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I sell game hacks for a living, but wanted to learn more about the laws regarding what I do.

Most of you probably haven't heard of this, but there are people like me who reverse engineer games, and make software that exploit the games code and memory in order to gain an advantage.

Basically, we have to reverse games to know where the game stores different information, like your players health, position, and weapon. Reverse engineering involves taking an executable you get when you buy the game, and seeing where the code stores information.

Based on this information, you can make a program to access the information you found while reversing, and modify it to give you an advantage.

I've only read some stuff on the DMCA, but I am unsure if this qualifies for it. Most games have an "anti-cheat" which try to detect people who use cheats and ban them from the game. As a cheat developer, you have to bypass these counter measures, and sometimes these counter measures are present in the executable in the form of packing / obfuscation which just makes it harder to analyze.

If I take information from an executable given to me since I bought a game, and make a game cheat based on the information then sell, is this illegal?

If you have any questions, let me know. I live in the United States.

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  • There may be several layers to this. The question of it being legal in the eyes of the law. The question of it being in compliance with the terms of the EULA. The question of it being legal in the eyes of the law to sell code to others with the intent that they violate their EULA. This is further compounded by the complexities introduced if the game is online and multiplayer and might be used in eSports, particularly if it drags in any form of betting. Or if the game has any form of in game commerce. Commented Feb 4, 2018 at 22:09
  • @JasonAller Personally, I'm a minor so it doesn't really apply to me, usually they just say it's not allowed and they reserve the right to suspend your account if they detect you cheating. For the purposes of this question, lets keep it at general multiplayer online gameplay. No money involved. The game is a paid game which may have an in-game skin system.
    – user13525
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 0:24
  • 1
    "given to me since I bought a game" - you don't buy a game, you buy a license to play a game. Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 18:02
  • Are they multiplayer or single player games? Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 3:34

5 Answers 5

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Yes

The relevant legal concepts are copyright, contract law and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. You are liable to be sued by the people affected for damages and/or be prosecuted by the government for the felony under either or both laws.

Let's start here: "I bought a game". No, you didn't; you bought a licence to use the software in accordance with the terms of service (licence) that you freely agreed to. All modern ToS will not allow you to reverse engineer the software.

If you breach those terms of service then you have broken a contract - that is what allows them to sue you. They will no doubt argue that the prevalence of cheat routines developed by people like you reduce the number of people willing to play the game - say 100,000 users x $10/month * 12 months = $12,000,000. They will also ask the court to impose punitive damages to discourage this sort of thing.

Which brings us to the copyright violation. You are allowed to copy their software provided you comply with the ToS. But you didn't. Therefore you are in breach of the Copyright Act and subject to additional civil and criminal sanctions.

Finally, your "cheats" access their servers in a way that the ToS doesn't authorize. This puts you in breach of the CFFA - breaking this carries serious jail time penalties. Not to mention that in the US, a criminal conviction will preclude you from many jobs, including, naturally, any with access to company computer systems.

Putting aside the illegalities, cheats are unethical and ruin the game experience for hundreds of thousands of people who don't use cheats.

You are a criminal - stop being one!

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 0:51
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This appears to be criminal infringement. I'm going to try to point to the places in the law that make this illegal, step by step.

17 U.S. Code § 106 - Exclusive rights in copyrighted works says:

Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;

The definition of a derivative work is here:

A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.

This seems to apply to what you're doing - you're modifying the original work to create a new one.

According to 17 U.S. Code § 501:

Anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner as provided by sections 106 through 122... is an infringer of the copyright

Since you don't have permission to create a derivative work (and don't seem to qualify for an exception like fair use), you're infringing the owner's exclusive right to do this. You are therefore officially infringing.

Not all infringement is criminal - but it appears yours is. 17 U.S. Code § 506 - Criminal offenses says:

In general.—Any person who willfully infringes a copyright shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, if the infringement was committed—
(A) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;

You say you're selling it, so almost certainly it's for private financial gain, and I can't describe your infringement as anything but willful. So you appear to qualify for criminal charges, if the federal government felt like prosecuting you.

If you look at 18 U.S. Code § 2319, you can see the penalty is as follows:

Any person who commits an offense under section 506(a)(1)(A) of title 17—
(1) shall be imprisoned not more than 5 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense consists of the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of at least 10 copies..., of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $2,500;
(2) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense is a felony and is a second or subsequent offense under subsection (a); and
(3) shall be imprisoned not more than 1 year, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, in any other case

So, on a first offense, it's up to 5 years in federal prison assuming you're doing at least 10 copies and $2500 worth of infringing software per 180 days, and up to 1 year in federal prison if you're doing less business than that.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 0:52
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When you talk about creating a "cheat" or a "hack" for a video game you could be talking about a myriad of different things, which is what I assume has confused the other posters into giving incorrect and misguided information in response to your question (especially surrounding the negative stigma of the word hack in the legal field).

I will answer under the assumption that you are talking about creating and selling a bot for a video game, and not hacking into a video game server or stealing and selling game currency.

Let's discuss this under US law and make a few assumptions, which is what I assume you mean by a game cheat. By making these assumptions we can avoid a lengthy discussion on topics such as wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering, etc.

It is my understanding the common commercial cheat has the following:

  • A standard bot to automate some behavior eg an aimbot and features to enhance visuals (coloring enemies through walls, adding textual information, a radar).
  • The bot runs on your computer
  • The bot acts as an accessory program to the game. Users must still hold a valid license of the game to use it, eg, no piracy is involved.
  • You are selling the bot

Let's examine the law

Derivative Work

  • As per Lewis Galoob Toys Inc v. Nintendo of America Inc the cheat would not incorporate any copyrighted work in any concrete or permanent form. It would be a computer program consisting of it's own algorithms and instructions with copyright belonging to it's author. Hence, it would not be considered a derivative work.

Copyright Infringement

  • As per MDY Industries, LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc the cheat would not be liable for copyright infringement because the End User License Agreement's clauses which prohibit cheating would be considered contractual covenants and not license conditions. Hence, it would not be considered copyright infringement or contributory copyright infringement.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

  • As per MDY Industries, LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment the license conditions prohibiting cheating would be considered contractual covenants so we would still be accessing the game server within our authorization. Several courts have ruled similarly: Terms of Service cannot be used to determine what access is considered unauthorized. Even more, the DOJ has stated so in their own press release here, page 3.

DMCA Anti-circumvention

  • If the game has no anti-cheat, then there are no violations.
  • If the game has an anti-cheat, it must control access to the server (what would be called the dynamic non-literal elements in the MDY case) and upon detecting your cheat it should block access immediately to the server. If the anti-cheat implements any kind of delayed banning mechanism (delayed as in days or weeks, not minutes or hours), it would most likely not be considered an effective measure hence I would argue there would be no circumvention.
  • If the game does have an anti-cheat that blocks access immediately to the server and you have circumvented this by modifying your cheat to unblock it after it has been blocked then the infringement must also be willful: Typically you would be warned and told to stop and made aware that your actions of selling the cheat are harmful. Ignoring this warning and continuing to sell your cheat and continuing to unblock it from the anti-cheat would be considered willful infringement.
  • If the above point holds, the outcome is not clear because there is a circuit split between the Ninth Circuit (MDY Industries) and the Federal Circuit (Chamberlain I and II). I am not aware of any criminal charges being made ever in the United States for DMCA Anti-Circumvention violations where there is no direct nexus between copyright infringement and anti-circumvention (as in this case)- and the fact that there is a circuit split on this very matter makes me believe we won't see any unless the laws change. But it is clear under Ninth Circuit jurisdiction you would be liable for civil remedies.

Civil Remedies

Without expanding into this too much, many game cheat developers have been made to pay large amounts of money in court.

Conclusion

Will you face criminal penalties? No. Will you be sued in court for obscene amounts of money and lose? Absolutely.

My advice? Don't sell cheats. These companies have huge legal teams and you will probably go broke from lawyer fees before you even step in court.

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To be clear - they are selling a software. They are not 'reselling' a modified version of the game. Which is why anti-cheat measures are in place. They are selling their own product which is capable of modifying a game while playing it. Selling a cheat isn't illegal. You are not breaking the ToS if your not the one using it. The EULA is by definition END USER license agreement. The consumer purchases the cheat they are breaking their own EULA. If I am to take a game and resell it for my own personal financial gain than yes thats copyright. But if I am selling my own software that just so happens to be able to incorporate itself into their software. Thats a simple ToS breach by the END USER.

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  • Not only does this ignore actual law, it's demonstrably wrong, as the other answers show.
    – user4657
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 22:52
  • Interference with a contract and even RICO Bungie vs. Elite Boss Tech
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 22:53
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I have to disagree with the accepted answer here. It missed an important part of the DMCA concerning reverse engineering.

This is legal.

I don't think much of people who cheat in multiplayer games, nor do I have a high opinion of people who sell these hacks... But making the hacks is not a breach of contract due to a loophole created by the DMCA.

Long winded explanation

It is illegal to reverse engineer software if that is against the onerous terms of service you sign when you install it. And all software (excepting FOSS) have language against reverse engineering their software (spoil sports).

But, there is an exception to that rule. If we pull up the relevant sections of the DMCA:

(f) Reverse Engineering.— (1) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a)(1)(A), a person who has lawfully obtained the right to use a copy of a computer program may circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a particular portion of that program for the sole purpose of identifying and analyzing those elements of the program that are necessary to achieve interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, and that have not previously been readily available to the person engaging in the circumvention, to the extent any such acts of identification and analysis do not constitute infringement under this title. (2) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (a)(2) and (b), a person may develop and employ technological means to circumvent a technological measure, or to circumvent protection afforded by a technological measure, in order to enable the identification and analysis under paragraph (1), or for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, if such means are necessary to achieve such interoperability, to the extent that doing so does not constitute infringement under this title. (3) The information acquired through the acts permitted under paragraph (1), and the means permitted under paragraph (2), may be made available to others if the person referred to in paragraph (1) or (2), as the case may be, provides such information or means solely for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, and to the extent that doing so does not constitute infringement under this title or violate applicable law other than this section. (4) For purposes of this subsection, the term 「interoperability」 means the ability of computer programs to exchange information, and of such programs mutually to use the information which has been exchanged.

So if you are reverse engineering a piece of software for the purpose of transferring information to/from another piece of software (say a cheat engine). Then that reverse engineering is being performed for the express purpose of interoperability, as such it is legal according to the DMCA. (Note, this legal loophole is something that I am aware of because reverse engineering ancient software so that I can write a communication interface between it and something else, is something that I have done. And the lawyers said it was legal).

I don't like cheat engines and think they make many games not fun (I am only referred to cheat engines for competive games, I don't care a feather or fig about MMOs).

So from that perspective. This is not in violation... That being said a lot of games have TOS against cheating, and technically this is creating a program whose sole purpose is to help an individual break the TOS. It is a dark grey area.

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  • You missed the point by a long shot: The creation and distribution of a derivative work is copyright infringement - cheat software that is for just one game is a derivative work. Interference with contracts is illegal. Selling a product that forces the user to violate their licenses is interference with a contract.
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 22:50
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    For an example of why you are wrong: Bungie vs. Elite Boss Tech, especially Docket 78: JUDGMENT BY COURT in favor of Bungie Inc against Daniel Fagerberg Larsen. Default judgment is entered in Plaintiff's favor. Plaintiff is entitled to recover: (1): $13,530,000 for violations of the DMCA; (2) $300,000 for violations of the Copyright Act; (3) $1,999,998 for violations of RICO; and (4) $267,887.10 in attorney fees and $80,263.92 in costs, for a total of $16,178,149.02.
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 22:56
  • Only if that cheat software is specific to a single game... If it is a general purpose cheat engine, it is not derivative software. And cheat software doesn't force people to violate their contract, it allows them to, but doesn't force them to. That makes it a gray area... Much like lock picks enable people to pick doors, but doesn't force them to. The accepted answer claimed that it was illegal because revere engineering is against the TOS, but as shown here, that claim is wrong.
    – Questor
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 22:56
  • Please read the EULA of any game with online component, especially shooters. For examle, Fortnite:
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 23:04
  • 2. You may not do or attempt to do any of the following with respect to the Software or any of its parts: [...] (i) behave in a manner which is detrimental to the enjoyment of the Software by other users as intended by Epic, in Epic’s sole judgment, including but not limited to the following [...] running or using methods which are not authorized by Epic and which interfere with the outcome and/or the course of the Software (including Cheats, bots, scripts, or mods not expressly authorized by Epic)
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 23:04

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