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Atari, Inc. v. Nintendo of America, Inc., 975 F.2d 832, 24 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1015 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (full-text).

Factual Background[]

The parties were competitors in the videogame industry. Nintendo used a computer program stored on the microchip of its game system to block the use of its system by competitors. To obtain a copy of the computer program installed on plaintiff’s microchip, Atari falsely alleged to the Copyright Office that it was already involved in litigation; the defendant then used the copy to reverse engineer the program.[1]

Federal Circuit Proceedings[]

Atari argued that its intermediate copying of the program for the purpose of reverse engineering the code was a fair use. Construing broadly both the public interest in favor of "the Progress of Science" and the term "research' in the fair use statute, the court found that generally reverse engineering in this context would be deemed a fair use.[2]

However, the court held that in this case, Atari's "copying or derivative copying of source code from the Copyright Office" was not a fair use, since "[t]o invoke the fair use exception, an individual must possess an authorized copy."[3]


  1. 975 F.2d at 836.
  2. Id. at 842-44.
  3. Id. at 843.