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We are a small software consultancy. Several of our existing clients are unhappy with one of companies they have licensed software from (CompanyX) because that company started abusing their majority market position by increasing the prices significantly across the customer base.

Our customers are asking us if we would be able to help migrate their existing assets from the tool they currently use from CompanyX to a new tool either opensource or another commercial offering.

They are happy to share the CompanyX tool configuration files with us for the product they currently use, they hope we can analyse them and automatically migrate to a format compatible with other commercial or open source tools.

The CompanyX tool they use stores its configuration in a number of JSON files that are ZIP-ed up into one master-configuration file. Those JSON files contain instructions for the CompanyX software tool to perform certain tasks. The JSON files contain instruction and variable names that are abbreviations of the functions they represent. It is not a documented format, CompanyX does not disclose the schema of those JSON files. So we only would have samples provided by our clients.

  • Is it OK to extract those CompanyX ZIP configuration files and analyse the JSON files with a script to help our clients understand the scope of the migration project they are looking at?
  • Is it OK to create an automated migrator script that unzips those CompanyX ZIP files, inspects the JSON configuration files and translates them to a format that is readable by opensource tools and/or other commercial tools?
  • What are the risks we face when embarking on this journey?

We are a company based in the UK. Our clients are in different countries in Europe and US. CompanyX is based in the US.

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CompanyX has no duty to disclose the format or meaning of its configuration files, but neither has it any right to legal protection of them. As the configuration files are actually created by the clients using CompanyX's software, it has no copyright interest in them, any copyright belongs to the clients.

CompanyX might consider the format a trade secret, but reverse engineering is perfectly lawful, as long as it does not use improperly obtained information (such as from a person in violation of an NDA).

Is it OK to extract those CompanyX ZIP configuration files and analyse the JSON files with a script to help our clients understand the scope of the migration project they are looking at?

Yes, as long as you are careful not to claim more accuracy for the script than you can honestly assert.

Is it OK to create an automated migrator script that unzips those CompanyX ZIP files, inspects the JSON configuration files and translates them to a format that is readable by opensource tools and/or other commercial tools?

Yes, as long as you appropriately inform any clients of any uncertainty involved. I do not see how CompanyX has any valid claim against any developer creating such a script. Clients might have a claim if the script is oversold.

What are the risks we face when embarking on this journey?

You might not be able to analyze the files enough to do any good, and so have invested time that will not be paid for. You might not successfully decode all instances of the configuration files, particularly ones involving complex situations not typical and not frequent, and in those cases the converted files might not accurately cause the appropriate behavior in the new tool or application. Clients might expect more of the conversion script than it can reliably deliver.

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