[LAU] VST and legal issues

Simon Wise simonzwise at gmail.com
Sun Nov 23 22:09:44 EST 2008

On 24 Nov 2008, at 2:44 AM, Jan Depner wrote:

> On Sun, 2008-11-23 at 15:49 +0100, Pieter Palmers wrote:
>> Rui Nuno Capela wrote:
>>> Dave Phillips wrote:
>>>> Grammostola Rosea wrote:
>>>>> I don't get the licence issue of VST on linux completely, help  
>>>>> me out with this.
>>>>> - Building Ardour, Qtractor, LMMS with VST-support is illegal,  
>>>>> right?
>>>> No. It is illegal to redistribute the Steinberg SDK (required for
>>>> building VST plugins). Its license is incompatible with many free
>>>> software licenses and the SDK cannot be added to typical Linux  
>>>> distros.
>>>> Btw, the developers of LMMS have reverse-engineered the required  
>>>> header
>>>> files from the Steinberg SDK, so it may be legally feasible to  
>>>> use that
>>>> code instead of the Steinberg headers.
>>> I do have my doubts about this part.
>>> The Steinberg license _explicitly_ prohibits the reverse- 
>>> engineering of
>>> the VST-SDK, not only the distribution or selling. Whether it's  
>>> moot or
>>> not is beyond me, IANAL, but IMHO, I'm afraid the LMMS/DSSI-VST  
>>> vestige
>>> header won't stand much in case of litigation.
>> No lawyer here, but how can the following be illegal?
>> 1) grab a VST plugin binary from somewhere
>> 2) write code that makes it work
>> provided that the license agreement of (1) allows reverse  
>> engineering.
>> and that haven't EVER accepted the VST license to achieve (2).
>> If I strip the engine from a Porsche, then design an 'adapter' to be
>> able to mount it in my 2CV, that's not illegal is it? If I were to  
>> use
>> the Porsche maintenance manual however, it might be.
>> The only question I have is whether plugins exist that allow reverse
>> engineering. But even if the Steinberg license requires developers to
>> include an anti-reverse-engineering clause in their software, it's  
>> not
>> the users responsibility if this is not present. It's that of the
>> developer releasing the plugin binary or code.
>> In summary: if you don't accept the Steinberg license agreement,  
>> how can
>> you be bound by it?
>> Again, I'm not a lawyer. I just wonder if I can be bound to  
>> something I
>> didn't agree to. I might be naive, but I live under the idea that  
>> this
>> is reserved for governmental legislation.
>     I am not a lawyer either but, to the best of my knowledge,  
> there has
> never been a "no reverse engineering" license tested in court.  I  
> do not
> believe that that kind of license restriction would hold up in court.
> If you sell or give me an item I have every legal right to take it  
> apart
> and look at it.  That has been addressed in the US with the auto
> companies trying to keep out third party service outfits.

again, I'm also not a lawyer, but I understand that the supposed  
legal basis of those restrictions is based on the assertion that you,  
as a buyer of the software, do not actually buy the software but  
instead buy a licence to use it in particular ways defined by the  
license you buy.

This is also the basis of open source licenses such as GPL, where it  
is carefully explained that the copyright owner(s) are NOT giving  
away ownership/copyright of the code, but instead give away a license  
for anyone to use it (and in the case of GPL modify and redistribute  
it) if AND ONLY IF they accept and abide by the terms of that license.

The legal justification for reverse engineering usually relies on the  
people doing the reverse engineering never accepting any of the  
restrictive licenses applying to the code AND never looking at any  
code or documentation published by the copyright owners relating to  
the code that is not clearly released into the public domain, so that  
it can be argued that the reverse engineered code is completely  
independent of the copyright material and was in no way derived from  
it. This may seem a thin reed to rely on, but it has been  
successfully argued as a defence in cases such as samba, where the  
windows file sharing system was reverse engineered and microsoft  
eventually gave up its legal fight against it.


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