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Re: [GNU-linux-libre] MAME

From: Joshua Gay
Subject: Re: [GNU-linux-libre] MAME
Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2016 17:19:50 -0400
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux i686; rv:38.0) Gecko/20100101 Icedove/38.7.0

I've thought a lot about this issue. Here are my thoughts and concerns
on the idea behind this project and on packaging and redistributing it.

## The purpose of MAME and archiving old systems

The stated purpose of the Multi Arcade Machine Emulator project is to
document and reproduce through emulation the inner components of arcade
machines, computers, consoles, chess computers, calculators, and many
other types of electronic amusement machines, in order to preserve
decades of arcade, computer, and console history.

In general, I think this is probably a good initiative. Here are my
reasons why as well as some warnings and other considerations for those
who wish to package and redistribute MAME.

Please keep in mind that my comments here are not necessarily all
generally applicable to modern systems and programs that are currently
in use. In many cases my comments might make sense when discussing a
computer program that is 38 years old but might not be as applicable to
some new sofware designed for modern computers.

### Proprietary source code can become free software

First, I think its important to recognize that many old programs are
stored in ROMs which consist of machine code or assembler code that is
either exactly or a close approximation to being in the preferred form
of modification. Those that are not in the preferred form for making
modification might eventually be able to be reverse engineered and
source code rewritten to provide a close approximation to the original
source code. Eventually all ROMs that have formats that are preferred
forms for making modifications available will likely be put into the
public domain or otherwise be considered uninhibited by laws across most
legal jurisdictions (assuming length of copyright is not infinite). In a
country like the US, that may take some time, but, on the otherhand, you
could already be in a legal jurisdiction where the laws are different,
and perhaps already you can share the source code of a given ROM as free
software in that jurisdiction (again assuming there is a preferred form
for making modifications). There is also the possibility that the
copyright holder might be willing to license or release the work into
the public domain or that copyright laws in various jurisdiction could

### Good reasons to be able to run proprietary software

We do not want to encourage the proliferation and spread of proprietary
software. We want a world in which poprietary software is replaced with
only free sotware. However, we can't change the past or the fact that
there was a whole lot of software that was proprietary that people used.

In many cases, a person wanting to run some old (perhaps very old)
proprietary software within a free software emulator is not doing it
because they lack a better or preferred version of free software to
accomplish the task. Often it is simply to understand the past. To see
what a computer program looked and behaved like a long time ago. There
are many reasons why it might be of value for people to be able to do
such things. For example, a person doing some historical or
anthropological research might be trying to understand the relationship
of the tools and technology of the time with some event, behavior, or
other endeavour. Being able to run the software could be useful. Or a
person tring to understand the conceptual development of computer user
interfaces and design might wish to run a program.

Or, maybe, it is as simple as a person reading a book or a journal from
the time and they come across some passage that explains some game or
thing a person was playing and they simply want to see what that looked
like to satisfy a curiousity.

Yet another reason it might be useful for a purpose to run such systems
and programs is to be able to extract or export data or artwork. For
example, a person might have some old software and data files that they
would like to convert to a format that works with free software. It
might be that the only practical or feasible way to do this would be to
run the data file in the old program and then convert/export the data
file into a format that can then be used by free software programs. Or
alternatively the software itself may have art or data files embedded in
it that could be extracted by running it on the original system via the
emulator. If the aim is to move data or art from the nonfree
program/system to a free program, then that is probably a good thing.

It's hard for me to think that a person running very old proprietary
systems and programs for purposes along these lines would be oppossing
free software or in anyway diminishing or reducing the spread of free
sofware. Further, the goal would not be to be running proprietary
software to accomplish ones computing, except so far as to migrate some
functionial parts from proprietary systm to a free system.

There could be other reasons that do work against the goals of the free
software movement, so we don't want to generalize or be overly
presumptuous about motivations or reasons or uses of such emulators and
virtual machine software. But when dealing with weird edge cases and
gray areas we should do so with care, thought, and consideration.

## Considerations on packaging and distributing the software

The site places the following restrictions on the use of the MAME
trademark: "MAMEĀ® is a registered trademark of Nicola Salmoria. The
"MAME" name and MAME logo may not be used without first obtaining
permission of the trademark holder. " Their FAQ about trademark policy
states they wish to restrict distribution of verbatim copies of the
software, which is at odds with their choice of the GPL as their license.

As such, if you package and distribute versions of MAME, then it
probably makes sense to rename it and replace any trademarks so as to
avoid any possibility of imposing additional restrictions on downstream
recipients of the work.

When distributing your fork of MAME (whatever it will be named), I would
consider not linking to the MAME site, since that site steers users
toward proprietary software to run with MAME. Even if a person wants to
run proprietary ROMs for legitimate reasons, we still don't want to
steer people toward running proprietary software. Obviously if there are
any appropriate legal notices or whatnot that mention or link to MAME or
the MAME Web site, then those should be remain intact per the terms of
the GPL.

Joshua Gay
Licensing & Compliance Manager  <>
Free Software Foundation        <>
GPG key ID: 8DA625BB            What's a GPG key ID?
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