[alsa-devel] Creative Soundblaster X-Fi

Takashi Iwai tiwai at suse.de
Sat Jun 30 00:58:50 CEST 2007

At Fri, 29 Jun 2007 13:21:06 -0500,
Ash Willis wrote:
> Hi all,
> Sorry for straying a little off topic, but talk of these couple of chips got me
> thinking about unsupported hardware in general.
> Does anyone know the legal implications of reverse engineering with regards to
> producing new drivers? I myself wouldn't mind reversing a certain chip or two
> but I'm not too aware of the legality of it all, particularly in the case where
> the vendor is hostile or unwilling to release chip information.
> In general, is it legally acceptable to reverse engineer for the purposes of
> interoperability?
> Are vendors likely to make a noise if their hardware gains support under Linux
> without or against their consent? or is it more a matter of protecting the
> original product specification than hiding details of the product's interface?
> Takashi, may I ask your thoughts on this? What's your position on accepting
> reverse engineered code? (Let's assume that the driver works as well as one
> written in a more correct manner ;))
> I'm fully aware that uncooperative vendors don't deserve to have their hardware
> supported, but I think that Linux users and Linux itself deserves the support.

IANAL, so just an empirical guess:  the Linux kernel has many device
drivers written after some reverse-engineering work, so it must be OK
in a certain level.  The reverse-enginnering itself is allowed in many
countries.  The question is rather the legality of the derivative
works.  My understanding is that the way of reverse-engineering is
also another point.  For example, snooping the protocol is a very
clean way, and a fairly safe way.  Disassembling is questionable, but
it'd be hard to prove only from the source code.  I've never heard of
complains from hardware vendors about it, though.

Anyway, I think the problem in the case of SB X-Fi is no juridical
but technical one.  Such a complex chip is likely very hard to do
reverse engineering.  Unfortunately, we have so far no contact with
Creative Labs, and I have no idea how real is their plan to release
the linux (even ALSA) driver as announced sometime ago...


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