What on earth is "reverse engineering" a DVD?

I just read the boilerplate legal warning on one of my DVDs, and I noticed that it included the following “…copying, transmission, public performance, alteration or reverse engineering is strictly prohibited.” What is reverse engineering of a DVD? Aside from the content, there’s nothing propietary on there, right? If the standard wasn’t pulic knowledge, it wouldn’t work. Any ideas?

I wonder if that part is just a CYA (cover your ass) for possible future technology?

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_engineering

In the case of a DVD, perhaps to find out how the copy protection functions so as to devise a software tool to circumvent it.

The scientists at Area 51 were trying to reverse-engineer the technology in the spaceship discovered at Roswell, until they discovered a small sticker on the underside of the ship prohibiting such activity.

Scientists hate getting sued by aliens.

Reverse-engineering is the process of painstakingly building back the contents of the DVD based on what you observe on it.

For example, one possible hack is to borrow a movie DVD, make very detailed notes of the dialog and scenes, and then go out and find lookalike actors, build look-alike special effects, and shoot an “exact” copy of the movie recorded on the DVD. This allows viewers to have a replica of the movie without paying the $19.99 that it costs in the store. It is obvious why they would want to prohibit this.

That’s illegal? Damn, there goes my plan to make a bundle by re-creating Heaven’s Gate

In the case of DVDs, I suspect what they really mean is that you’re not allowed to break the encryption and extract the raw video files.

The decryption process is public knowledge to the extent that any DVD player can do it in the process of playing video to a TV. It just happens to be a federal crime to decrypt the data for the purpose of saving the video files or otherwise manipulating them on a computer.

The data on your DVD is encoded according to a proprietary standard designed to make decoding the data very difficult; this is how licensing of DVD reading technology is supposedly enforced. Reverse-engineering this encoding method is specifically what you’re prohibited from doing.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dvd_jon

Note that while it hasn’t been tested in court (to my knowledge), under the DMCA in the US any reverse-engineering at all is prohibited, regardless of the purpose. Your DVD player can read your DVD’s, but the manufacturer paid for a license to be able to do so. Any attempt to “circumvent” this encoding is considered against provisions in the law.

I have opinions on the issue but this is GQ so I’ll leave it at that.

Not sure that I quite like that definition; reverse engineering doesn’t necessarily involve examining the workings in detail; in fact in many cases, steps are taken to make sure that this doesn’t happen; function is what’s examined/copied, not workings.

I’m pretty sure this is what happened when cloned IBM PCs first hit the market; the BIOS had been built to function in the same way as IBM’s own, but it had been done with great care to insulate the designers from the details of the inner workings; as I understand it, this meant they couldn’t be accused of copying design even if they should happen to stumble upon the same solution.

I should have said this in my post above, but I wasn’t specifically clear on this point: DVD player manufacturers pay for a license to be able to read DVD encoded/CSS encrypted discs. So, it is not intended to be public knowledge at all, although the encryption used is trivially easy to break these days.