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How can I check if my code is used without my consent?


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#1 damix911   Members   -  Reputation: 201

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 01:16 AM

Let's say John is:
  • a developer and he wrote a cross-platform networking library for MMORPG;
  • or maybe he's a graphic artist and he designed, modeled, textured and rigged a game character;
  • or maybe he's a musician and he composed a theme and recorded it as MP3.
Now let's say he released his work under some free licence, which basically allow people to use his work free of charge in their projects, provided that they are ad-free and are not distributed via a smartphone market like App Store, Google Play or Windows Marketplace; instead he just wants to be acknowledged in the credits or in the about box of the application.

He also plans to provide a commercial licence, including some form of support, for people intending to sell their products via one of the aforementioned stores; in this case John wants to charge them, in some way.

Question 1) How can John check if his stuff is being used by people who didn't buy a commercial license?

It's probably impossible to detect all unauthorized usages, but maybe it is possible to design a system that automatically crawls the stores and performs some sort of analysis on the top-selling games.

Question 2) Are there systems like this in operation today?
Question 3) Do they take the form of a single web-crawler/analyzer?
Question 4) Or do they require the embedding of user/application specific information into the licensed content, possibly using a cryptographic authentication scheme?
Question 5) Should the content be delivered to the client in encrypted form?
Question 6) Are watermarking techniques useful for detecting unauthorized use of image and audio content in games?
Question 7) Is it reasonable to embed in a library an authentication routine that requires an Internet connection to John's servers? (I think it's not)

After you suspect that someone stole your content, I guess the next step is calling a lawyer, and if you are really sure, suing the offending developer/publisher.

Thank you for your help.

Have a nice day.

Dario

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#2 Ashaman73   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6691

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 02:17 AM

I don't know of any technical solution to this problem, nor think I, that it is possible in a satisfying way.

Abuse will most likely be uncovered by either accident or stupidness. I.e when they do not obfuscate libraries or art.

An other point is, that larger publishers and studios are not really eager to steal something, the bad press would be fatal. On the other hand, suing smaller studios or single persons are always risky. You need to invest some money in lawyers and the benefit might be small or not existing (larger publisher can do this for fun, but single persons ?).

He also plans to provide a commercial licence, including some form of support, for people intending to sell their products via one of the aforementioned stores; in this case John wants to charge them, in some way.

A lot of software is distributed under a free license, but they charge money for support and counseling, and it seems to work (i.e. Jboss).

#3 lTyl   Members   -  Reputation: 135

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 02:23 AM

I just want to make a quick note about this scenario:

or maybe he's a musician and he composed a theme and recorded it as MP3.

John can sell you a commercial license to use his work, however that does not mean you have a license to actually use MP3s. You will have to check the license specifics for MP3s and make sure your use fits within the license terms. If you want to use it for a commercial product, expect to pay.

Question 1) How can John check if his stuff is being used by people who didn't buy a commercial license?


Obvious answer is John maintains a list/customer database showing him who all licenses his work and for which product. John then finds out about a commercial product which does not appear on his list, so the assumption can be made it was not paid for.

Honestly, investing time and money into something to validate licenses for content like you mention is not worth the hassle in my opinion. The bigger studios are unlikely to steal content, smaller studios are not worth going after because they won't have the money to give you, so you invest in a expensive lawyer, and maybe even win a claims case, but then find out the other party has absolutely nothing to give you. You end up with less money than what you started with. US-based companies you can send them a DMCA/cease-and-desist letter, but even that is not guaranteed to do anything.

It's best to spend that time, effort and sanity on making high-quality work and focus on the clients who pay you to make that work.

Edited by lTyl, 20 September 2012 - 02:24 AM.


#4 bschmidt1962   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1711

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 09:45 AM

For audio, there are systems that can "listen" to a digital audio recording and create a sort of audio fingerprint. I have heard that YouTube uses something like this to try to detect unauthorized uploads of commercial music content from the major labels.

Game code would be virtually impossible to detect-- re-compile with different compiler flags or with a different compiler and the executable will look nothing like the original. So unless there are specific data protocols you could look for with packet sniffers, etc, that would be exceedingly difficult to detect.

Yes, there are techniques to watermark art/music, but you have to know to go look for the watermark.

In short, it's terribly easy for someone to make unauthorized use of your work, particularly if you post some of your work on the internet in any form.

The bright side is that, unless the product is very successful, no one will probably hear/know about the infringing product. So aside from moral outrage at the unauthorized use of your work, you're not really out anything. And if the game becomes successful enough that you or someone else has heard about it-- then you probably have an open and shut case unless they can come up with a written license agreement for your work.

Any legitimate game publisher will do their best to make sure they have proper rights to all their content.

Its not uncommon for clients to send (and receive) password protected zip files to transfer content (screen shots, mp3 files, etc.) to each other.


Brian Schmidt
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#5 damix911   Members   -  Reputation: 201

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 01:50 AM

Ashaman73, lTyl, bschmidt1962, thank you for your help; I'm happy to hear that it is a little bit of a secondary problem.

#6 mdwh   Members   -  Reputation: 821

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Posted 28 September 2012 - 08:24 AM

If you're that worried about it, then maybe simply drop the "free" licence. Whilst giving away things are nice, it's worth noting that such licences aren't as useful as you might think - not only are they ruling out commercial use, this also rules out use for Free/Open Source development, so neither of the two major worlds can really make use of it anyway. Also a self-written licence tends to be risky because it can be uncertain what it specifically can and can't be used for (e.g., Is distributing from a website with ads, or a Magazine CoverCD, "commercial use"? What happens if in 5 years time the distinction between smartphone, tablet and PC is even more blurred than it is now, with online stores being used to distribute all three?)

Of course people could still pirate the commercial versions, but it seemed you were worried about people getting hold of the "free" versions easily, and misusing them.
http://erebusrpg.sourceforge.net/ - Erebus, Open Source RPG for Windows/Linux/Android
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mark.harman/conquests.html - Conquests, Open Source Civ-like Game for Windows/Linux




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