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I’ve searched through the questions/answers here and after reading several, I’m still confused about this situation.

Wile E. Coyote has purchased the latest and greatest Road Runner Acquisition and Tracking System (RRATS) from ACME. This product is configured from the front panel using dials, switches and displays on the device. The device also comes with a USB port, the proper cable and software that allows the configuration information to be loaded/saved from/to files on Mr. Coyote’s computer. ACME provides a considerable number of sample configurations on their website for end users to use directly or use as a starting point for their own configurations. There is an online user group that shares configuration files. (ACME does not run the user group, but does provide links to it from their website). Configuration files can also be purchased from independent companies online. ACME’s provided software only displays limited configuration information and is not designed to allow editing of the files.

Mr. Coyote is very much aware of inadvertent property damage, so he wants to have a hard copy backup of his configuration files in case something happens to his computer. Since the provided software does not have that capability, Mr. Coyote takes the time to create multiple configuration files with known settings, then analyzes them and creates his own program to interpret the files so that the configuration could be re-created manually instead of uploading it from the computer. He also prefers to work at his computer in his den instead of in the hot sun at the device, so his program also gives him the ability to modify the configuration files.

Mr. Coyote’s arm-chair understanding of the law makes him think that his actions are allowed based on fair-use.

Questions:

  • Is Mr. Coyote’s understanding of the law correct?
  • Are there limits on what Mr. Coyote could do with his program – i.e.:
  • Could Mr. Coyote release his program as an open-source project without ACME’s permission?
  • Could Mr. Coyote sell his program without ACME’s permission?
  • Do the answers of the above questions change if ACME is an EU based company and the device is purchased through an authorized distributor.

Obviously, Mr. Coyote will consult with a lawyer before he tries this in real life……

Additional keywords for searches: reverse engineer

  • In general, configuration files are your own data. Backing them up does not require any permission and would not require a fair use defense. Whose copyright do you think you would potentially be violating? They are your own configuration files. – Brandin Apr 17 at 5:22
  • @Brandin The company could claim that the format of these configuration files, specifically the section/variable names, falls under copyright. There is also the issue of Mr. Coyote's program (indirectly) interfacing with ACME's product, which many software companies, rightfully or not, seek to prevent. This is actually a very relevant (and difficult to answer) question. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Apr 29 at 16:31

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