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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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sa666666 16 April 2018 at 8:26 pm 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.

actually, unlicenced games for consoles are an form of piracy, i mean, in the past, nintendo, sony and ms didnt allow anyone to make games for their console, only licenced apartners.

This is not true for the Atari 2600. Atari took Activision to court back in the 80's to try to block just such a thing, and the ruling was that a license was not required to release 3rd-party software for the 2600. Hence a flood of companies started producing 2600 titles, which many people have attributed to the cause of the "great video game crash".

I've been involved with this project for almost 20 years, and believe me when I say I've researched all this in detail. Emulation is legal, and (at least for the 2600) new software releases, without licensing, is also legal.

i didnt knew that about atari, but what about the others?
there are new games being produced for snes, mega drive (genesis) etc nowadays.

I only know for sure for Atari 2600, since that's the only system I develop an emulator for.
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