www.mame.dk Closes

00:00 Mon 25 Feb 2002. Updated: 22:26 28 Nov 2006
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www.mame.dk has stopped allowing downloads from its collection of MAME ROMs, the most complete resource of them on the Web, in response to legal threats from a “copyright holder”.

This pisses me off. MAME is a fantastic, Free program that emulates arcade games, allowing them to be played on a variety of platforms. Since many of these games are no longer available, and since they comprise a very important part of gaming history, MAME is critical to gaming culture. The way it works is that MAME allows the games to be played if the user has the correct ROMs for them; these ROMs have to be extracted from the original boards that were inside the arcade machines. It is these ROMs that mame.dk archived and made available for download.

Of course, most of these ROMs were protected by copyright. In many cases copyright holders no longer exist; in others they have no interest in games that no-one has played in decades. On the other hand, some of them have a financial interest in suppressing the spread of the ROMs because they wish to re-release the games, or they feel that thes older games compete with their current products.

This is a clear case of copyright law at its worst, where almost no-one is accruing any revenue from selling these ROMs (indeed, they are almost impossible to buy, and few if any of the companies holding the rights to them are interested in selling them) and yet companies seek to suppress their dissemination to protect their current offerings. In actual fact, many of the attempts at suppression come from umbrella organizations like the IDSA, who inflate the “damages” done by the availability of ROMs in order to make their own activities seem more important. In general, they exaggerate the effect of copyright infringement for the same reason, and they seek to establish an equivalency between unlicensed copying of currently available programs and unlicensed copying of programs that have not been on sale for more than twenty years.

Legally, these are the same. Since copyright law is primarily designed for books and music, neither of which tend to become obsolete in three to five years, no provision is made for this kind of software-specific situation. Nor, of course, is any provision made for concerns like the preservation of cultural artefacts. Because of the relative newness of videa games to the culture, libraries do not archive them; no institutions make sure that they are preserved. On the other hand, because the video game industry is so fast-moving, games become old within a few years, and the financial incentive for preserving them disappears. Nevertheless, some (albeit extremely minor) financial incentive exists to suppress their preservation. For groups like the IDSA, the incentive is more significant and tied up with their larger agenda, which is not necessarily in keeping with the interests of all their member companies.

In the case of www.mame.dk, a number of things stand out. First is the the “copyright holder” is unnamed. It seems likely that this is the result of legal threat. That’s sheer speculation of course, but it is still the most likely explanation. In addition, the people running the site chose to shut down all the ROM downloads instead of only those in which this “copyright holder” had an interest. Was this also the result of a legal threat? Or did the site maintainers decide that once they started getting legal threats, enough was enough? I’d like to know; I also think that they should have a look at www.chillingeffects.org, a recently-opened site designed to help small sites withstand legal pressure.

Unfortunately, I suspect that www.mame.dk are gone for good. This is a shame, and represents the loss of a good service, and is yet another way in which copyright laws that are a) weighted towards the interest of the copyright owners instead of the public interest, and b) not tailored to specific technologies, serve to do damage to our culture.

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