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I have created a piece of software that converts a proprietary format from the database blob of a large, well known commercial software company into the equivalent open source data type. The large commercial software company states the following on their copyright and trademarks page "This work is protected under United States copyright law and other international copyright treaties and conventions." and links to the DMCA.

I was able to create the software because most details of the format were published in a post on their support forums and the rest I reverse-engineered.

I now wish to open-source my software so others can use it. My question has two parts:

  1. Can I open-source this at all without getting sued?
  2. Can I refer to the trademarked product the file format came from in my software and documentation? (I'm assuming I can't use it in the name of my software)

I'm in the UK. The large software company is in the US.

  • Did you copy any of their work? – user3851 Apr 4 '16 at 15:27
  • This question might do better on Open Source. – feetwet Apr 4 '16 at 15:36
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The words "proprietary format" are important.

Are you sure the format is proprietary? If it is, then it's likely protected in which case they might have grounds to sue (but that does not mean they would definetly win).

If the format is not proprietary, and so long as you don't share data which is proprietary then I believe you fine.

I'm not a lawyer - but I cite GIF files as an example. They were still protected by the US and some other countries until at least the late 90s and there were various threats to open source linux companies who shared code that used the file format. I'm not aware of anything other than threats and never heard of any company being sued, let alone winning or losing.

Another example that comes to mind is the RedHat ISO format. My understanding is RedHat could not stop anyone from sharing open source, but they could prevent folks from sharing the format they assembled and shared the open source. Again, I am not sure if it was ever tested in any court of law anywhere.

  • "RedHat ISO"? I'm not aware of any new format they have invented; the ISO 9660 file format on its own is certainly not Red Hat's, it's only the contents which are. – grawity Jul 7 '16 at 10:41
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    I can see how you misunderstood what I wrote... Let me clarify... The physical data - the ones and zeros so to speak - if you were to physically duplicate a Red Hat installation DVD, you would be breaking copyright law. They realised they could not protect the software, but they could protect the effort they put into assembling the software as it is a source of income for them. – fiprojects Jul 8 '16 at 10:40
  • I suspect what the OP wants to do will ruffle feathers but could be considered legal. I see it akin to using Torrent. Have a Torrent program on your computer is not illegal, but using it to download a movie would be illegal - thus, I see this akin to the OP having written something like Torrent (a tool that shares data) and that the act of breaking the law would depend on a user using the tool to copy data that is protected. – fiprojects Jul 8 '16 at 10:46
  • @fiprojects are you saying that using a tool to transform let's say a docx into a different format, e.g. a png is breaking the law? So even making screenshots could be considered to be illegal? – lucidbrot May 6 '18 at 10:20

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