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It ain't necessarily so - MAMEdev and legality


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As most of you know, various members of MAMEdev like to expound on the legal situation now and then. Since nobody knows any better, everyone assumes that the statements are correct, right? Right? WRONG! Well, about half right. Nobody from MAMEdev has ever taken legal action against anyone, and most likely never will. It would need to be personally funded - there's no company account here. Who in their right mind would do that, for a hobby that has no income, and therefore no damages?

Since legal action won't happen, they (the "3 stooges" in particular) resort to bullying, lying, trolling, influencing, cancel-culture, and doxxing to get their point across - even if it has no legal basis. Some of the things they do verge on law breaking in some countries.

This series has 3 parts:
1. About MAMEdev
2. The trademark
3. The license

Disclaimer: Like all of MAMEdev, I am not a lawyer. However, unlike them, I have spent the last month intensively researching the situation, and have uncovered a number of unpleasant surprises, both for me and for them. In some cases, the required information hasn't been found, and so I've taken the liberty of drawing a logical conclusion. You may wish to correct me, but you need to provide proof. Just saying something doesn't make it so. Trolls will of course be banned.

Don't depend on any of this as legal advice. You should always get the opinion of your lawyer/attorney first, before using anything here.


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So, on to Part 1: About MAMEdev

What is MAMEdev? A collection of developers of the MAME emulator. It isn't exactly known how and when the name came into being, but I'd estimate around the year 2000. At that time one person acted as a "coordinator", making the decisions and preparing the releases. The known people in this position were Nicola Salmoria, Mirko Buffoni, David Haywood, Aaron Giles, Angelo Salese, Miodrag Milanovic and finally Vasantha Crabb.

What isn't MAMEdev? It isn't registered as a charity, a business or company anywhere that I could find. This means it is not a "legal entity", as such it doesn't exist in the legal sense. There's nothing wrong with that, but it means that it cannot be sued, it cannot sue anyone, it cannot send or receive C&D requests, and it cannot prepare legal documents or receive them. MAMEdev doesn't have a constitution, it has no address, it has no assets, it has no tax number, it doesn't have an annual meeting or prepare an annual report. Until 2016 it had no office bearers.

What is a legal entity: https://www.diligent.com/insights/subsidiary-management/meaning-legal-entity/

Legal notices, C&D requests and lawsuits will need to be addressed to an individual who is a member of MAMEdev.

Around 2015-2016 a number of changes occurred. These comprised:
- merge of mess developers ("MESSdev") into MAMEdev;
- merge of mess codebase into MAME's codebase;
- transition from old mame license to GPL 2.0;
- assign copyright holders to every piece of code;
- elect a president and 5 "board" members;
- change from SVN to GIT;
- move private MAME repository to Github and make it public - this permits the use of Issues and Pull Requests;
- each developer to choose a suitable license and agree to his code being transitioned to it;
- any code that couldn't be assigned a license for whatever reason was stripped out.

On 2016-05-24, Vasantha Crabb set up an election system with cornell.edu - each eligible member received a unique URL to permit voting. As such, Vasantha Crabb was both the returning officer and a candidate - a clear conflict of interest. I'm not suggesting he did anything wrong, but he shouldn't have been involved with the election process. On 2016-05-29 (5 days later), the election was closed and the results announced. You may view them at http://civs.cs.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/results.pl?id=E_e50bb608b05e915c

Miodrag Milanovic ("Micko") became President and a board member, while Olivier Galibert ("OG", "Sarayan"), Vasantha Crabb ("cuavas"), "R.Belmont", and Gregory Ember ("Stiletto") became the other 4 board members.

Almost immediately, Micko handed control of everything to the other 4, and disappeared. Stiletto plays almost no part in proceedings, while the other 3 are still active. Vasantha Crabb became release coordinator, probably because no other board member wanted the job. In the more than 6 years since, there has not been another election and it's certainly overdue.

Now, while the idea of a "board" may have been seen as a good idea at the time, it made a 2-level structure of MAMEdev, where you have the bosses and the rest, and the bosses have more rights than the others. What was equal is no longer so. This has created numerous strains through the structure, and it needs to be reconsidered.

Next, let's discuss the website https://mamedev.org - I believe it is "owned" by "OG". Our only interest is in the legal aspects. The front page says "Copyright (c) 2022 MAME", but who owns the copyright? MAME isn't a legal entity, so it must belong to whoever designed it. Who is that?

https://www.mamedev.org/about.html - "Therefore, it is strongly against the authors' wishes..." is entirely irrelevant - wishes have no legality.

- "Copyright (C) 1997-2022  MAMEDev and contributors" - MAMEDev is not a legal entity and cannot hold copyright on anything. It also insinuates that a member of MAMEdev who has contributed nothing has some kind of control over other people's code. It would be better to just say "contributors".
- There's a number of references to the MAME logo being trademarked, but that is not the case (more on that later).
- Some of the common questions say commercial use is not allowed - that is false. The license specifically allows commercial use.
- Some more questions attempt to put limitations of roms with mame, but the distribution of roms varies from country to country with their own laws, and mame cannot abrogate that. Further, it is against the license to impose conditions.
- The entire page is unsigned, so it's not known who is responsible for the content. I very much doubt that a lawyer was consulted. Most of the information there is unenforceable.


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Part 2: The Trademark

What is a trademark? Like copyright and licensing, trademarks are part of Intellectual Property (IP). The purpose is to associate a symbol, word, or phrase to a product in a customer's mind. For example, Nike shoes have a slash that looks a bit like a checkmark. When a customer sees that symbol, he will associate it with Nike shoes. By registering the symbol (the "mark"), it legally prevents anyone else from using it to mislead or misrepresent another product as a Nike shoe, and thus depriving the Nike company of revenue.




What resources are available if I have problems protecting or enforcing my intellectual property rights abroad?

Your U.S. trademark registration grants you rights only in the U.S. If you want trademark protection in other countries, you must either:
•    Submit an international application through the Madrid Protocol, or
•    Submit a trademark application in each other country or regional trademark office.


In America, trademarks are registered with the USPTO, but this only gives protection within America. You can then register with WIPO, a Swiss registry that will apply your trademark to another 128 countries. The remaining 66 countries will need to be dealt with one by one. The total expense will be considerable. These registries do not protect your trademark from abuse; they are just registries. It's up to the trademark holder to defend himself in court - the registration simply serves to remind the judge of who really owns it.

In the early days, although MAME had a name, a logo, and an icon, none of this was protected. Despite the "no commercial" clause in the old license, the selling of MAME cabs complete with roms was rife in the industry. On 2005-01-11, a certain David R Foley, a seller of MAME-equipped cabs, tried to trademark the MAME logo. You can see this at https://uspto.report/TM/76627578 . After an outcry, this application was cancelled on 2005-03-14. This prompted Nicola Salmoria to trademark MAME to prevent others stealing it. He began proceedings on 2005-03-02 and was finally granted the trademark on 2006-08-01.

Eventually he decided to leave the scene and the mark was transferred to Gregory Ember on 2016-09-20 (although the document didn't get produced until 2016-11-29). But what was actually trademarked? Have a look at https://uspto.report/TM/78578919 and do you see it? Just those 4 letters "MAME" in that font. That's it?? Yep, that's it. No logo, and no icon. If you look for other registrations of those 4 letters you'll find 3 more by other people, although their "mame" is for other things.

So, despite mamedev.org stating that the logo is registered and requires permission to use it, it isn't registered at all. A search of WIPO revealed no record of any MAME trademark. It must be assumed that the protection only exists inside America.

Take a look at https://www.mamedev.org/logo.html - they state "Although this logo does not appear in the official MAME trademark filing, it is still covered by and governed by the rules of the MAME trademark.". Wrong, if it isn't trademarked, then you have no control of it. Copyright remains with "chemical" - whoever he might be.

What do we have then? The letters MAME are trademarked in the USA only. There's no other trademarks anywhere in the world. If you're an American citizen you need to apply to the trademark holder for permission to use the mark. But if you're anywhere else, do as you please.


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Part 3: The License

The primary license is the GPL 2.0 - the various legal aspects of this license are covered in many places including wikipedia, so I will limit myself to the interaction between it, MAMEdev, and creators of derivatives.

Text of the license: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0.en.html
Compatibility with other licenses: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.en.html

The main points of this license are:
- Unlimited distribution of the binary (at any price);
- The source of the released binary must be available and should accompany the binary if practical;
- If the source is not with the binary it must be easily available for 3 years after the release date of the binary;
- Nobody can place conditions upon what is done with the source - it will be freely able to be examined and modified without restriction;
- it's a "viral" license - it covers all the code that is used in a binary, exclusively;
- it forms a contract which will be legally binding in some countries;
- it must accompany any distribution of the source and binary, so that the recipient knows what is expected of them;
- the license should also be used for all derivatives, with the points above continuing to apply.

Some licenses can cause incompatibility by accident. For example, the JSON license says the software should only be used for good, not evil. This is a restriction which is not allowed. Another more ridiculous case is if you took a copy of the license and called it John's License (you can do that). Now you have 2 licenses which are competing for exclusiveness, and so they are now incompatible.

MAME has a number of third-party modules, each with its own license. In the 3rdparty folder is a readme which lists the licenses used by each module. Are they compatible? Mostly, yes. The rapidjson license includes the problematic JSON paragraph, however the associated code has been removed, thus rendering the JSON license ineffective. The Microsoft DirectX end-user agreement is problematic in many places, but the GPL allows parts of the operating system to pass by unscathed so it's not an issue.

What does all this mean in the end? MAME software complies with the license, however statements by certain devs do not.
- Attachment of a fraudulent copyright notice and then trying to control what's done with that code - all illegal;
- Trying to stop nonag features being added - it's illegal to impose such a restriction;
- Insisting that in-progress source code be available online - no, source code doesn't need to be available until the binary that uses it is released;
- Complaining that comments breach the license - wrong, comments are not part of the binary, so cannot breach anything.

Don't be fooled by what they say.

Use of code from incompatible licenses. The old MAME license, and also the FBNeo license, contain a clause prohibiting commercial use and selling of the works. This is incompatible with the GPL. However, the copyright holders can give special permission to allow the incompatibilty to be overcome (as has been done by the FBNeo developers). Such code, if reused in MAME or derivatives will then become covered by the GPL 2.0 license, but still copyright to the original author. A comment containing the date and author's name must be attached.

Other legal matters.

What is a patent: https://www.uspto.gov/patents/basics/patent-process-overview

MAME is not patented. The license only allows a patent that imposes no restriction of any kind. Like trademarks, patents only apply within the countries in which it has been registered. The area of patents is a minefield and there's always the chance that somebody will deliberately try to cause havoc. Be watchful of what's going on.

Each country has its own rules regarding legality, licensing, and contractual arrangements. Some countries do not care at all, while some others slavishly follow all the American rules. You need to find out where your country or state stands.

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That's one reason why I'll never join up there - the established cliche can downvote you to oblivion, thus censoring alternate ideas. Of course the response from cuavas was just inventing a problem where none exists, giving the OP the totally wrong idea. And that is why you should never, ever go to reddit if you're not running standard mame. The authorities there have no clue, and just make up stuff to make derivatives look bad.

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