This question asks users to determine a function involved in the inner working of a software. The identity of the software is unknown at the time of asking this question and it might possibly be proprietary and protected by copyright law. If the question is answered the function may be used for reverse-engineering the software. The OP has not given any indication of their reasons for wanting the function and it may be assumed in good-faith that they have no intention of reverse-engineering the software in such a way, but others may still do it.

I am not sure what the legal situation is in this case. It may even be entirely legal to reverse-engineer the software in this fashion with no decompilation involved.

I feel that the software is likely to be under copyright as the OP could just check the source code if it were Open Source software, but that does not necessarily mean anything.

In light of the above, it may be reasonable to consider the views of the Community and Stack Exchange Inc. regarding the matter, and I ask this question here to do the same. Specifically, what to do with this specific question and what is the general policy regarding such matters?


The OP has identified the software as Unity a proprietary software by Unity Technologies ApS.

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    $\begingroup$ If the user 1) has a legal copy of the software, 2) hasn't signed/agreed certain thing when it get hold of the product 3) use any information not supposed to be known to the public 4) bypass any software protection of the product itself. The case of filing a copyright violation to court is slim. For the case of Unity, if the source is not available, then the whole thing looks more like a issue of trade secret than copyright violation. Things keep as trade secret doesn't have same legal protection as copyright violation against reverse engineering. $\endgroup$ – achille hui May 2 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how relevant the community's view is here. I don't think it's a copyright violation, but what would I know? I haven't worked in copyright law since never ever. $\endgroup$ – Theo Bendit May 2 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ Thinking more about this, what that user has done is properly fine legally (disclaimer: this is not a legal advice. For legal advice, you need to consult a lawyer). However, it may violate the agreement on subscriber content when we signup on stackexchange network. $\endgroup$ – achille hui May 2 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ This shouldn't be seen as legal advice (since I'm not a lawyer), but I would be shocked to learn that there is any problem of intellectual property here. An algorithm cannot be copyrighted, only a specific implementation of that algorithm (i.e. the source code). There is no attempt here to disassemble the program or to procure the source code, hence I see no issue on that front. In principle, it is possible to patent an algorithm, but (1) I suspect that this one isn't worth the hassle and (2) if it were patented, it should be possible to answer the question by citing the patent. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 2 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ Note that my last comment is from the point of view of US law. I suppose that there are other places where things might be different. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 2 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ A more direct line of action to take would be to send off a message to Unity, who can enjoin stackexchange if it is an issue or not. Not that our armchair lawyer conversation isn't interesting, I just thought this might be more efficient :) $\endgroup$ – rschwieb May 2 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ Another thing to check on is the license agreement provided by Unity for its software. I've seen a few such agreements with various restrictions about things like reverse-engineering the code, and sometimes also doing various other things to determine how the code works. If a statement like this is there, depending on how it's worded, it could affect the legality of what this user is trying to do. The user may wish to check this themselves, plus I suggest we err on the side of caution if we're not sure ourselves, especially as most of us are "armchair lawyers". $\endgroup$ – John Omielan May 2 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ @John Be aware that here is plenty of nonsense written in "license agreements" that is completely unfounded legally. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 2 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ Question: What's the next number in this sequence: $286, 386, 486,\ldots$? Answer: Pentium. The reason for this, which vaguely related to this question, is that you can't copyright a number. Also related, certain numbers it can be illegal to own and disseminate such as cryptography keys. $\endgroup$ – user334732 May 9 at 19:46

I see it like this:

  • either OP can present a geometric problem and ask for an algorithm for it, in which case the legal problem goes away,
  • or they cannot, in which case the question is off-topic and the point is moot.

I put the question "on hold" until OP clarifies for what specific problem they seek an algorithm.

Regarding the "off topic": there may not be universal agreement that this is off-topic, but regarding mathematical software at least some hold the opinion that taken strictly only conceptual questions are really on-topic.

"How to do Y in X?" and "How does X do Y?" are not on-topic. What is on-topic is "What is an algorithm to do Y? For example X is capable of doing this."

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    $\begingroup$ For people scrolling down here, I am not a lawyer, but... Copyright applies to the expression of an idea. You can't copyright an idea itself. That means with regarding programming, the code you produce is copyrighted, the exact documentation is copyrighted, but the idea of your software is not. If someone can write code from scratch that does the same as yours, there is no copyright issue. They might still hold a software patent (unfortunately), but that is separate from copyright. $\endgroup$ – orlp May 4 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure that "how to do Y in X" is off topic. The help-center list of things that are on topic explicitly lists "Software that mathematicians use (except Mathematica, which has its own Stack Exchange site)" since time immemorial. I wouldn't personally mind seeing those questions go away (though there are not so many of them that they're any real annoyance), but removing them would seem to need more process than an aside in a meta question about something else. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm May 4 at 12:16
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    $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm The on-topic in the help-center does not match current practice overly well, exactly because it gets hardly ever revised, and if so in local way. It would be in need for an overhaul. In practice questions that amount to support questions are quite often closed of course not always either. I personally don't have very strong feelings about this, but it came up at times. But, yes, as said there may not be universal agreement. But really it's not something to which the site caters, which is documented by the relative scarcity of such questions. $\endgroup$ – quid May 4 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ Of course there is also some vagueness in the what they "Y" is. I intended it as something quite narrow. "How to plot a $\sin(x^2)$ on given interval in MATLAB?" I doubt that would be considered as acceptable when discussed. (Of course such questions might still get an answer at times. As on other counts, many unsuitable questions still get through.) By contrast, if the question is more mathematically substantive, then it might be different. Note eg the tag excerpt "For mathematical questions about MATLAB; questions purely about [...]" math Q are good, others sent away @HenningMakholm $\endgroup$ – quid May 4 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry for yet another comment @HenningMakholm Here is an old thread math.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9073/… with inovelment of various current and former mods. I think basically it's still like that and this is more or less what I meant to convey. $\endgroup$ – quid May 4 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: Hmm, the most upvoted answer to that question seems to be unambiguously in favor of allowing such questions. Asaf's answer is more equivocal but still would welcome some "how to do Y in X questions". $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm May 4 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm that answer is also by far the most down-voted one. ;-) As usual a lot is a matter of interpretation there. Again a lot depends what the Y is. In the thread one also finds the opinion 'I would go further and say that if the question is peculiar to a particular symbolic math computation system then it is probably not a mathematical question, e.g. questions like "what is the syntax of the command for abc function in system xyz?" is off-topic on MSE (it belongs on the support forum for the particular system).' If you want to revisit the question, raise a new thread. $\endgroup$ – quid May 4 at 13:47

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