Can I sell a custom-built MAME cabinet?
October 18, 2006 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Selling custom MAME cabinets legally?

I understand that the MAME license doesn't allow commercial redistribution, but what if I built and sold a cabinet without installing MAME or any roms and the buyer is left to to do that themselves? Is that technically legal? If not is there any other way around it? I quite enjoy building the cabinets and I've had a few requests for custom ones. Is there any hope in making a little money on the side from my hobby?
posted by saraswati to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, my first thought is, what makes it a "MAME cabinet" if you don't install MAME? Why don't you just sell "custom designed computer gaming cabinets" with a list of software that customers might wish to purchase or otherwise obtain? So just strike the name and quit worrying.

But if you think that's all too wink-wink-nudge-nudge, the legal matter remains that if you don't distribute copies of the copyrighted item, you don't directly infringe the copyright. This goes for MAME and also for the ROMS. That said, you may still have some secondary liability, either vicarious or (far more likely) contributory. I can't offer you legal advice as to how likely these would be to apply to you, but they're usually invoked against people like napster who 1) facilitate tons and tons of infringement and 2) have lots of money.

Read more about those doctrines -- vicarious and contributory infringement of copyright -- in this blog post.
posted by rkent at 3:45 PM on October 18, 2006

If you can't, then that's one hell of a license.

That doesn't mean calling them MAME cabinets is a good idea, but you can make and sell them. Then again, if MAME isn't a trademark, perhaps you can call them MAME cabinets - I do not know.

rkent - you're touching all the bases, but I don't think either of cause of action would stand against a cabinet maker - the connection is simply too attenuated. It'd be like going after Glad because people put drugs in zip-top bags. If anybody's going after Glad, it should be for putting Don Rickles in commercials.

Anyway, saraswati, it sounds like you're more curious about the derivative use language in the license. The short answer is that nothing in the license reaches carpentry. Hell, you could probably give your buyers MAME on a free cd without raising any hackles. The license just doesn't want you to sell MAME cds or use it to make one of those little controllers that plug right into your tv and play old atari games and then sell that.

Hee - I notice that the MAME folks rely on the license to absolve them from even strict liability. That is one hell of a license.
posted by averyoldworld at 4:31 PM on October 18, 2006

"Strict liability" just means there's no analysis of intent. You could still ostensibly waive it in a license, on the theory that the counterparty implicitly indemnified you as to any such claims or promised not to sue on them, as relevant.
posted by rkent at 5:26 PM on October 18, 2006

Since you're not bundling the software, you have no obligation to abide by the license attached to that software.

So long as you (a) do not provide unlicensed ROMS, and (b) do not facilitate the distribution of unlicensed ROMS, the copyright holders would have no more leverage with you than they have with the MAME team following the Supreme Court's Grokster ruling.

The only remaining obstacle may be insurmountable, however. MAMEdev, the shadowy multi-national cabal (joking, of course) that maintains the primary build, have trademarked the name. Thus, any commercial use of MAME must be at their discretion, and I'm not certain what their position is on cabinet-making endeavors.

Their opposition may be more figurative than practical, however. When I was briefly involved in the peripheral community several years ago, the leadership had a bombastic yet ineffective policy of only writing vaguely threatening cease & desist letters to companies which infringed on their rights.

I'll close this post with a plaintive appeal to any MAMEdevs who might chance to read this: WHEN MAME LEARN MvsC 2???!!!
posted by The Confessor at 5:36 PM on October 18, 2006

You are another person who needs to put their email in the profile.

Oh, since I have to answer - Yes, as long as you're just selling the cabinet with no software, you ought to be fine. I've seen kits on the internet for much the same thing.
posted by absalom at 6:10 PM on October 18, 2006

It's simple, call it a custom built arcade cabinet, install MAME, load some unlicensed roms on it and you're legit.
posted by PowerCat at 6:35 PM on October 18, 2006

Sorry, my use of "MAME cabinet" was just because that's what I'm used to saying. Definitely didn't plan to sell it like that. Thanks though, guys.
posted by saraswati at 7:29 PM on October 18, 2006

As long as you aren't selling them as "MAME" cabinets, you should be just fine. There's plenty of folks selling retro "gaming" cabinets or even "arcade emulator" cabinets. And, for marketing purposes, if someone knows what "MAME" is, they know exactly what "arcade emulation" is.
posted by loquacious at 9:34 PM on October 18, 2006

That's an interesting take, rkent, but I don't know if I buy it. Strict liability doctrines eliminate findings of fault, as well as intent - imposing strict liability is a preemptive, public policy decision to allocate responsibility for potential harm. Are you aware of any case law that allows waiver or estoppel claims? I'm not being snide; you've really piqued my interest.

Good luck with the cabinets, saraswati.
posted by averyoldworld at 1:57 PM on October 19, 2006

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