977 F.2d 1510 (9th Cir. 1992), 92-15655, Sega Enterprises Ltd. v. Accolade, Inc.

Docket Nº:92-15655.
Citation:977 F.2d 1510
Party Name:24 U.S.P.Q.2d 1561 SEGA ENTERPRISES LTD., a Japanese corporation, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ACCOLADE, INC., a California corporation, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:October 20, 1992
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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977 F.2d 1510 (9th Cir. 1992)

24 U.S.P.Q.2d 1561

SEGA ENTERPRISES LTD., a Japanese corporation, Plaintiff-Appellee,


ACCOLADE, INC., a California corporation, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 92-15655.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

October 20, 1992

Argued and Submitted July 20, 1992.

As Amended Jan. 6, 1993.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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William S. Coats, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, San Francisco, Cal., for defendant-appellant.

James Alan Cook, Cook & Lefevre, Palo Alto, CA, Riley R. Russell (of counsel), Redwood Cty., CA, Peter W. Davis, Joel Linzner, Scott D. Baker, and Carla J. Shapreau, Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May, Oakland, Cal., for plaintiff-appellee.

Dennis S. Karjala, Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz., for amicus curiae Copyright Law Professors.

Peter M.C. Choy, American Committee for Interoperable Systems, Mountain View, Cal., for amicus curiae American Committee for Interoperable Systems.

John Haven Chapman, Chapman, Moran, Hubbard, Glazer & Zimmerman, Stamford, Conn., Thomas N. White, Santa Clara, Cal., for amicus curiae Computer and Communications Industry Ass'n.

Morton David Goldberg, Schwab, Goldberg, Price & Dannay, New York City, for amicus curiae Computer & Business Equipment Mfrs. Ass'n, et al.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Before: CANBY, REINHARDT, and LEAVY, Circuit Judges.

REINHARDT, Circuit Judge:

This case presents several difficult questions of first impression involving our copyright and trademark laws. 1 We are asked

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to determine, first, whether the Copyright Act permits persons who are neither copyright holders nor licensees to disassemble a copyrighted computer program in order to gain an understanding of the unprotected functional elements of the program. In light of the public policies underlying the Act, we conclude that, when the person seeking the understanding has a legitimate reason for doing so and when no other means of access to the unprotected elements exists, such disassembly is as a matter of law a fair use of the copyrighted work. Second, we must decide the legal consequences under the Lanham Trademark Act of a computer manufacturer's use of a security system that affords access to its computers to software cartridges that include an initialization code which triggers a screen display of the computer manufacturer's trademark. The computer manufacturer also manufactures software cartridges; those cartridges all contain the initialization code. The question is whether the computer manufacturer may enjoin competing cartridge manufacturers from gaining access to its computers through the use of the code on the ground that such use will result in the display of a "false" trademark. Again, our holding is based on the public policies underlying the statute. We hold that when there is no other method of access to the computer that is known or readily available to rival cartridge manufacturers, the use of the initialization code by a rival does not violate the Act even though that use triggers a misleading trademark display. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiff-appellee Sega Enterprises, Ltd. on its claims of copyright and trademark infringement. We decline, however, to order that an injunction pendente lite issue precluding Sega from continuing to use its security system, even though such use may result in a certain amount of false labeling. We prefer to leave the decision on that question to the district court initially.

I. Background

Plaintiff-appellee Sega Enterprises, Ltd. ("Sega"), a Japanese corporation, and its subsidiary, Sega of America, develop and market video entertainment systems, including the "Genesis" console (distributed in Asia under the name "Mega-Drive") and video game cartridges. Defendant-appellant Accolade, Inc., is an independent developer, manufacturer, and marketer of computer entertainment software, including game cartridges that are compatible with the Genesis console, as well as game cartridges that are compatible with other computer systems.

Sega licenses its copyrighted computer code and its "SEGA" trademark to a number of independent developers of computer game software. Those licensees develop and sell Genesis-compatible video games in competition with Sega. Accolade is not and never has been a licensee of Sega. Prior to rendering its own games compatible with the Genesis console, Accolade explored the possibility of entering into a licensing agreement with Sega, but abandoned the effort because the agreement would have required that Sega be the exclusive manufacturer of all games produced by Accolade.

Accolade used a two-step process to render its video games compatible with the Genesis console. First, it "reverse engineered" Sega's video game programs in order to discover the requirements for compatibility with the Genesis console. As part of the reverse engineering process, Accolade transformed the machine-readable object code contained in commercially available copies of Sega's game cartridges into human-readable source code using a process called "disassembly" or "decompilation". 2 Accolade purchased a Genesis

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console and three Sega game cartridges, wired a decompiler into the console circuitry, and generated printouts of the resulting source code. Accolade engineers studied and annotated the printouts in order to identify areas of commonality among the three game programs. They then loaded the disassembled code back into a computer, and experimented to discover the interface specifications for the Genesis console by modifying the programs and studying the results. At the end of the reverse engineering process, Accolade created a development manual that incorporated the information it had discovered about the requirements for a Genesis-compatible game. According to the Accolade employees who created the manual, the manual contained only functional descriptions of the interface requirements and did not include any of Sega's code.

In the second stage, Accolade created its own games for the Genesis. According to Accolade, at this stage it did not copy Sega's programs, but relied only on the information concerning interface specifications for the Genesis that was contained in its development manual. Accolade maintains that with the exception of the interface specifications, none of the code in its own games is derived in any way from its examination of Sega's code. In 1990, Accolade released "Ishido", a game which it had originally developed and released for use with the Macintosh and IBM personal computer systems, for use with the Genesis console.

Even before Accolade began to reverse engineer Sega's games, Sega had grown concerned about the rise of software and hardware piracy in Taiwan and other Southeast Asian countries to which it exported its products. Taiwan is not a signatory to the Berne Convention and does not recognize foreign copyrights. Taiwan does allow prosecution of trademark counterfeiters. However, the counterfeiters had discovered how to modify Sega's game programs to blank out the screen display of Sega's trademark before repackaging and reselling the games as their own. Accordingly, Sega began to explore methods of protecting its trademark rights in the Genesis and Genesis-compatible games. While the development of its own trademark security system (TMSS) was pending, Sega licensed a patented TMSS for use with the Genesis home entertainment system.

The most recent version of the Genesis console, the "Genesis III", incorporates the licensed TMSS. When a game cartridge is inserted, the microprocessor contained in the Genesis III searches the game program for four bytes of data consisting of the letters "S-E-G-A" (the "TMSS initialization code"). If the Genesis III finds the TMSS initialization code in the right location, the game is rendered compatible and will operate on the console. In such case, the TMSS initialization code then prompts a visual display for approximately three seconds which reads "PRODUCED BY OR UNDER LICENSE FROM SEGA ENTERPRISES LTD" (the "Sega Message"). All of Sega's game cartridges, including those disassembled by Accolade, contain the TMSS initialization code.

Accolade learned of the impending release of the Genesis III in the United States in January, 1991, when the Genesis III was displayed at a consumer electronics show. When a demonstration at the consumer electronics show revealed that Accolade's "Ishido" game cartridges would not operate on the Genesis III, Accolade returned to the drawing board. During the reverse engineering process, Accolade engineers had discovered a small segment of code--the TMSS initialization code--that was included in the "power-up" sequence of every Sega game, but that had no identifiable function. The games would operate on the original Genesis console even if the code segment was removed. Mike Lorenzen,

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the Accolade engineer with primary responsibility for reverse engineering the interface procedures for the Genesis console, sent a memo regarding the code segment to Alan Miller, his supervisor and the current president of Accolade, in which he noted that "it is possible that some future Sega peripheral device might require it for proper initialization."

In the second round of reverse engineering, Accolade engineers focused on the code segment identified by Lorenzen. After further study, Accolade added the code to its development manual in the form of a standard header file to be used in all games. The file contains approximately twenty to twenty-five bytes of data. Each of Accolade's games contains a total of 500,000 to 1,500,000 bytes. According to Accolade employees, the header file is the only portion of Sega's code that Accolade copied into its...

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