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HelicopterComputer Flight SimulatorsReflex › Reverse-engineering of the Reflex XTR .mod fileformat
04-03-2005 08:59 PM  13 years agoPost 1
slow

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San Diego, CA

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I've just more or less completely reverse-engineered the fileformat used in the .mod files in XTR.

So, if anyone wants to build a new version of RMK or maybe make a plugin for 3D-studio or Maya, here's the information you'll need.

http://homepage.mac.com/slowcoder/modfiles.html

Remember, reverse-engineering is only a crime in the US.

/James

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04-06-2005 05:30 PM  13 years agoPost 2
bit64

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Reverse engineering may not be illegal in Norway, but copyright laws are enforcable worldwide. Also if you plan on selling or giving this product away outside of Norway, you are then bound by international copyright laws. It would be a whole lot easier just to ask for permission now to save a big headache later.

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04-06-2005 09:14 PM  13 years agoPost 3
slow

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Which copyright law would I be breaking?

I'm not distributing anything that is copyrighted by Reflex, nor am I in any way aiding someone else to do that.

/James

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04-06-2005 09:20 PM  13 years agoPost 4
dCypher

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Dallas

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It's actually totally shocking to me that neither reflex nor G3 either use standard file formats for their geometry, or at least release a plugin to do so.

A bare minimum would be to do what James has done and disclose the file format if they dont have the time/inclination to release a plugin.

There are thousands of Max/Maya users out there who would create tons of content for their products only making it more and more appealing.

Game developers due it regularly, so Im not sure why these two companies dont.

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04-06-2005 09:40 PM  13 years agoPost 5
bit64

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Slow, a similiar precedence was already set by Unisys when they decided to enforce their copyright of the LZW compression algorithm found in GIF images, since then GIF images have pretty much gone away and were replaced with .PNG. Copyrights are implicit, you don't need to apply for them. The message I am writing right now is copyrighted in fact. So yes, file formats fall under this category. Now unless a specific algorithm is used to generate the fileformats in XTR, which it may well be, then the format cannot be patented. Patents are different than copyrights, and are more enforceable.

However, I am not a lawyer, I just researched similar cases from history. I still think that you would be safer to ask Reflex first and then proceed. I'm not trying to stir up a debate, I just wanted to offer some insight, that may or may not be right


At any rate, have fun

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04-06-2005 09:43 PM  13 years agoPost 6
dCypher

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fwiw, the GIF format dissappeared for about 1000 other reasons than the Unisys claims on LZW, most notably its complete lack of transparancy and being a palletized format...

... the copyright issue just hurried things along...

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04-06-2005 09:56 PM  13 years agoPost 7
slow

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I thought it was the LZW algorithm that was patented by Unisys, and not the .gif file-format.. Without LZW, the .gif fileformat is nothing but a binary header though..

But, the point being, can you actually copyright fileformats?
You can stop people from creating files in your format, that much I know (Example: MS Word).
You can stop people from using your patented algorithm to create the files (Example: Unisys / LZW)

Please note that in the Unisys case, they wanted to get license-fees from the producers of software that could create gif-files. Not from the people that made the software that read the files..

I think I've got my bases covered.
I agree that asking Reflex politely would be the easy way out, but somehow it just feels wrong to ask to be allowed to do something that is your right ?

/James

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04-06-2005 11:46 PM  13 years agoPost 8
RCfan

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Longwood, FL USA

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Slow,

Keep up the great work. The only part I would really be careful with would be in the content you provide with RCFS (or whatever you'll rename it to). The scenery you included in your sample pic is no doubt Reflex copyright; I recommend you get permission to keep using that or find a public version of one. Regarding the file format, the .mod contains .bmp images in them, I'm pretty sure they are copyright as well, if not the .mod itself, hence you definitely need to make sure that you don't include any of the "stock" ones from any sim in your final distribution. I'm still working on a sample .mod to try to figure out the bitfield point settings. Will let you know as soon as I have them all.

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04-06-2005 11:55 PM  13 years agoPost 9
slow

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Very true, the scenery I've used for the screenshot is from XTR, which I hold a valid license for.
That file will of course not be included in RCFS, nor will any of the .mod files belonging to Reflex products.

Actually, I'm just waiting for the weather to clear up over here and the light to get "good", and I'm off to shoot my own field.
I've gotten permission from the author of the "JK Fury" .mod file, so that one will be included as well as my field.

/James

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04-07-2005 02:00 AM  13 years agoPost 10
bit64

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Redmond, WA

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But, the point being, can you actually copyright fileformats?

You can copyright anything, other than names and slogans. Those must be trademarked.

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04-22-2005 05:20 AM  13 years agoPost 11
3d4all

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USA

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The following are my informed opinions regarding reverse engineering of file formats, and you may or may not find them useful, and you are welcomed to challenge them (with facts):

Is reverse engineering an illegal activity?
No.
Many companies provide completely legal product reverse engineering services as their core primary business function.

Reverse engineering of software itself, is more often found to be improper, as software, at least the source code, is usually copyrighted. The compiled versions of these programs are typically protected through software agreements explicitly prohibiting their reverse engineering.

Reverse engineering of file formats, however, is a common practice; and without it, inter-compatibility between file-based applications would be all but non-existent.

That said, I'm most familiar with US rules, and EU law is evolving/changing as this is written; but it actually appears to be moving in the right direction so as to make this practice clearly legal, unless other laws are broken in the process (such as those mentioned by 'slow' (gave good advice)).

Are file formats inherently protected by law?
No.
• Copyright law does not protect file formats, as they are not conventional technical, literary or musical works. A file format is merely a container, which is useless without user data (content). If the content is not itself a copyright protected work, then it is permissible to apply alternate technology to retrieve user data, and/or to provide compatibility between separate programs. You will see something to that effect in subsection (f)(2) of Cornell University’s copy of the 2004 US code on “Circumvention of copyright protection systems”, which can be found at http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/1201.html

• Patents VERY rarely apply to file formats. Microsoft did successfully patent the ASF media file format, claiming specific rights to compression techniques. And although the reasons for their use of a patent of the ASF format are very arguable, it shows that even Microsoft knows that a file format would not be protected without such a patent. This is also what protected GIF by the way; not a copyright.

• Trademark laws are not applicable.

• Intellectual property rules apply to ideas, and would not be applicable to any form of file format. The concept of file formats themselves could be claimed; anyone remeber that guy/gal?

• Trade secret rules apply to information which must meet certain criteria, including the test of proving that the secret had been closely guarded. As file formats are everywhere in the public domain, they fail that test, and are not implicitly protected from reverse engineering.

So, if file formats are often considered proprietary, then what does proprietary mean?

The use of the term can imply ownership, but it doesn't neccessarilly hold up. Legitimate ownership of a work is meant to be protected, where applicable, by the above legal mechanisms. Further, the term ‘proprietary’ is often used to merely mean that something is specific to, or peculiar to, a company. Indeed, when you set about reverse engineering a file format, do you really know it is the original creation of the company who is using it? Often, no, not without their having a patent that proves this. One of the legal definitions of proprietary is that it is something “Held as property of a private owner”. But as files are meant to be shared with others, they cannot 'inherently' be considered as private property of, or owned by, a company, any more than the DWG file format can be considered owned by Autodesk (it's been reverse engineered for over a decade without legal challenge).

File formats have been openly reverse engineered for years in order to create compatible products that add value to the original product customers, and to the companies who interact with them. The companies whose products primarilly use the formats, don’t always appreciate this activity, but they almost always live with the practice; knowing that compatibility adds value to their customers’ use of their products. Indeed, inter-operability is desired, expected, and even a required characteristic of significant software programs in use today.

Now, 'bit64', on that copyright issue... You're just wrong. Copyright is not implied. It requires the specific use of the phrase "Copyright (c) My Company 1995-200n" or the equivilent, at the beginning of the protected work, and must be legally claimed; either by notarised witness, by postmarking it and sending it to yourself and leaving the received evidence unopened, or an equal measure. Otherwise, once in the public domain, it cannot be claimed. Thus, what you posted here is not copyrighted. Don't worry though, I won't re-use it. But any of you (or anyone else) can re-use what I've said here.

One has a responsibility to use the laws afforded them, and one cannot be protected by just saying they are. Without rules and controls, how else could you even prove it was you that said it?

Again, these are my informed opinions, and you are welcomed to them. But you should also bear in mind that I may be wrong. There's way too much ambiguity out there on this subject at the present time. So the thing that makes me most confindent in what I've said, is that there is far more evidence that file format reverse engineering is OK, than there is legal statute or trail results to the contrary.

Regards.
3D4All

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04-22-2005 05:41 AM  13 years agoPost 12
slow

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San Diego, CA

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Thank you for that informed and very thorough explanation, 3d4all.

Allthough, at this point it seems as we wont be able to use the .mod fileformat for the open-source simulator, as the fileformat simply doesn't contain enough information about the physical properties (yes, I know about the .par files) of the model.

It's also several generations behind modern fileformats for describing a 3D model, both in terms of scalable geometry, as well as functionality.

That being said, it has served its purpose, and I'll be looking into keeping compability with the .mod files, but I forsee a move to a more modern fileformat that will give us the possibility to give the community a simulator of the graphical quality that they deserve.

I'll probably be stepping on some tender toes here, but if we compare the models and rendering techniques used by XTR and AFP (dont own a copy of G3, so I cant compare with it) with games, they're of about the same quality as Quake1 was. Now, that ran just fine on my old Pentium 100MHz.. How come we dont get better framerates on modern machines?
What I'm aiming at now is to move the rendering engine up to the equivalent of Quake3, complete with scalable geometry, vertex/pixel shaders, per-pixel-lighting, and so on..

I want it to look like I'm at the field... I want to take a screenshot, and people should haveto look closely before they see it's a sim and not a real photo..

Pipe-dream? Perhaps.. But the sim has come a long way in a short time..
4 weeks ago: http://194.150.212.52/sim/Picture 1.jpg
2 days ago: http://194.150.212.52/sim/smoke.pdf

/James

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04-24-2005 09:32 AM  13 years agoPost 13
3d4all

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USA

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Nice picture and good progress. Keep up the good work, and I'm sure that you'll get where you're going. Good luck.

By the way, I'm not a normal visitor to this site. It was actually the conversation about reverse engineering of 3D data files that drew me in. When I saw you might be getting some bad advice, I thought I'd throw in a kroner's worth of commentary. It's a subject that's important to me so I've spent a bit of time researching it. I hope it was at least interesting.

Best regards,
3D4All

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04-24-2005 10:04 AM  13 years agoPost 14
slow

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San Diego, CA

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It most definitly was an interesting read. As you can see, the comments have completely died after your posting.

/James

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HelicopterComputer Flight SimulatorsReflex › Reverse-engineering of the Reflex XTR .mod fileformat
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