I was advised by users over on the Law Stack Exchange to ask this here:

I have created a piece of software that converts a proprietary format from the database blob of a large, well known commercial software company into the equivalent open source data type. The large commercial software company states the following on their copyright and trademarks page "This work is protected under United States copyright law and other international copyright treaties and conventions." and links to the DMCA.

I was able to create the software because most details of the format were published in a post on their support forums and the rest I reverse-engineered.

I now wish to open-source my software so others can use it. My question has two parts:

  1. Can I open-source this at all without getting sued?
  2. Can I refer to the trademarked product the file format came from in my software and documentation? (I'm assuming I can't use it in the name of my software)

I'm in the UK. The large software company is in the US.

Edit: The data in the database is user created GIS data, inputted via the commercial program, it's just stored in a way that makes exporting difficult.

  • 4
    drive-by comment: LibreOffice can load MS Word files (including old ones captured in a proprietary format) and save them out to an open format
    – lofidevops
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 14:39
  • 1
    @d3vid: yes, but AFAIK Microsoft was pushed to open their document formats the outside world by governmental institutions, and they also made public promises for not sueing others just because they implement their "OOXML" standard. The situation looks different when other companies are involved.
    – Doc Brown
    Commented Mar 31, 2019 at 3:23

3 Answers 3


Based upon your followup, I see no real legal issues other than those mentioned in my first post.

Please remember that I am not a lawyer, and hold no liability for this

My reasoning:

  1. They are a reference to unique, non-copyrightable place references.
  2. They are user generated, not generated by the makers of the software.
  3. There are multiple uses for a point on a map, over and above the specific functionality of the software.
  4. There are multiple GIS software packages- Providing a converter between them probably comes under interoperability.

If the company decides that they don't like what you are doing, the onus will be on you to prove that what you are doing is legal and above board, not the other way around.

You'll need to think about how you might prove this, and if this looks like getting serious, I'd again urge you to get into touch with a lawyer, as the law is very easy to trip yourself up on.

You especially need to be wary of the differences between American law and British law- Whilst I know some about British law, I know nothing about American law.


To be a little more precise on the above response: Take two different scenarios as follows- 1. A database containing proprietary data which you cannot generate yourself. 2. A database generated from user inputs in your application.

If your database generally speaking conforms to #2 (Accounting software, sales etc.), then in the most general of terms you are likely to be able to do this. How this will be received is another thing altogether- Many companies will aggressively attempt to shut you down, whether or not you are completely legal. I also don't know exactly what was posted on their forums, or for that matter what the TOS of the forums was- If the TOS of the forums states that you cannot use data posted here to reverse-engineer etc. then you may have problems.

On the other hand, as the previous answer notes, if the contents of the database are what is proprietary, then you could potentially land in trouble. Again though, this is by no means certain. It very much depends on the terms of the license agreement that you signed when installing the program initially.

This is probably one where you'll need to consult a lawyer, as I suspect there's a good chance that they may take of fence whether or not you are 100% legal, and being able to point them in the direction of a concrete legal opinion is far better than what you're going to get here. Either way, we need far more details to be of any use to you!

  • Interesting. I can add the names of the commercial software in question as long as this page is not going to incriminate me in future!
    – Ralph
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 8:22
  • I'd keep names out of it, but posting what the software does is probably OK. Seriously though, consider consulting a proper lawyer.
    – leezer3
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 11:17

If what is under said restrictions is the database blob, and they can make the case that the conversion "removes a copyright protection measure" (or however the law states it) you can certainly land in very hot water for encouraging or providing tools to do just that.

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