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In computer games MAME is an acronym for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. According to the official MAME website, the first official MAME release (0.1) was released on February 5 , 1997. MAME tries to faithfully emulate as many different arcade machines and games as possible, and has been ported to many different platforms.

MAME's purpose is to preserve gaming history, and to stop vintage games being forgotten. As of version 0.78 (released December 2003), MAME now supports 2666 original games, 4705 actual rom sets (each game may just have the original or have 1 or more clones as well - see below) and is growing all the time.

Table of contents
1 ROM Images
2 Legal Status of MAME
3 External links

ROM Images

MAME is useless by itself. You need the image of the romss from the arcade game to be able to play it. There are three types of roms:

  1. Actual original game roms. This are the games which the MAME development team has decided is the 'original' version of a particular game. Except for the files contained in BIOS roms (if needed), the rom files for these games contain everything that game needs.
  2. Clone roms, which are variants of the original games (for example Street Fighter 2 Turbo is considered a variant of Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition).
  3. BIOS roms, which are needed to get the roms of various standardised arcade systems running (for example Neo Geo or CPS1/2).

There are three ways of getting these roms:

  1. Through download sites, such as the now defunct (as far as downloading is concerned)
  2. By sending the required number of CD-Rs/DVD-Rs to people who will burn and mail these back with the roms on, in exchange for shipping costs.
  3. Downloading via IRC fserves.

Since all the roms and associated files would fill at least 29 CD-Rs/5 DVD-Rs, downloading is only an option for those who are really patient, have a fast internet connection and have a lot (i.e. many months) of time to spare.

Legal Status of MAME

MAME itself is perfectly legal, as it is merely an emulator. The MAME license explicitly forbids people from distributing it along with rom images.

Making emulators is protected by fair use. It's the rom images themselves that are copyrighted.

Legal Status of MAME Roms

If you own the actual arcade game, making a backup copy of your roms for your PC is perfectly legal. Some rom images, such as Atari's, are available for purchase. However, it is not clear if it is legal for an individual to have rom images for a game they don't own.

Most people believe that you'll probably never get into legal trouble by using MAME. For the "classic", pre-1990 games, this is almost certainly true, as the market value of the ROM images is negligible. Some current, post-2000 games, have been added to MAME. Some people think these games should not be included, because they risk unwelcome attention from the copyright holders. Some people quote a "5-year rule", saying that's how old a game should be before being emulated in MAME. However, there is no legal basis for a "5-year rule". The website MAME.DK was shut down due to a dispute with a copyright holder. It was reopened for awhile, and is now closed again, claiming the bandwidth costs more than the revenue generated by the website.

Many copyright holders are currently ignoring the MAME rom distribution activity. This may change in the future. Some people argue that, as long as it's for personal use and you aren't selling the roms, it's perfectly legal. Some people argue that the copyright holders have abandoned their copyright by not enforcing it for many years; most of the games are no longer being manufactured. The actual legality depends on what country you are in, and the US seems to have the most restrictive laws.

The RIAA is cracking down on filesharing users for trading songs. The same may someday also happen with MAME roms. If an individual did get sued by a copyright holder, they would probably be forced to settle. They would be forced to spend lots of money on legal expenses defending themselves, even if they ultimately would win.

It is rumored that the MAME.DK website operators shut down their site because they were concerned about personal liability, not because of the expense of running the website. Someone who obtains a set of ROM images probably faces a much smaller legal liability than someone who has distributed ROMs to many other people.

Is it wrong to use MAME?

Almost all users of MAME think there is nothing wrong with using MAME for classic games, those that can no longer be purchased or found in arcades. Many people think that current games should not be emulated or played in MAME.

There are lots of arguments in favor of using MAME:

External links