While our software project initially did not have a primary focus on ROM and operating system (OS) files, having to secure the rights over these items helped gather some relevant information. Based on this experience, this is an attempt to clarify some points, without providing legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult a lawyer.
CBM/Amiga files, including Amiga OS files ("Kickstart", "Workbench", bootblock code, etc.) and the older 8-bit system ROMs (PET/CBM, C64, etc.), are copyrighted and can only be used or distributed under license. The Amiga Forever and C64 Forever packages by Cloanto have been licensed to use these files.
Amiga Forever contains both multiple emulations of the original hardware, and multiple operating systems that can run on top of this hardware. These operating systems do include different versions of the ROM and operating system as originally published by the now-defunct Amiga Corporation (formerly Hi-Toro) and its successors.
Cloanto, being the publishers of Amiga Forever and contributor to the operating system, obtained multiple licenses over different versions and components of these original ROM and operating system files, as well as over components designed to provide binary compatibility with the original operating system. This licensing process began before the initial publication of Amiga Forever in 1997. The first operating system distribution licenses date back to before the 1994 Commodore liquidation, by which time Cloanto already was both a co-author and a license holder. Licensing efforts continued for more than 15 years, also resulting in multiple licenses covering the same items. We felt that this was necessary because of a perceived lack of clarity over some transactions which involved the ROM and operating system files, and which at times resulted in controversies (which however never affected Amiga Forever).
Licensing the Operating System
Just like Cloanto licensed the ROM and operating system items, and several parts thereof, and add-on components that required independent licensing, it is well known that other parties licensed similar items, e.g. for limited use on specific magazine cover disks (e.g. CU Amiga in 1993, PC Intern in 1999, Amiga Plus and PC Magazin in 2000), or with game collections (e.g. the Amiga operating system up to 2.0x as licensed by the German company Epic Marketing, not to be confused with a British company having the same name), or for publishing the Amiga operating system (e.g. Village Tronic Marketing GmbH for "Amiga OS 3.1", Haage & Partner Computer GmbH for "Amiga OS 3.5", Hyperion Entertainment VOF for AmigaOS 4), or for manufacturing entire systems (e.g. Escom AG, MS MacroSystem Computer GmbH now MacroSystem Digital Video AG, Tianjin Family used Multimedia Co., Newstar Electronic Corporation, Rightiming Electronics Corporation, Regent Electronics Corp., Lotus Pacific Inc.)
At the end of 2009, in a settlement agreement between Amiga, Inc. (Delaware) and Hyperion Entertainment VOF, the following licensees were listed: Cloanto Italia srl, Haage & Partner Computer GmbH, Data Storage Advisors AG, eGames, Inc., On Broadband Networks, LLC, Envizions, Inc., and Ironstone Partners (until 2015).
Various licenses were reconfirmed in a 2011 agreement between Cloanto and Amiga, Inc. (Delaware). These include the right to sublicense, and are not limited to emulation purposes.
For maximum public clarity, assignments of Commodore-Amiga copyrights up to Amiga ROM and OS version 3.x to Cloanto were also deposited at the US Copyright Office in 2011 and 2012. This was in addition to the existing licenses. More specifically, the licenses over the Amiga OS 3.1 copyrights to Cloanto remain in effect (even without an additional, explicit copyright assignment).
In addition to the original ROM and operating system files, open source projects such as AROS provide some compatibility with the original system. AROS is both free and easy to license, and includes a 68K build (a project sponsored by Cloanto) with binary compatibility option.
Operating Systems from Original Amiga Systems
One way of licensing a (single) copy of the Amiga ROM and operating system software is acquiring an Amiga computer. This ownership in itself does not grant any right to reproduce the ROM or operating system, and/or use them on other computers, unless this is expressly authorized in the license agreement and/or by law.
In many jurisdictions, it is allowed to make a backup copy of software. One interpretation is that making available such software over the internet, or using it on another computer does not constitute a "backup". The transfer and use of one's own ROM and operating system files from an original Amiga to an emulated Amiga hardware environment on another computer may or may not be considered a "backup", depending on different interpretations.
Additionally, local laws and precedents, as well as a license agreement (EULA) that may have been included with the computer or operating system, may indicate whether it is allowed to use the ROM and/or operating system on a system other than the one with which they were obtained. A transfer "from one computer to another over a network" was expressly prohibited by the "Program License Agreement" included by Commodore-Amiga with the Amiga computers. Even lacking an explicit license agrement, one interpretation is that this is not possible. For example, Apple Computer, Inc., successfully opposed the use of original Mac ROMs on boards designed to be mounted inside an Amiga computer for emulation purposes (i.e. to run Mac software on an Amiga).
Vice versa, the Amiga Forever EULA allows the use of ROM and OS files that are included in Amiga Forever as a backup to restore damaged original components of a Classic Amiga computer.
Redistribution on Web Sites
The proliferation of unlicensed Amiga ROM and operating system files over the internet was one of the reasons for the official endorsement that Amiga Forever received in 1997 by Gateway and Amiga International, two owners of certain Amiga-related intellectual property assets, including (at the time) Amiga-related patents. Still, it remains a common question as to whether Amiga ROM and operating system files may be placed online for unrestricted public download.
The fact that software can technically be reproduced in unlimited copies at a cost tending towards zero is certainly a fascinating concept, however the technical "can do" is independent of the legal "can do", and this topic is not open for debate on a web site that has to respect legality, and aims to promote and maintain it in the context of Amiga emulation. For this reason, we have to consider other aspects, which include:
- The fact that multiple licensees, ranging from computer magazines to software publishers to computer manufacturers are able to legally redistribute the Amiga ROM and operating system does not mean the the ROM and operating system are "free", but rather that they can be licensed
- The fact that it may be possible to make a backup copy of one's own ROM and operating system files does not mean that the same can be placed online for public access by others
- Notices such as "You are only authorized to download the file if you also own the original" or "You must delete the files within X hours from the download" have little legal value because they are in contrast with the fact that files are made available to anybody without verification, and are based on an incorrect assumption, because only the license that comes with a ROM, and/or applicable laws can validly state what can be done and what cannot be done
If you obtained a license for doing so, we see no reason why you would not be able to offer ROM and operating system files for download. However, without a license, we are not aware of any reason why you would be able to do so, at least until the expiration of the various copyrights (the original Amiga-related patents have already expired), which is expected sometime during the 2080s, or until at least one of the licensees makes his rights available for this purpose. This is already the case, for example, for the Amiga-compatible AROS operating system.
So, the answer to the question "Can I put Amiga ROM and operating system files on my web site?" is that you probably can, in accordance with any applicable laws, but you need a proper permission (license) in order to redistribute something that you do not own. These items include any that may be owned or licensed by the successors of Amiga Corporation (formerly Hi-Toro), and numerous other items which are the property of Cloanto and of other third-party developers, authors and publishers, and which in general would require similar licensing.
We like to believe that Amiga emulation has in general been well-accepted also because, thanks to Amiga Forever, it was properly licensed and supported. If that were not the case, the situation of Amiga emulation in 1997 or 1998 could have been similar to what happened to other systems: police raids, legal actions, court battles, etc. Under such circumstances, many programmers, as they have stated, would not create any Amiga emulation software, or any new versions thereof, and there may be little left of the Amiga emulation scene. Instead, Amiga emulation evolved and prospered.
Amiga Forever as a whole, being the result of several years of work by Cloanto and its licensors, is a commercial package. Because we are licensees of multiple components from different parties, we are part of a chain of responsibilities, both contractual and determined by local jurisdictions, when it comes to information about unlicensed ROM and operating system files, or copies of Amiga Forever. When we receive reports about web sites which are claimed to provide such files, we are obliged by law and by contract to take some action. This could be a friendly informative email to the webmaster, which usually concludes the matter in an amicable and constructive way for all parties, or, more regrettably, it could escalate all the way to the ISP and to local computer crime authorities. When this happens, we consider this a failure, and we too feel bad about this.
We've also experienced a few unfortunate episodes of confusing Amiga Forever "home pages" using our graphics, texts, descriptions and even HTML keywords and tags. These had to be removed. Similarly, eBay listings occasionally had to be removed, sometimes with the help of third parties (Amiga Forever by Cloanto is listed in eBay's VeRO program page). We don't like doing this, and we most certainly would prefer to prevent such episodes from happening in the first place, which is one of the reasons why this page exists.
Emulation and Piracy
Cloanto publicly stands for legal Amiga emulation since 1997. As supporters of Commodore/Amiga emulation since the beginning and publishers of Amiga Forever and C64 Forever, we are in the difficult position of having to answer to issues of actual software piracy, but also to the prejudice that emulation encourages piracy. For example, we repeatedly asked IDSA to reconsider some of its public statements and positions about emulation. We like to believe that also as a direct result of our efforts, which they graciously acknowledged, their FAQ pages, among others, have been modified in a way that we see as a positive development towards the acceptance of emulation. Similarly, we have been communicating with mobile device manufacturers to improve the perception of classic emulation software in their marketplaces, also where it originally was not even allowed.
We believe that ROM and operating system piracy hurt the cause of emulation just as officially licensed or free solutions help it. Please consider what happened to so many emulators for other systems, and help us keep the current oasis of emulation peace and prosperity. We need all the support we can get in doing things in a legally strong and recognized way, also in new mobile app marketplaces, and challenge the misconception that emulation equals piracy.
Sooner or later the situation will inevitably change (due to the expiration or special exemption status of some copyrights, or because of the quality and diffusion of compatible alternatives, or for other factors), but until then we need your help to preserve the integrity of Commodore/Amiga emulation. Please make sure that any floppy disk images of games and other programs that you may make available through your web site have been released for such distribution by the publishers. It does not cost much to ask, and many former software companies have already given their consent to this. Please also include information to this respect on your site, to make other people understand and appreciate this (e.g. "The disk images on this site have been released by the original publishers for free online distribution"), and include appropriate copyright and trademark notices for each file.
The Amiga Forever Game Downloads page contains links to some of the sites which have been most successful in obtaining proper rights to offer old Amiga game titles for download. While some of the sites are funded by advertising, the downloads are free.
Links to the Amiga Forever and C64 Forever home pages (www.amigaforever.com, www.c64forever.com) are of course always very appreciated. There is also an affiliate program, if you would like to get more actively involved with supporting our projects. Thank you!