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.
Since then, there has been an explosion of these products all opting for the same approach – take from opensource code, bundle it up in numerous incompatibly licensed ways, then to add insult to injury, strike up licensing deals with established players in the games industry and make it appear as if your product is ‘legitimate’.
Read up on our previous articles here for more information –
To recap and to also add to it a new recent example of this (as in the case of Retro-Bit) –
2014 – Hyperkin Retron 5
Uses Snes9x (non-commercial emulator) and Genesis Plus GX (non-commercial emulator) together with various GPL-licensed emulators. The individual source code was a direct copy of our libretro repos. This is not the issue however – the issue is quite clearly that they are selling non commercially licensed emulators which obviously, as the license entails, cannot be sold.
Did they ever do anything about this, though? Nope. It is still being sold. They recently striked up a license with byuu to use his product Higan in the future, but this does not pertain to the Retron 5 as the hardware it is based on is obviously incapable of running Higan at fullspeed. That the same product is still being sold to this day is a clear-as-day license violation of Snes9x and multiple other parties involved. I hold copyright over portions of Snes9x these days too, and the forked emulator sourcecode that the ‘contractor’ has admitted to using (and which can be seen in the sourcecode archive they published, Snes9x 2010/Next) was all written by me. They have never bothered to rectify these issues.
2015 – Cybergadget Retro Freak
Cybergadget Retro Freak – uses an identical copy of Retron5’s sources. Cyber Gadget has admitted to us in e-mails that they did not write the software themselves but got it from a ‘contractor company’ (probably the same company that did the software for Hyperkin Retron5. As far as I am informed, this comes from a Hong Kong company whose identity is still unknown). So, the same problems apply here – uses Snes9x (non-commercial emulator) and Genesis Plus GX (non-commercial emulator) together with various GPL-licensed emulators.
After waiting for over two weeks on a reply back from them, I got an e-mail back (December 18, 2017) where their anonymous developer (not them) had this to say about our grievances
“We used two versions of Snes emulator. One was Snes9x 2010, which was in turn taken from Snes9x, which had some speed increases added. The second was Verbatim snes9x. From both of these we only use the emulators and not their core code. As far as the file msvc_compat.h Mr Matteis himself says that he took this file and pasted it into many other projects. No doubt this is how this file containing RetroArchtext appeared in the archive on Cyber’s web site. As Mr. Matteis’s name does not exist anywhere in this source code we assume Mr. Mattheis is inferring that because we have this one file containing the word RetroArch posted on the web site then we must have used other files which are authored by Mr. Matteius’s. This is not true. We do not in fact use any core files merely use the emulator code as a library.”
Therefore, we believe we are not infringing on your copyright.
Also, these software are “GPL”, and we believe there is no problem for us.
This reply is obviously nonsensical, and betrays a complete lack of understanding of Snes9x’s licensing terms.
Snes9x is not licensed as GPL. It is licensed under a non-commercial, proprietary license. The entire emulator is licensed as non-commercial. Whether you use ‘core files’ or whether you use the emulator code as a library has no bearing on it. You cannot use this in a commercial product. Their product is illegal right now as it is currently being sold, and they’d have to do a complete recall and remove the infringing SNES emulator parts in order for it to become legal.
I have given them a reasonable amount of time to rectify their obvious mistakes and missteps. Will they choose to do the right thing though? Probably not. bearoso from snes9x meanwhile has taken it upon himself to try to get the product removed from Amazon, however, Amazon has been pushing back –
2016 – NostalGames RetroPac (defunct)
Here we had two college students who took it upon themselves to set up a crowdfunding campaign with Kissbank in France to try to setup a business around their ‘Retropac’ product. This product turned out to be just a derivative of Lakka, our turnkey RetroArch based solution.
The problem with this was that Lakka is non-commercial and comes bundled with various non-commercially licensed emulators, hence it cannot be sold. They did not care about this, and decided to carry on anyway.
We managed to successfully shut down their crowdfunding campaign, and that appeared to have been the end of this venture.
Unfortunately, we did not dedicate an article to this, so you will have to make do with our Twitter posts instead –
2017 – TekSyndicate Notice Me Sen-Pi
A popular Youtuber who goes by the name of TekSyndicate wanted to start selling a product based on Lakka. He was quite audacious about this and made a blog post about it full of hubris as to why he should be able to do this.
You can read our statement on this here –
We contacted Amazon and we were able to get this product taken down. Tek Syndicate has agreed to no longer bundle Lakka with his hardware device, and now resorts to a Do It Yourself video which explains to people how to install it on the hardware.
2017 – Retro-Bit Super Retro Cade
The latest situation.
Just recently, we have been contacted by Retro-Bit. To be more precise, one of our team members Andres Suarez was contacted in the past.
This is the latest e-mail we have received back from Retro-Bit – just mere weeks before they started selling their latest product Super Retrocade –
I hope all is well. A quick E-Introduction, I am the marketing manager for Innex and our house brand Retro-Bit. In the past you were in contact with Andres Quiros regarding the possibly usage of Retroarch for our plug and play consoles with the caveat that when using “open source” software we would need to give credit then share any updates done to t he original code back to the community in the event they want to build upon it.
Since then, Andres had left the company and we recently released the Super Retro-Cade which I believe operates off Retroarch. We would like to provide the rightful credit to Retroarch and disclose the emulator and request the source code. They can retrieve it through a customer service page on Retro-bit with proof of purchase and waiver of liability forms.
As I mentioned in my previous email, our former Product Development Manager (Andres Q.) left the company in the middle of development, leaving Ron (copied) and myself to finish the product with a very aggressive timeline to launch. We were not aware of this situation, but want to work with you to find a successful solution.
We are a small company that competes directly with Hyperkin and like you, we want to expand the retro gaming to its fullest potential and support the community.
So, all we know in this instance is that they are using RetroArch. As long as sourcecode is being provided and as long as the license is being followed (GPLv3, that means no TIVOization), that would be no issue. HOWEVER, and here is where it gets troubling – they do not know themselves what emulators it uses. So, again, which contractor company was responsible for this cobbled together software again? Why does this keep happening? How come none of the licensees (Capcom/Data East/etc) were aware of this?
Here is where this gets troubling – it is yet again a cheap ARM SoC (System on a Chip). They admit to us over e-mail it is using RetroArch. But they cannot tell us which cores are being used because they “do not know”. ALL of the emulator cores available through RetroArch which provide SNES, arcade and Genesis emulation and which could conceivably run on this hardware, are all distinctly non-commercial. We are talking about Snes9x here for SNES emulation, Final Burn Alpha or older versions of MAME (MAME 2000/2003/etc) for arcade, and Genesis Plus GX for Genesis. They cannot be sold, period. So, again, we have the very same issue here as we have had with Hyperkin and Cybergadget. But instead of waiting until they have determined with us that this is not an issue, they start selling it anyway.
We are beyond demoralized and pissed off at this point. Ever since the NES/SNES Mini, this kind of activity has been going on and has been accelerating. Entrepreneurs and certain publishers are having dollar signs in their eyes. Games are being played with us and other members of the emulation scene by various parties (in this blog post I have probably left out a fair few other companies as well), and we are simply getting sick and tired of this abuse. This is hugely demoralizing and demotivating and makes us almost unwilling anymore to continue with it.
Stuff like this is hugely damaging to the goodwill of the open source community. If open source authors continue to find their licenses and rights trampled upon by a couple of entrepreneurs with the sole intent just to make money and these same entrepreneurs and their business partners don’t care about doing due diligence and making sure they are in the clear, developers are going to stop contributing to open source projects altogether. The knowledge economy dies in doing so, leaving us all with yet more products cobbled together from various disparate sources with no greater aspirations beyond just making a buck.
Let us cite some other examples how open source emulator authors have been taken advantage of in recent months. I refer you to byuu’s tweets on the subject –
I guess I should make a statement about this. For several months, I was in talks with Piko Interactive to sell him a license to bsnes for commercial use. During this time, he referred me to Hyperkin, who did purchase a license (…) https://t.co/bsgfQCFnIT
— byuu (@byuu_san) December 15, 2017
I offered Piko a large discount for the referral as gratitude. He then backed out after promising to purchase a license. I found out a while later that he was selling Dorke & Ymp on the Steam store, which was bundled with bsnes v059 (…)
— byuu (@byuu_san) December 15, 2017
I have no problems with commercial use under the GPL. I advise anyone inquiring about using higan commercially that they can do so for free via the GPL. But he did not credit me, and did no clearly provide the source code as per the GPL requirements (…)
— byuu (@byuu_san) December 16, 2017
Someone else found out by disassembling the binary and discovering it used the bsnes v059 core taken from Mednafen. After contacting him by e-mail, the source was provided. I don't want his money, and it's really not worth any drama, but it happened (…)
— byuu (@byuu_san) December 16, 2017
What happened after this isn't worth discussing. That's just needless drama. I don't really want anything further to do with the situation, nor do I want anyone to give Piko grief over it now (…)
— byuu (@byuu_san) December 16, 2017
All I'd like to have happen going forward is for people to follow all the terms of the GPL, as 22+ forks of bsnes/higan currently do already, to purchase a license exemption if they do not want to, or to not use bsnes/higan in their projects if they won't do either. That's all.
— byuu (@byuu_san) December 16, 2017
This same one-man game publisher tried buttering us up to do business with him too over e-mail, until we informed him that we did not like how byuu had been mistreated in the past previously. In response, he launched into an angry tirade against byuu. We also learned our e-mails were being forwarded to byuu without getting any disclosure of this prior. A few hours later, byuu sends me an e-mail message imploring me not to involve or associate myself with Piko Interactive in any shape or way.
To which the founder of Piko Interactive responded to byuu in this way –
Dude Nobody asked you to drain your 401k and max out credit card to spend on super famicom stuff or projects. Thats you own decision. If you are looking for sympathy and/or praise you are not going to get them from me. You did it for the love of the console? Then great, don’t complain. Im pretty sure you are old enough to make your own financial decisions.
As I told Daniel, why would I pay you for something that you offer no support and it is hard for a regular programmer to compile? The whole 6 months (which I think it was far less) shiru spent all his time and effort trying to understand the spagetti code that higan was. He just couldn’t get it to work the way you provide it, sorry, Im not going to pay for something I cannot use. That is like me going to buy a car for my communte but the salesman is giving me all the engine in parts that I have to assemble; I can look into assembling the engine, but if doesn’t work out, Im not going to buy it, And I am expecting the salesman to undersatnd that I am not going to buy something I cannot use.
If you are too concern about making money off your emulator (which is a good product) why do it GPL? Why not just sell a license and not offer it for free? Like flying tigers, digital eclipse, nintendo, and others?
We posted instructions online on how to get the source code, which was by request. I could even made it difficult and do it by mail only and charge a mailing fee and would be still ok. Also, Im pretty sure that there is credit to mednafen there somewhere on the steam page, at least on the listings we control. Bubsy I dont control, and we gave instructions on what to write in regards the mednafen licensing and instructions to post on how to get the source code. If Tommo didn’t posted them, that is not my problem.
Also, why would I give credit to byuu if we are using mednafen? If someone is curious what emulator is using, then they go to the page where it gives that information, and then they read up on mednafen, and see it uses bsnes core.
Call me what you want, (worst than hyperkin, yada yada) at least I don’t talk behind people’s back, specially the ones that make me money ;).
Take a couple of business classes, may come in handy. Or may I suggest to partner up with someone that understand basics in business.
Is this the way we as developers should be treated? As less than human? Byuu personally drained his 401K out of a passion to preserve the Super Nintendo forever. Everybody, including Nintendo themselves, is forever indebted to him for taking the time to document the Super Nintendo where nobody else cared, including its entire software library, to the point where people can now use this documentation to their own advantage even to make themselves some money with re-releases of new classic consoles. And what does he get back in return? Openly spit in his face like this? Needless to say, we refuse to associate with Piko Interactive after having read these very disrespectful comments.
Basically, we find it to be a grave injustice how all of us as a scene and as individual independent authors are being treated and manhandled by industry forces that only care about respecting licenses and copyrights when it suits their products, but don’t care a whit when it involves the little guy, the guys who can’t hire an army of lawyers to combat misuse of their software. This is a disgrace and we find it similarly interesting how this same games industry continues to keep up this pretense that emulators are this ‘grey area/non-legit’ subsector of videogames and how no attention should be paid to it, yet they have no problem doing these kind of licensing deals with companies that just crib from those same emulators and even disrespecting their licenses at the same time.
We are being treated abysmally, by people whom feel themselves to be in positions of power so that they are able to do this and get away with it.
We are also completely bogged down by this mess. Each and every month a new contender comes along, doing the very same thing, that we then need to either respond to or deal with. This is hugely demoralizing and demotivating to my team members, and there is not a surplus of developers around to keep working on these projects to begin with. There becomes a point when honestly the undying passion we have for our project to keep going is being outdrowned out by these cynical and deplorable attempts to make a quick buck off our hard work at our expense and violating the licenses in question. We don’t know where to go from here quite frankly, we just felt it was worth a final last-ditch attempt to bring this to your attention. Where we go from here, is not decided yet. We never even intended RetroArch or Libretro to be a purely emulator-focused experience, we intended it to be a great ecosystem where software could be made modular and run in various frontends. That it instead has amounted to a nostalgia cash grab by various companies who are at great pains to delegitimize our efforts yet have no qualms with doing business deals with companies whom don’t hold any of the rights for the software they are exploiting – for its various disparate emulator cores to be manhandled and abused and misappropriated like this, pains us greatly to see happening. This is end-stage capitalism, pure and simple, and we are the unwitting victims of it.