Appeal to game journalists – about Retro-Bit and about the new ‘retro emulation industry’ in general

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 –

CyberGadget’s RetroFreak proven to use Snes9x Next/2010 code, non-commercial code being sold

RetroArch, Libretro core license violations by Hyperkin’s Retron5

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 –

https://github.com/snes9xgit/snes9x/issues/264

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 –

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sp6i85

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sp6i89

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sp6i8j

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 –

https://www.patreon.com/posts/important-on-tek-15592064

https://www.reddit.com/r/RetroArch/comments/7fx7bw/important_statement_on_tek_syndicate_sen_pi_and/

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.

External examples

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 –

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 –

Byuu,

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.

CyberGadget’s RetroFreak proven to use Snes9x Next/2010 code, non-commercial code being sold

Today it is very disappointing for us to learn that CyberGadget’s RetroFreak appears to have been using an exact copy of our non-commercially licensed Snes9x fork, Snes9x 2010 (previously called Snes9x Next, which if you’d like to know was originally created as a speedhack-focused emulator for the PlayStation3 of Snes9x 1.52) since their product went on sale in 2015. Check out this source file directly from their website –

http://www.cybergadget.co.jp/assets/files/download/RetroFreakSource-20151031.zip

According to an anonymous report –

“This was on Cybergadget’s website months ago but conveniently disappeared after website update to circumvent GPL and copyrights mentions”

An astute Github member has made a backup of this file in case it goes missing suddenly from their site for ‘reasons’ –

https://github.com/uraran/RetroSource

In order to dispel any further doubts that they just took our cores, removed the libretro interface and then replaced it with their own – look at this exact file that pops up –

https://github.com/uraran/RetroSource/blob/master/jni/core-pce/mednafen/msvc_compat.h

yes, indeed, a RetroArch source file that is a part of libretro-common but which I copied pasted to several repos as a compatibility layer. This particular file isn’t the problem; their use of the Snes9x cores is. No rights can be arranged for the potential ‘commercial use’ of Snes9x 2010/Next, and I have copyright assigned to several files in Snes9x mainline too that states the same. In short, the non-commercial license will stand as is, and it’s not a case of paying some people some money so you can still use it. I will not budge.

See for instance my copyright here – this license header is in all the other files too –

https://github.com/libretro/snes9x2010/blob/master/src/apu.c#L147

https://github.com/snes9xgit/snes9x/blob/master/snes9x.cpp#L30

Even more interesting, if you look at the Github mirror of the source, some files are identical to the Retron 5 sourcecode dump. It appears to be an exact match.

I think I speak for the team and myself that I am deeply disappointed that this abuse of non-commercial licenses has been going on since at least 2015, and that the videogames industry stoops to these lows to abuse and manhandle opensource code like this. Worse, that there are barely any investigative reporters that research where the products they cover really come from, what software they are using behind the scenes, whether or not the specific combinations in which they are put together are even legal, whether they sought approval of the rights holders behind them, etc.

Regards,
Daniel De Matteis (RetroArch/Libretro maintainer/leader, Snes9x Next/2010 core author, etc.)

Hyperkins’ Retron5 – continuing licensing problems

Yesterday, Hyperkin responded to our earlier article by acknowledging that they indeed did do what we claimed them of having done. In response, they posted a raw source code dump of the video game emulator software in question, confirming they were indeed infringing copyright and violating licenses.

http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2014/09/hyperkin_responds_to_accusations_of_infringing_on_the_rights_of_emulator_creators

http://retron5.in/node/9

However, they did not open source the code taken from the RetroArch project that is used within Hyperkin’s own frontend software.

By using RetroArch’s GPLv3 code, they are not only violating the license but breaking clauses that prohibit “Tivoization”

Today, Hyperkin posted another statement regarding the allegations of RetroArch code, admitting that code is indeed used in their product shipped in all versions of their firmware below the most recent release.

https://www.retro5.net/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=57&sid=638613d1c1de4fc414c15cc2654597e1&start=10#p267

I’d like to clarify one point regarding the allegations over at libretro.com: we are not using any of RetroArch in our “frontend” (libretron.so). While it is true that a few ASM functions from RetroArch were previously found in our frontend library, these were merely remnants of old test code which we unfortunately forgot to remove. The offending code has been removed as of the v2.0 update. We’re sorry that this code was left in the binary up until recently; it was merely an oversight on our part. Furthermore as you will see from the source release of the emulator cores, we have our own interface between the frontend and the core plugins, totally different from that used by RetroArch itself.

As our frontend does not include any code from the RetroArch frontend then it does not fall under GPLv3 as they claim, and thus is not bound by any of the anti “TIVO-ization” stuff.

We believe that previously distributed copies of Hyperkin’s firmware now fall under GPLv3 licensing and anti-tivoization terms and must be open sourced in order to adhere to the license. Also, we do not know the legality of selling a product with a firmware containing GPLv3 code in a TIVOized state, and then removing that GPLv3 code later on in a successive firmware update to effectively TIVO-ize it. That is something for FSF lawyers to ponder.

Visual evidence of RetroArch’s code in use by Hyperkin’s frontend binaries can be found here:
http://imgur.com/a/i56YF
http://www.libretro.com/index.php/retroarch-license-violations/ (see middle section titled “RetroArch”)

This can be compared against this codebase snapshot (they based the code’s inclusion on this snapshot of the code) –

https://github.com/libretro/RetroArch/tree/2be201ecf39077c864d06089a5b48aa97b170f8d

They’ve also alluded to using forced firmware updates to make sure the user cannot run original copies of the GPL software they bundle on this device, further adding to the TIVoization claims –

http://www.gamnesia.com/articles/gamnesias-exclusive-scoop-on-the-upcoming-retron-5#.VCKBh-IvBhE

Q: Assuming someone does break into it, how are you going to deal with that?
A: We do provide firmware updates through SD card support. If we start noticing people hacking and things like that—which I’m not against whatsoever; that’s the times we live in now, where if you could hack something, you’re a genius—we can release firmwares at any moment that would be required to start playing games. With that, you know, we can limit the control on that. – See more at: http://www.gamnesia.com/articles/gam…5#.VCKBh-IvBhE

There is another problem with what was stated here –

https://www.retro5.net/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=57&sid=638613d1c1de4fc414c15cc2654597e1&start=10#p267

They claim they no longer have any RetroArch code in their latest firmware and that  they have their own API that they use to dynamically link the core against their frontend (unreleased and closed-source). The problem with this is that their API appears to be not GPL-compatible.

For evidence, download the ZIP contained in here  (RetronN5Source-20140923.zip) and look at engine/retronCommon.h.

http://retron5.in/node/9

This API would need to be under a GPL-compatible license to be compatible with FCEU and VBA. Furthermore, it’s unknown what license the ‘frontend’ is licensed under, and since it’s closed-source and kept concealed, there’s no way of knowing if it infringes on the GPL license or not.

A core being exposed to the frontend through an API like this constitutes a combined work, because it is not a ‘well-separated work’ as per the terms stated here –

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#GPLInProprietarySystem

The core doesn’t do anything without the frontend, and the frontend links to this core dynamically through dynamic linking. The core is reliant on the frontend to do the audio/video/input processing, without which nothing would be displayed on the screen, no input would be received by the core, and no audio samples would get output.

Therefore, we believe that their latest acknowledgements raises even more questions as to the level of compliance they’ve demonstrated so far with the GPL license. It raises therefore even more questions than it solves, further adding to the already quite considerable list of problems with this device.

Non-commercial cores – SNES9x Next

And of course, the fact that the two non-commercial cores are still being shipped with the device is another problem altogether. The license for SNES9x states specifically:

https://github.com/snes9xgit/snes9x/blob/master/docs/snes9x-license.txt

Permission to use, copy, modify and/or distribute Snes9x in both binary
and source form, for non-commercial purposes, is hereby granted without
fee, providing that this license information and copyright notice appear
with all copies and any derived work.
This software is provided ‘as-is’, without any express or implied
warranty. In no event shall the authors be held liable for any damages
arising from the use of this software or it’s derivatives.
Snes9x is freeware for PERSONAL USE only. Commercial users should
seek permission of the copyright holders first. Commercial use includes,
but is not limited to, charging money for Snes9x or software derived from
Snes9x, including Snes9x or derivatives in commercial game bundles, and/or
using Snes9x as a promotion for your commercial product.
The copyright holders request that bug fixes and improvements to the code
should be forwarded to them so everyone can benefit from the modifications
in future versions.
Super NES and Super Nintendo Entertainment System are trademarks of
Nintendo Co., Limited and its subsidiary companies.

 

“Commercial users should seek permission of the copyright holders first” – refer to Hyperkin’s Retron5 licensing software page here –

http://retron5.in/node/9

They used the SNES9x Next fork specifically. This is a fork that I created specifically to serve as a libretro core. My list of contributions extends to the following:

– Added game-specific speedhacks to make them fullspeed for low-power systems like the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation3. This includes games like Final Fantasy III/VI, Star Fox, Star Fox 2, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, and numerous other cores which were previously too slow on such devices.

– Added SuperFX overclocking code to make it possible to run SuperFX games at faster rates.

– Converted the entire codebase from C++ to C89.

– Wrote the libretro API integration parts together with Themaister/Hans-Kristian Arntzen. (NOTE: Libretro is licensed under the MIT license)

As you can guess, they have never sought my permission to use this in their commercial product. And they will never get it either. They are expressly forbidden by me (one of the copyright holders) to use this version of SNES9x in their commercial product. I’m still awaiting a response from the rest of the upstream SNES9x devs but I can’t expect their reaction will be that much different.

I will be taking steps of my own accord to ensure that this situation will be rectified.

Non-commercial cores – Genesis Plus GX

The Genesis Plus GX developers have been made aware of the facts as well and they can make their own moves as to how to deal with this.

On SNES9x Next however, I have considerable copyright claims and therefore I am in an ideal position to clamp down on this misuse of its code.

Last parting message

This can be read from Hyperkins’ response to our earlier article on Nintendolife.com

It has always been our intention to release the relevant source code for the open source emulators used within RetroN 5. We have not been as quick as we could have been, since we have been busy improving the RetroN 5 user experience. The relevant source code has now been released. From this point forward we will not only keep our copy of this code updated for those who wish to obtain the latest version, but also submit patches for any fixes that we implement back to the original projects so that the entire community may benefit. Hyperkin will continue to endeavor to fulfill the licenses of any project used within RetroN 5 and any other software we write.

If Hyperkin is indeed serious about this, they will save my time and the time of the Genesis Plus GX developers by pre-emptively (and immediately) stripping the non-commercially licensed SNES and Genesis cores from their product. We’d rather be busy doing actual development that users benefit from and that benefits the community instead of having to go to the trouble of sending a bunch of Cease & Desist notices.

Also, let it be known that as of this moment I have contacted the FSF regarding the GPL violation matters because there remains too many unanswered and unsolved problems for us to be thoroughly satisfied. Our beef is not with the product – if Hyperkins’ Retron5 was put out in a honest way and in a way that wouldn’t infringe upon the licenses of these emulators, they would be legally allowed to use it in this way. As it stands, they did not do their homework before putting this product out and their actions so far reek of negligence, irresponsibility and a calculated move to reap the rewards of copyleft code without having to honor the license’s terms.