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This is sad, very sad. A developer from The Libretro Team has written up a blog post on the libretro site asking for us and others to highlight an ongoing problem of code getting ripped off and licenses completely ignored. To be clear, it's not just them, there's other examples in that post of other projects also getting the same crappy treatment.

For those who have no idea what The Libretro Team do, they work on Libretro: a simple API that allows for the creation of games and emulators, RetroArch: a frontend for emulators, game engines and media players and Lakka: a light Linux distribution that can turn a computer into a retro-gaming console.

The blog post starts with a rather sad introduction:

Dear game journalists and other members of the press,

We are beyond the point of desperation at this point, and we ask you dearly for your help in this ongoing problem. Independent entrepreneurs are playing loose and fast with the laws and licenses surrounding open source code, and we have found ourselves the victim of multiple copyright and license violations ever since Hyperkin started selling its Retron5 product back in 2014.

It doesn't get any prettier the further you read it either. It's rather a lot to take in, but the jist of it is that multiple people and companies keep ripping off the emulation scene. They take the emulators, bundle it with some cheap hardware and sell it hoping to make a quick buck. The problem stretches over a few years, but it seems to have increased since Nintendo released things like the NES and SNES mini. Naturally, others see such things being popular and think "We can do it too!" and they see money signs in their eyes and think of the massive yacht they can buy with the quick cash.

They've had some success in fighting these, with Amazon taking down the Sen Pi device made by TekSyndicate that used the Lakka distribution, but more problems remain and they have been rather demoralised by the mess of it all. Especially as this year Retro-Bit have now made the "Super Retro Cade" which uses RetroArch. The company has admitted to using it, but the company doesn't even seem sure what emulators it's using. 

Side note: I hadn't actually heard of Lakka until today, sounds like an awesome project!

I really feel for them, I can't imagine how crap it feels to have people rip off your code and sell it on without giving back in some way. Of course, not everyone wants something in return for people using their code, but if the license forbids it or instructs you to provide the code with the hardware (or whatever else the license says you need to do), then you should play ball.

Hopefully with us and others highlighting it, some people might think twice before ripping off open source/non-commercial projects. If you do, you will be found out and you will have to pay for it in the end. The problem on top of all this, is that it will put off the very people working on such projects from continuing and if your business relies on their work—good luck doing it yourself.

If, like me, this kind of stuff annoys you, please do spread the word.

All the best to The Libretro Team and anyone else being affected by stuff like this.

Thanks for the tip Brandon.

22 Likes, Who?
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60 comments
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Beemer 20 December 2017 at 11:58 pm UTC
That really sucks. I happened today on a craigslist post for www.gameboxhero.com. Some guy in Ohio selling a 'black box' system. From the video on the site, it looks like it's RetroPie for the front end and probably RetroArch on the back.
sa666666 21 December 2017 at 12:21 am UTC
There's another side to this mess too. Although people are taking RetroArch and not properly acknowledging its contributions, even fewer people are acknowledging the emulators themselves. That is, even when someone knows and respects what RetroArch is doing, they don't know (or often care) about the emulators behind the scenes.

I've been working on Stella (an Atari 2600 emulator) for almost 18 years at the point. Stella is considered the 'gold standard' for 2600 emulation, but I would bet that most people using RetroArch aren't even aware that the work done for this isn't being done by Lakka, or RetroArch, but by the Stella developers. There are only a few of us, and only one (myself) that has stayed with it so long over the years. And aside from a few small contributions here and there, we receive nothing.

I've even been contacted by companies asking me to port the latest version of Stella to RetroArch so they can use it in their product!

Not to disrespect the work that RetroArch does, but even if they do get the recognition they deserve, I'll bet that it won't filter down to the emulator authors, who are IMO the ones doing the real work.
NotSoQT 21 December 2017 at 12:34 am UTC
Didn't expect to see this here, but I'm glad it's here. RetroArch and GOG stuff were the main factors behind my smooth transition from Windows to Linux.

In the past, I used to write something like "if you paid for it, you got scammed" in some of my projects that I knew someone would try to sell. I know the same can't be done with these projects, but that was the solution I found back then...
Guest 21 December 2017 at 12:37 am UTC
sa666666There's another side to this mess too. Although people are taking RetroArch and not properly acknowledging its contributions, even fewer people are acknowledging the emulators themselves. That is, even when someone knows and respects what RetroArch is doing, they don't know (or often care) about the emulators behind the scenes.

I've been working on Stella (an Atari 2600 emulator) for almost 18 years at the point. Stella is considered the 'gold standard' for 2600 emulation, but I would bet that most people using RetroArch aren't even aware that the work done for this isn't being done by Lakka, or RetroArch, but by the Stella developers. There are only a few of us, and only one (myself) that has stayed with it so long over the years. And aside from a few small contributions here and there, we receive nothing.

I've even been contacted by companies asking me to port the latest version of Stella to RetroArch so they can use it in their product!

Not to disrespect the work that RetroArch does, but even if they do get the recognition they deserve, I'll bet that it won't filter down to the emulator authors, who are IMO the ones doing the real work.

Even though I have never played a 2600 game, I have to say thanks for all the hard work. if that means anything. Dedication and generosity should be appreciated. On that note have you considered doing a patreon or donation page ?
Shmerl 21 December 2017 at 12:40 am UTC
Yeah, it's quite nasty when commercial projects just use FOSS as their base, and never contribute anything back or support original developers.
sa666666 21 December 2017 at 12:45 am UTC
meggermanEven though I have never played a 2600 game, I have to say thanks for all the hard work. if that means anything. Dedication and generosity should be appreciated. On that note have you considered doing a patreon or donation page ?

Thanks for the words of support. I do have a donations page: Stella Donations Page

Back when we were using Sourceforge (now on Github), at last count the project downloads page listed over 1 million downloads over the years. So I know that people are using the emulator.

I suppose I can't really blame the end user. They go into a store and buy a product to play a game or two. They shouldn't be expected to look up who developed the software and contribute to it. Their contribution was in buying the product in the first place. The responsibility to this belongs solely to the company. It wouldn't even necessarily need to be monetary contribution. Maybe a donation of the hardware/product. Or specifically being credited in the product would do wonders for ones resume.

EDIT: I guess what really bothers me personally is that some businesses just feel completely (legally and morally) justified in crapping all over you when the product is freely available. It seems like they have an active loathing of you when you release in that way, and only really respect you when you charge money for it. It's a really backwards way of looking at things, and is very much the product of 20th century MBA thinking.


Last edited by sa666666 at 21 December 2017 at 12:48 am UTC
elmapul 21 December 2017 at 12:45 am UTC
"The problem on top of all this, is that it will put off the very people working on such projects from continuing and if your business relies on their work—good luck doing it yourself."
except that they can hire someone with the money they did with the rip offs..


also, its a bit ironic that most of the users of the emulators are pirates, and people are "pirating" their code...
sa666666 21 December 2017 at 12:52 am UTC
elmapulalso, its a bit ironic that most of the users of the emulators are pirates, and people are "pirating" their code...

I can't speak for all emulator authors, but perhaps 90% of my contributions are to the debugger in Stella, which is directly used by actual game developers to write new games for the 2600. It is actually the opposite of piracy; we are providing tools to ROM authors to help with development.
Guest 21 December 2017 at 1:12 am UTC
sa666666
elmapulalso, its a bit ironic that most of the users of the emulators are pirates, and people are "pirating" their code...

I can't speak for all emulator authors, but perhaps 90% of my contributions are to the debugger in Stella, which is directly used by actual game developers to write new games for the 2600. It is actually the opposite of piracy; we are providing tools to ROM authors to help with development.

People don't realise just how many games (and music / art ) is still made for older consoles. There is a decent community out there for most retro machines. I think with all the hardware we have now at our fingertips it must seem pointless to some to bother with old technology.


Last edited by at 21 December 2017 at 1:17 am UTC
fluffy_ 21 December 2017 at 1:16 am UTC
QuoteI really feel for them, I can't imagine how crap it feels to have people rip off your code and sell it on without giving back in some way. Of course, not everyone wants something in return for people using their code, but if the license forbids it or instructs you to provide the code with the hardware

Most of the violations are apparently about GPLv3 anti-tivoization clauses, something that a large part of the open-source community rejects as too restrictive. Linux in particular is explicitly under GPLv2 and as such sees great popularity in the embedded market.

In particular that blog post claims:

QuoteThese open-source programs are covered under certain licenses. Several of the emulators are covered under non-commercial licenses, which means they cannot be sold or profited from.

I don't think "non-commercial licenses" can comply with the official open-source definition. That claims to explicitly allow open-source to be used commercially:

Quote6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

Rationale: *The major intention of this clause is to prohibit license traps that prevent open source from being used commercially*. We want commercial users to join our community, not feel excluded from it.
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