Reverse Engineering of Software

copyright 1997 Donald M. Cameron , Aird & Berlis


What is Reverse Engineering?

"Reverse engineering" is the term usually used for taking apart a commercial product to see how it works so that such information can be used to develop another product. Reverse engineering is common in the auto industry where automobile companies purchase a product made by a competitor and disassemble it to examine how the welds, seals and components of the vehicle are put together.

Reverse engineering is relatively easy. When software is involved however any copying of the software other than for the purpose of "using" the software to execute would likely constitute unlicensed use. In particular, any decompiling of object code into source code would constitute a copying of the computer program, likely without the permission of the copyright owner.

Prohibiting Reverse Engineering

Software licence agreements often contain clauses prohibiting the licensee from reverse engineering the software so that any "secrets" or programming techniques are not divulged to the licensee.

The Licensee agrees not to decompile or otherwise copy or use the computer program to reverse engineer the software.

The European Software Directive

The European Community has contemplated permitting copying of software in order to allow reverse engineering so that inter-operability can be achieved.

Such copying would not be permitted if the copyright owner disclosed to the public sufficient information to allow other programs to inter-operate with the computer program.

United States of America

In the United States, reverse engineering would be permitted where there is no agreement to prohibit it.

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