What exactly is the legal status of GEMS?

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powerofrecall
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What exactly is the legal status of GEMS?

Post by powerofrecall » Sat Aug 23, 2014 3:41 am

We've got all sorts of versions of GEMS leaked out there now - enough basically for it to be reverse engineered and usable. I know r57shell is working on some GEMS tools & his GEMS player, ValleyBell has some GEMS tools, and I am working on a MIDI to GEMS sequence utility myself (that may get finished sometime this century).

Here's what I don't know though: what is the legal status of using GEMS in your own work? There's not a lot of documentation to back this up.

The only copyright notices listed are in the code itself. Nothing in the resulting binary (I don't know if this is relevant). Just a simple (C) Sega of America. The documentation has no mention of copyrights or licensing at all. How did developers get GEMS? Was there a licensing fee? We would assume they paid for the GEMS hardware... did they even bother charging for the driver, or did they just put it on floppies/an FTP somewhere assuming it would be useless to anyone who didn't pay for the hardware? If there was a licensing fee, was it per cartridge, or a one time fee, or per title? On top of this, many games use GEMS with some modifications. So did the developer actually buy the rights to the code? No limitations on usage are documented anywhere, either.

I suspect the reality was that being the comparatively earlier days of game development, Sega/Technopop probably didn't assume they could charge lots of money for it like a modern piece of middleware and that GEMS was probably de facto "free" with the hardware. It was used by enough American developers that my assumption is that the GEMS source code probably floated around a lot from developer to developer as there are so many different little permutations of it in the wild.

Where does this leave us now, though? I'm sure the copyright is still valid, if it was valid in the first place...maybe. Sega of America doesn't "exist" any more, right? Would it be tied up with some rights holder? Or most importantly, it was used in a "commercial" homebrew production--would anyone CARE?

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Post by powerofrecall » Sat Aug 23, 2014 3:44 am

Oh, not to mention that many different developers outsourced their music to outfits like Mark Miller & Neuromantic--I bet many American developers didn't even do sound/music in house. Which just makes me think GEMS wasn't really ever not "free." In fact, there's only one game I can think of that actually mentions, in-credit, that it uses GEMS, and that's Flashback--and it is not even in the form of a copyright notice, just a credit. Technically from a legal standpoint, wouldn't there have to be some sort of copyright byline displayed somewhere because part of the code is (C) Sega?

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Post by sega16 » Sat Aug 23, 2014 3:53 am

You know, I would not even worry about it. Sega does not appear to have any financial interest in GEMS.

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Post by powerofrecall » Sat Aug 23, 2014 3:55 am

That's about where I stand on it and if someone were to use it I doubt they'd ever hear from Sega about it. I still am curious what the actual situation was, though. I get the feeling that even back in the 90s they probably didn't worry much about it.

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Post by sega16 » Sat Aug 23, 2014 4:03 am

I too would like to know but I was just thinking you say they used the three letter sequence according to
https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-howto.html
There is no legal significance to using the three-character sequence “(C)”, although it does no harm.
I will try and verify if that is really true however I am not sure how well that would hold up in court should an incident arise. I admit to having little understanding of copyright laws however as it says later in the page I linked anything that one distributes is copyrighted.

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