How risky would it be to charge for playing a MAME arcade cabinet?
September 15, 2014 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I saw (and played) a MAME cabinet in an arcade yesterday. It had about 50 games you could choose out of and it made no secret of it having a PC running an emulator inside.

I know very well that the arcade operator was in breach of the MAME license, as well as infringing on copyrights.

Nevertheless, it made me think I would like to try and build a few of these cabinets on my own - something I've always wanted to do anyway. I'd try and recoup the costs by asking a rental fee or make them coin-operated. (I'm not looking for financial gain, I would just love to see such cabinets around town).

I wonder how high the actual legal risk would be of such an endeavour. Undoubtedly one or two of you MeFites have either thought of doing this before or have done this. Would you care to share your thoughts or experiences?

(Mind that I'm writing this from Europe - Belgium to be exact - but I guess the risk is about the same here as in the USA.)
posted by Captain Fetid to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a Belgian resident and certainly IANAL, but it seems like the best thing to do is separate the copyrighted content from what you're monetizing. In other words, you're charging for the hardware or the power consumption of the unit, not the actual playing of the games.
posted by JauntyFedora at 12:30 PM on September 15, 2014

I have an acquaintance in the USA that builds and quietly sells MAME cabinets out of his garage. They're loaded to the hilt with everything. He charges a pretty penny but his craftsmanship is excellent and people are willing to pay.

The key operative word is "quietly". No advertising, no internet, all word-of-mouth.

If you sold/rented them to homes it's highly unlikely you'd even get noticed. If you operate them in public, you might get a little more friction. Not necessarily from the game publishers and copyright owners, but from other local operators. If you're stepping on their toes and taking away revenue from them, you'll know it pretty quickly.

If you plan to put one on coin play in a public location, do your homework.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:38 PM on September 15, 2014

Probably the best thing to do would be to sell the cabinet outright, put a few public domain or otherwise legally-acquired (they exist) games on it, and provide directions as to how to add new, legally-acquired games.

List the games you included in your bill of sale.

I'm not a lawyer and there's a pretty good chance listening to anything I say, ever, will get you in hot water.
posted by bondcliff at 12:45 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've seen various "licensed" multi-arcade machines around Chicago: the Supercade and other similar machines are certainly paying royalties back to the original publishers, whether they're licensed for coin-op play is an entirely different story.
posted by Oktober at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2014

Keep in mind that for MAME specifically, even a cabinet set to free play that is in a public area is in violation of the license.
posted by griphus at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2014

Both of those links Oktober posted are legit emulation cabinets designed for public coin-op play. They're legal (and pricey).

You'll notice that most of the titles available are Taito, Stern/Konami and Atari titles. Namco doesn't license out - they sell their own emulation cabinets.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:51 PM on September 15, 2014

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