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Scenario: I purchase a device (Chinese IP camera) from an online retailer (Amazon) that has a number of security vulnerabilities.

The firmware file is publicly accessible from the OEM's website and is basically a file system image that can be extracted. The webpages could potentially be modified to fix the issue.

From a legal perspective:

  1. Can I modify the webpage and upload it to my device?
  2. What about if a free tool was created to perform this modification on the firmware file that the user must first download from the OEM's site (not distributing the firmware with the tool)?
  3. What if that tool was monetised/commercialised in some way?

Physical example

  • I purchase a pen.
  • I modify the pen to better suit my needs.
  • I then give it away as a free sample.
  • I buy more pens, modify and then sell them.

The product was not copied at any point, just altered.

I realise that it is very difficult to never create a copy of the software as even loading it into memory creates a copy.

In this particular example no license was contained in the packaging, on the retailer's site (contract formed through purchase) and there was no license agreement displayed on the device when using the inbuilt website.

Country in question is England, but interested in any country.

  • Copyright protects against the creation of derivative works. If you modify computer code for which copyright is claimed, the modification is a derivative work and therefore subject to the copyright in the original work, regardless of whether you first made a verbatim copy. – phoog May 18 '18 at 17:07
  • @phoog Just to confirm, for the physical item I'm allowed to do the changes to repurpose it, right? But because the code is easily duplicatable and not confined to a single device it could be used for other purposes so gaurded against? – matt.baker May 18 '18 at 17:28
  • The code itself is probably protected by copyright. Using your pen example, suppose the pen is a tourist souvenir with an illustration of some tourist attraction, and your modification of the pen is a modification of the image, perhaps by changing some colors or redrawing a couple of lines. This would be an infringement of the copyright in the original image. – phoog May 18 '18 at 17:56
  • Oohh, good point. I was narrow mindedly thinking of the patent or registered design aspect in that instance, hadn't even considered that one. – matt.baker May 18 '18 at 18:01
  • @phoog Thanks for the information by the way – matt.baker May 18 '18 at 21:40
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Computer code is protected by copyright

This gives the owner the exclusive right to make derivatives of the work - like changing the web page.

If you make the change for personal use only, you are protected by the fair use/dealing exemption. If you distribute your changes, you aren’t.

  • Thanks for the info. Fair use seems to be the key item. With respect to a tool created to modify said firmware on an end-user's device (item 2), would that fall under a grey area (they are running the tool locally on their machine with the sole purpose of modifying the firmware for personal use, no software was distributed). I imagine the creation and distribution of such a tool due to its very specific purpose would not be legal, although not circumventing copy protection like a crack. – matt.baker May 18 '18 at 21:52
  • Distributing tools that are specifically designed to enable copyright breach is not legal. – Dale M May 18 '18 at 21:53

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