing to bugs in the decryption it is possible to fake a signed (signing is a cousin in both the physical and legal sense of cryptography) file and thus execute unsigned code.
    The key is an example of the so called public key part of the cryptography, the usual line given to stop the sharing of keys is decryption being illegal under the laws.
    However much like the DMCA and reverse engineering above (which has been used to argue for cryptography related matters in the case of the deCSS code) laws may allow for ways around it. For example the US has a law regarding free speech (with certain provisos) with speech also including certain actions and consequently code for computers (and freedom to do legal things on computers like say a homebrew channel).
    Reverse engineering is the action of taking a finished product (or something beyond the fundamental plans stage) and figuring out how it works (some however (and these can include those very well noted in the field) define it as merely taking the shape (or in the case of computers input data and how it manipulates it) and then anything beyond that as re engineering or something else). This is usually prohibited under license conditions and some copyright law but the importance of interoperability (see standards/ISO organisation) and so do certain laws so that is one exception. Academia is another exception and it can again get very complex. Generally speaking there are no cases (that I have seen anyhow) from rom hacking specifically where reverse engineering has been the angle of choice for which something has been gone after. Firmware/bios reverse engineering has been (usually as a means to an end) and so have some "chips" for consoles.

    Now if you will excuse me I have a headache that would put Mr Cobain to shame so I am off to sleep for a while. I have probably overlooked a large section but I will return when less bleary eyed (I think a short "FAQ" would be good: "What is the DMCA?" etc).
  2. nitrodude150

    Member nitrodude150 GBAtemp Regular

    Feb 2, 2008
    United States
    Laaaaaaammmeeeeeeee...... [​IMG]

    Romhacking is what highschool kids get to do on boring saturday afternoons when their parents are finally outta the house....
  3. Pyrofyr

    Member Pyrofyr GBAtemp Maniac

    Apr 24, 2008
    United States
    So... I noticed Intellectual Property isn't covered there. Interesting to say the least, but I don't honestly believe in these sort of 'laws' covering these, then again I don't believe in the formal way we deal with most copyright laws, for example holding the rights for 80 years after death. (Thanks to a clever 'murder' we now won't see water-powered cars until 2050 at the LEAST using the 'best' method)
  4. TSPhoenix

    Member TSPhoenix GBAtemp Regular

    Aug 7, 2007
    One additional thing I think needs to be brought up is translations, namely that the Berne Copyright Convention (which covers a lot of countries) and that it prohibits unauthorised translation. Its silly really and gets mostly ignored as you may have noticed online translators do exactly this.

    Its all very interesting but it really raises more questions than answers. What can and can't you do with abandonware? How much is too much when it comes to fair use? Nobody really knows.

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