The absolute best anti-reverse engineering clause I've ever seen

Because relevant US and EU software copyright law permits reverse engineering as "fair use", blanket contractual prohibitions on reverse engineering (eg, "Licensee will not reverse engineer, decompile, decode, decrypt, disassemble, or in any way derive source code from, the Licensed Software") might not be enforced. See eg SAS Institute, Inc. v. World Programming Ltd. (ECJ 2012); Vault v. Quaid Software Ltd. (US 5th Cir. 1988). These jurisdictions countenance reverse engineering as fair use if conducted in order to achieve interoperability between the licensed software and independently created software.

Most drafters of technology license agreements representing licensors recognize this, and consequently use the following commonly found formulation: "Licensee will not reverse engineer, decompile, decode, decrypt, disassemble, or in any way derive source code from, the Licensed Software, except to the extent enforcement of the foregoing is prohibited by applicable law."

The problem with this clause, however, is that it operates in a purely binary fashion: if the licensee's activities are within the legal contours of fair use, the anti-reverse engineering clause will not be enforced. If they are not, then the clause will be enforced. This type of clause is not much of an improvement over a simple blanket prohibition. No effort is made to attempt to define in advance what the parties would consider fair use.

A better anti-reverse engineering clause (like the one I've posted below) would anticipate the permitted uses of the licensed materials and require the licensee to seek such materials directly from the licensor prior to undertaking reverse engineering.


Licensee will not reverse engineer, decompile, disassemble or otherwise attempt to derive the source code, techniques, processes, algorithms, know-how or other information from the binary code portions of the MyClient Technology (collectively, "Reverse Engineering") or permit or induce the foregoing.  If however, directly applicable law prohibits enforcement of the foregoing, Licensee may engage in Reverse Engineering solely for purposes of obtaining such information as is necessary to achieve interoperability of independently created software with the MyClient Technology, or as otherwise and to the limited extent permitted by directly applicable law, but only if: (a) Reverse Engineering is strictly necessary to obtain such information; and (b) Licensee has first requested such information from MyClient and MyClient failed to make such information available (for a fee or otherwise) under reasonable terms and conditions. Any information supplied to or obtained by Licensee under this section is confidential information of MyClient subject to the obligations of Section [confidentiality], may only be used by Licensee for the purpose described in this section, and will not be disclosed to any third party or used to create any software which is substantially similar to the expression of the MyClient Technology.


[excerpted from Redline at]

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