Clean room reverse engineering

Marc Whipple MWhipple at
Fri Dec 4 20:58:37 UTC 2009

I am a lawyer, but I may or may not be licensed to practice in any jurisdiction relevant to the participants in this discussion, and nothing in this message should be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and familiar with the relevant law before making material legal decisions.

Is it reasonable to take from the OP's comment that what he means is to put a production staff in a room with a verbal description of the game and tell them, "Do that?" Or would the "clean room" contain a copy of the actual game but not allow any staff members to look at the underlying materials through decompilers, text editors, or whatever? I'm not sure I understand how you can do what he suggests. If the OP or anyone more familiar with this sort of thing as it relates to software could expand, I would be grateful.

In any event, the concept of "reverse engineering" copyrighted material is nonsensical under US law (and the law of many other countries.) If you had enough access to it to reverse engineer it, you didn't make a new work, you copied an old one. If your new work otherwise is infringing, the fact that you "reverse engineered" it rather than making a literal copy is irrelevant. The question is, of course, whether your new work is otherwise infringing. If it's not it doesn't matter: if it is, it still doesn't matter. The Borland case cited by another poster is a good counterexample - you could "reverse engineer" a spreadsheet in terms of function, because the user-facing elements of a spreadsheet's *functionality* are not copyrightable. (That's what patents are for.) But game maps and storyline are not functional elements and I don't understand how you isolate your production staff from the old work and still get enough resemblance that they could be substantially similar.

From: mdtiemann at [mailto:mdtiemann at] On Behalf Of Michael Tiemann
Sent: Friday, December 04, 2009 2:34 PM
To: Vlad Stanimir
Cc: license-discuss at
Subject: Re: Clean room reverse engineering

I think you should consult a lawyer to get specific legal advice.  Or, as DVD Jon did, just do it, and hope the EFF protects you!
On Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 7:03 AM, Vlad Stanimir <vladbv2006 at<mailto:vladbv2006 at>> wrote:
I was considering a clean room reverse engineering project of a proprietary computer game, but i am unsure of the legality of doing this especially of things like game maps and storyline.

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