On most server sites the terms of service usually have rules to the effect that you may not refer to engines or be assisted by another person and endgame tablebases can’t be consulted, but you may use reference books, databases consisting of previously played games between human players, and other pre-existing research materials.
Books have always been allowed in CC because from the beginning it was understood that you simply can’t prevent their use, but there are always a few who believe it’s cheating to do so. I simply can’t understand their logic. If one is playing by the rules how can it possibly be called cheating?! These people, if they understand baseball, probably think stealing a base is wrong just because it’s stealing.
These days most all books, including opening books, contain computer analysis but playing engine generated moves from those sources is legal. The fly in the ointment for some people is the term "pre-existing analysis" used by some sites. What if I’ve been analyzing an opening line with the aid of my chess engines and either printed it out or stored the analysis in my db? Is that analysis illegal if I refer to it during the game?
It is well known that engine analysis is making an impact on opening theory and some opening db sites will, no doubt, contain much analysis that is engine generated. How am I to be sure what was engine generated and what wasn’t? It is legal to use Nunn’s Chess Openings, but right in the preface it is stated that some analysis engine generated. Must I avoid those lines? If it’s legal to consult NCO and play all the lines contained therein, why can’t I use my own pre-existing engine analysis? What’s the difference?
Another problem exists with the phrase "databases consisting of previously played games between human players." I suppose the addition of such a phrase eliminates a few opening sites but my own personal analysis is not going to consist entirely engine generated moves because, as I’ve previously pointed out, engines require some input from humans to be used effectively in high level CC play. Is analysis produced in this way illegal? Serious CC players research opening lines quite deeply in this fashion and therefore many players insist such a person is not using their own skills and it is questionable ethically to use such material.
I think such people are straining gnats on this issue. In my opinion it doesn’t matter if you use books, databases or previously engine generated material. Sooner or later a move will be played that has not been previously analyzed whether it’s at move 3 or move 30. At that point you are on your own and the outcome will be decided be chess skill alone. So to my mind the whole issue is moot.