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Omega-TI

Legalities of Hardware Reproduction

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I'm curious, does anyone know the legalities of doing a blatant rip-off of old hardware devices? There a lot of useful products out there that are no longer manufactured or supported, in some cases the manufacturer is no longer even in business. So, I was thinking, why reinvent the wheel?

 

There are guys on here that can suck the programming right out of an old chip and burn the image into a hundred others without even breaking a sweat. We have other guys that can easily copy printed circuit boards too, so why pay top dollar for rare, ageing cards, when we could all have NEW devices like Triple Tech Cards, and other items.

 

Just an idea...

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For guidance in this matter, I'd suggest you consider the Macintosh cloning phenomenon of days past:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_clone

 

While even today it's still a gray area, and no one can really draw the legal boundary lines for sure, it was generally considered legal to build a hardware clone of a machine from reverse engineering the specifications. What was more clearly deliniated by the law were the ROMS. Manufacturers of Mac clones, if they wished to remain legal, had to physically pop the ROM chips out of an existing official Mac and transfer them to their clone. Simply copying the software contained in the ROM was a direct violation of copyright law.

 

Now, it's true that today, you can download a TI-99/4a emulator that runs out of the box. I myself have downloaded it and ran it, and it ran perfectly fine right from the get-go, and I didn't even have to supply it with a ROM file. What this means is that the emulator contained its own copy of the TI ROM. Now, TI hasn't said anything to me about this, and as far as I know, the author of the emulator isn't in trouble either. Who knows? Perhaps he negotiated a licensing agreement with TI for the use of their ROM software. Or perhaps TI doens't care about such an old copyright. I don't know. The point is, it's been an ongoing legal debate since the late 80's, so you need to use your own judgement on the matter.

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Considering TI dumped support many moons ago, leaving us as orphaned customers, I say go for it solely for that reason.

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For guidance in this matter, I'd suggest you consider the Macintosh cloning phenomenon of days past:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_clone

 

The point is, it's been an ongoing legal debate since the late 80's, so you need to use your own judgement on the matter.

 

Thanks Greg. I was not specifically thinking about Texas Instruments though. Actually I was thinking more about the third-party hardware that came out for the TI later on in the game. For example, that old Triple Tech Card would be a neat item to copy. Another item might be the Triple Tech FDC since it was DSDD... a perfect project just crying out for the 80 track upgrade. There are others too, but I don't want to get off track.

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While even today it's still a gray area, and no one can really draw the legal boundary lines for sure, it was generally considered legal to build a hardware clone of a machine from reverse engineering the specifications. What was more clearly deliniated by the law were the ROMS. Manufacturers of Mac clones, if they wished to remain legal, had to physically pop the ROM chips out of an existing official Mac and transfer them to their clone. Simply copying the software contained in the ROM was a direct violation of copyright law.

 

 

For this very reason, we cannot include any ROMs in MAME/MESS, so you always have to get them from somewhere else - officially, from your own hardware. However, as for that, I'm not really convinced that copying the own ROMs is legal in all cases. The "fair use" clause is only valid in the US copyright; here in Germany we do not have such a clause (and lawyers are having a prosper life).

 

While for TI-specific emulators there may be an agreement with TI (isn't that the case at least for PC99?), for a multi-system like MESS this is simply impossible, with more than 700 systems.

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Thanks Greg. I was not specifically thinking about Texas Instruments though. Actually I was thinking more about the third-party hardware that came out for the TI later on in the game. For example, that old Triple Tech Card would be a neat item to copy. Another item might be the Triple Tech FDC since it was DSDD... a perfect project just crying out for the 80 track upgrade. There are others too, but I don't want to get off track.

 

I seem to recall there are a couple of 3rd party TI add-ons who's copyrights are currently owned by members of the community. If in doubt, just ask on the forum and I'm sure that somebody can put you in touch with the copyright holder if it's an actively maintained copyright. When in doubt, ask first. It's best not to trample on anybody's intellectual property.

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This kind of topic goes nowhere. Look at examples like MAME, any other kind of emulator, hardware reproductions, etc. There are all sides to this debate, and in the U.S. with our stupid [email protected]#$% copyright law that was extended to something like 100-years after the death of the copyright holder... WFT!?

 

Anyway, abandon-ware is real and if copyright holders do not aggressively (i.e. through lawyers, cease and desist letters, lawsuits, etc.) protect their copyrights, courts tend to not uphold their copyright.

 

You also have to consider what kind of market you are looking at. I really don't think TI cares about the 99/4A. I'm not even sure they know they made it any more, and they certainly are not going to spend any money trying to sue an individual over anything they do with 30+ year old gear. I don't care what you make for any classic computer system, hardware or software, your world-wide global market will not exceed more than a few hundred people, and if it costs more than $100, cut that in half.

 

Anyway, this is a 3-sided fence with people on both sides and sitting in the middle. There is no answer, there are always exceptions, always gray areas, always morality questions, etc.

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You're not alone ... this topic is also taking ridiculous turns over here.

 

Some years ago, our government amended the laws for protection of intellectual property by stating that it is unlawful to circumvent an "effective" copy protection. However, they did not specify in what situation or for what purpose this is done. Accordingly, I am (probably) breaching the law simply by viewing a purchased DVD under Linux - because a library must be used that unscrambles the (weak) content protection. It is up to the courts to decide whether this content protection is an effective copy protection or not.

 

Sorry for getting a bit off-topic here ...

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...it is unlawful to circumvent an "effective" copy protection.

Wouldn't the very act of successfully circumventing it by definition make it a "non-effective" copy protection, and thereby protect your actions as they are not governed by this law? :-D

 

But seriously, though, it is ridiculous the state of our copyright law here. Sorry, too, if I am chasing this rabbit trail, but the law has absolutely zero effect on piracy, and serves only to turn honest citizens into criminals when they simply want to watch their rightfully owned content on their viewing hardware of choice.

 

Now, back on topic, as for wanting to clone the third party add-ons to the TI, I would still advise asking around first before you do it, simply because we are a small, close knit community here, and if somebody legitimately owns the copyright on a particular piece, and if they are still actively supporting it, then I see it as an act of respect within our community to police ourselves and not trod on the rights of others. This position of mine is separate from my opinion of US copyright law, however. Respect for active, contributing members of the TI community is something I have. Respect for corporations abusing the copyright law is not.

 

However, if it's clear that the hardware you're wanting to clone is abandonware, I say knock yourself out.

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Anyway, abandon-ware is real and if copyright holders do not aggressively (i.e. through lawyers, cease and desist letters, lawsuits, etc.) protect their copyrights, courts tend to not uphold their copyright.

That's trademark. US Copyright Law /explicitly/ does not require you to defend it.

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Greg hit the nail on the head. Do a little research and see if you can find the IP owner and ask permission. It can require a bit of effort but keeps tempers from rising and I don't think anyone can argue it's not the best first step.

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Richard Bell owns the IP to Myarc and Rave.. probably some more too.. He's a great guy, and paid a lot of money for that IP. He will expect us to respect it.

 

I would be happy to help HIM reproduce the products, if he had the time. Unfortunately he does not have a lot of time/$ to do so at this point. When he's ready so am I. Even if it's just to buy some :)

 

Greg

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Just a random thought, but is Richard Bell or any of the other current IP holders out there interested in anything like a Kickstarter campaign to secure some funding for producing new hardware? We wouldn't have to raise much, and we also have the benefit of this forum and the Yahoo Groups to gather intel beforehand on who'd be interested in contributing. So we wouldn't be shooting in the dark, so to speak. If enough people chime in on this forum and the Y! groups, we'd have a reasonable certainty of whether the Kickstarter campaign would be successful or not before even launching it.

 

I know I'd put some money down on some new TI hardware!

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The biggest issues with doing board reproductions is getting the layout right--especially if the original layouts no longer exist (or exist but in a format that isn't useful today). I'm good at taking an old board and figuring out how to make something that works like it did--and I do that for my own fun and edification for the most part. I don't touch things that have active (or even potentially active) IP owners. If I know the person who designed the original--I get their permission. I have permission to reproduce a couple of older boards (Mike Bunyard gave me his OK to do the 128K board), I own the rights to Tony Lewis' 68881 coprocessor board (and am slowly working through the prototype to do a proper layout of it), I did the layout for Marc's SID Master, and I designed a new Flat Cable Armadillo Interface using the original schematic for it. My cartridge boards are an outgrowth of the boards Stuart Conner designed using the ROMOX boards as inspiration--and they now have almost none of that DNA in them, as between Jon, Tursi, and I they've gone very far beyond those beginnings. We couldn't have gone there without that beginning though. I also have permission to do a new version of the Supermodul II, and am working on permission to do a new run of the German MultiModul. The latter is truly just for fun (it is a GROM simulator) and the former is a wonderful little GRAM device in a cartridge case.

 

I'd front the cost for doing a run of boards for a DSDD floppy controller. I even have enough WD1773s that I could do a run of 30 or so of them. . .assuming there was permission to do so. Richard Bell has the rights to the Myarc boards--and I believe he also has the US rights to an updated version of either it or the BwG controller. Either one would be fun, although it might be harder to get the WD1770 or WS1772 chips (I have a few of each of these, but not too many).

 

I also have a professional grade soldering setup and lots of experience using it, as anyone with one of my boards has seen. A major run (30 or so) of boards like this would eat up a lot of time to build and test--and the end cost would probably not be under $125 to $150 each. I'm not sure the community has enough interested parties to purchase that many boards anymore. I build the ones I do now because "I" want one--and I make extras so that others can have fun with them too. It is how my hobby gives me great fun after over 30 years with this system. :)

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So where do things like emulators fit in all of this? It is somehow ok to software emulate a piece of hardware, but doing a reproduction is not ok. Even without the ROMs, the chips and systems developed by other companies are being reproduced without permission. And the F18A? I reverse engineered the 9918A from the datasheet. Should I have licensed the I.P. or asked TI for permission first? And why would it matter if an individual holds the I.P. vs a company?

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I believe it was determined legal (in the US courts) to copy, including circumventing copy protection, "legacy" hardware and software, *for his own use* where:

 

* The person legitimately owned a copy of the hard/software

* The hard/software is no longer available for purchase

 

In that case, you can take steps to copy it yourself. There was a case about this in the US. I think someone had some really old software running on VAXs or something. The software was still functional and suited their needs. They broke the copy protection so that they could copy the software to new media. Apparantly, the original vendor found, and sued them.

 

I think the conversation went something like this:

 

Owner: Hey vendor, can we get a copy of this old software from you. We're still using the 25 year old installation media here!

Vendor: Nah. We haven't supplied that for like 20 years. Nobody here knows anything about it. What's a VAX for crissakes?!

Owner: Okay. No probs. We'll just copy it ourselves.

Vendor: Don't do that. You'll be violating our copyright. We'll sue you.

Owner: Well, sell me a new one then.

Vendor: Can't.

Owner: Well, STFU then.

Vendor: Won't. It's ours. Copy it and we'll sue your ass.

Owner: See you in court.

 

< court >

 

Judge: So, vendor: Can you supply a copy of the software that the owner legally owns and still uses to this day within the original licensing conditions?

Vendor: No, your honour. We can't.

Judge: Well, STFU then. Case dismissed with prejudice. GTF outta my court.

Judge: And WTF is a VAX, anyway?

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