1

Suppose you purchase a CD containing some computer software (e.g. a video game) and a perpetual license to use that software. Included on the disc are songs encoded as, for example, mp3 files. These are not encrypted and can be read/copied by a standard operating system. The mp3 files form part of the software in the sense that the software contains code to play the music as part of its usage experience (e.g. as background music for a title screen or menu).

My question is whether you have an implied license to use the music out of context, such as:

  • playing the music file with a third party media player application (i.e. not in the manner originally intended by the software designer)
  • transferring the mp3 files to another device (e.g. a portable music player) for the purpose of listening to them independently of the software on the CD.
  • trans-coding the music from one (unencrypted) file format to another (for example, compressing the music from .wav to .mp3).

I am in the UK, but am also interested in hearing about international approaches to this issue.

2

I can't answer UK specific, but I'll give you my best US-centric answer:

  1. playing the music file with a third party media player application (i.e. not in the manner originally intended by the software designer)

    • Probably not going to give rise to a copyright claim because no copy, other than the ephemeral copy that resides in RAM as you play, is made. You are still using your original copy, albeit decoding with a different application. However you need to review the software license terms to see if anything precludes this, like clauses preventing disassmebly, reverse engineering, etc, may be broad enough to prevent this use.
  2. transferring the mp3 files to another device (e.g. a portable music player) for the purpose of listening to them independently of the software on the CD.

    • You are making a copy, and not doing it for archival or backup purposes. This could probably give rise to a copyright claim if the author cared.
  3. trans-coding the music from one (unencrypted) file format to another (for example, compressing the music from .wav to .mp3).

    • Making a copy again, and it broadens your usage beyond the intended original license. If the author cared, it could probably give rise to a claim.

There are lots of fact-specific nuances that apply here. If you are doing this all for your personal use and not making any money from it, it is unlikely that the original author would care and less likely that a court would side with them. If you are posting to YouTube or selling copies, or other commercial-esque enterprise, you are more likely to face a successful claim.

  • Just because something says you can't reverse engineer it doesn't mean it's legally binding does it? I thought the law allows you to reverse engineer under any circumstances. in the US – LateralTerminal Dec 8 '17 at 16:36
  • I can condition something I give, like a license to content, on a provision like non-reverse-engineering. If you violate the clause, the downside is that you lose your license by violating the contract. You may still have other rights to the copyrighted content, like fair use rights, and be fine, but you are no longer covered under the license. I don't believe there is a blanket rule that non-reverse engineering clauses are per se invalid. – David Dec 9 '17 at 19:27

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