Legal Status of MSX-DOS and MSX-DOS2

Door Manuel

Ascended (19299)

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12-02-2017, 16:22

Can someone give a clear link to a clear statement of the legal status of MSX-DOS and MSX-DOS2?

I've heard several times before that MSX-DOS 1 could be spread but I have never seen a reliable source that confirms it.

Does someone know more?

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Van tfh

Prophet (3314)

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12-02-2017, 16:42

I know the old sources of early MS-DOS versions were made public (not PD) some time ago ( but I can't remember such news about MSX-DOS, so... as long as you can't find any clear statement, I'd say it's still copyrighted and that officially you can't distribute it,

Van Grauw

Ascended (10706)

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12-02-2017, 17:27

I’ve heard several times that MSX Association stated that DOS1 and DOS2 binaries could be redistributed, but I can’t help pointing to an actual source of that information.

Van RetroTechie

Paragon (1563)

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12-02-2017, 20:25

tfh wrote:

so... as long as you can't find any clear statement, I'd say it's still copyrighted and that officially you can't distribute it,


Grauw wrote:

I’ve heard several times that MSX Association stated that DOS1 and DOS2 binaries could be redistributed (..)

is not mutually exclusive... along the lines of "used with permission, but all rights reserved". Like Amstrad did with ZX Spectrum ROMs. Not saying that is or isn't the case here! Indeed a clear legal statement would be good to have.

Van gdx

Enlighted (6104)

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13-02-2017, 00:45

The copyrights were to Microsoft but ASCII took over the rights after Microsoft give up the MSX.

Now D4Enterprise claims the rights of MSX since several years and sells some softwares in Japan on the site Project EGG. Personally I do not think it's really legal unless they have the agreement of the publisher. I believe that this right only permits the use of the brand.

About the MSX-DOS, I think we must theoretically ask ASCII before releasing a new software with the included DOS.

Van turbor

Hero (519)

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18-07-2021, 21:45

I was looking at the legal status of MSX-DOS1 and came across this :

Which was posted about a year after the original question from this thread. Is it fair to conclude from this that MSX-DOS can now be freely distributed?

Van Grauw

Ascended (10706)

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19-07-2021, 02:54

That is the case as far as I know.

I’d already heard during the “MSX revival” period in the 2000s that MSX Association stated that MSX-DOS and MSX-DOS2 binaries could be redistributed. The context back then was regarding distribution of MSX-DOS software on disk which needed the MSXDOS.SYS and COMMAND.COM binaries, it was asked whether this was allowed and the answer was positive.

Konamiman got affirmation of that, and has also received permission to release the MSX-DOS2 (Nextor) sources under an open source license, as well as a statement from Nishi on the system ROMs.

Van konamiman

Paragon (1194)

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19-07-2021, 09:06

Grauw wrote:

Konamiman got affirmation of that, and has also received permission to release the MSX-DOS2 (Nextor) sources under an open source license, as well as a statement from Nishi on the system ROMs.

Indeed. To reiterate, what I was told personally by Nishi is that all the MSX system ROMs, and this includes the MSX-DOS files, are free to use and redistribute; with the sole exception of MSX-BASIC, for which Microsoft retains the copyright and asks for 1$ royalty fee for each machine distributed with it (I'm not sure if this includes emulators and it's not clear how to make the payment). I wish I could have got a written statement but that was not possible.

Also worth noting that Nishi explicitly told me that the rights for these ROMs/files belong to the MSX Association, of which he himself is the head (and that's why he was able to give me permission to publish the Nextor sources "on the spot").

Van Edevaldo

Master (154)

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20-07-2021, 02:58

The laws for copyright and trademarks are complicated and change country by country.
The MSX trademark seems to still be active in US, renewed in 2014. But MSX-DOS was abandoned, for example. So you could potentially register that trademark, name a product MSX-DOS and put it into the market even if is an operating system for MSX machines.

Microsoft trademark transfer to MSX Licensing Corporation...


I could not find a registration for the logo, but i did not search for too long either. It may not be protected, for example. Those things require you to demonstrate you are using them so you need to keep some token product in the marked to keep the registrations and trademarks alive. Pay fees, etc. It is not register and forget. It has a cost and at some point companies give up on their rights.

Regarding software copyrights, those are protected for decades after the developer that registered it is dead. But depending where/when different versions of the software need to be properly registered or declared as derivative work. It is not unlikely that some versions are protected and others aren't. Particularly things that were developed in the 80s, legally the process was not very mature at that point. If the software was patented and not copyrighted, it is pretty much public domain at this point (in US and in many other places, but not everywhere).

Even a written consent from Nishi himself would probably not mean much legally. If you are concerned with legal protection, you need to make sure he really owns those copyrights and trademarks before really using that consent. There has to be some paper trail that you now are allowed to do something specific within the rights that he owns.

From a practical standpoint a person who thinks he/she is the owner of a brand/copyright/patent could get a lawyer to send you a letter to stop you from any activity related to what they think they own or face resolution in court. Those letters are pretty convincing, but unless you go to court and they prove they have the right you may never know that they do not have it. But to get there it costs lots of money, they do not get challenged very often. At the same time, if they do it they risk a judge making it clear that they do not own anything.

To summarize, a written consent from Nishi is nice. But probably does not change anything if you really require legal protection. If those rights are still owned by somebody it may or may not be worth it for them to enforce. As there is not much economical interest in MSX as a platform it is likely ok for hobbyists to do their thing. Amiga, Atari, old Apples, is different.

I'm not a lawyer. And I especially do not know anything about how this would work in Japan.

Van Grauw

Ascended (10706)

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20-07-2021, 16:41

Good break-down!

I think it is a balance between, how certain do you want to be and how much effort and money do you want to expend to ensure that certainty, versus how likely is it that some party would step in with a claim. I think in an international licensing landscape like this where the commercial exploitation ended decades ago, and where there’s no official website or channel, it’s difficult to get 100% certaintly.

There is a point where a verbal statement from Nishi is “good enough”, and that point would lie in a different place for e.g. a homebrew game and a large scale Nintendo Classic Mini-style commercial re-release. I also don’t think Nishi and other people that manage MSX Licensing Corporation (either on the side or out-sourced to a legal firm with consulting fees) would really be willing to spend a lot of effort on a small-scale release, so a verbal or email confirmation may be all that you can get.

For my personal projects, I would have no qualm releasing and selling disk software that include the necessary MSX-DOS system binaries. But I would not include them in the source code repository, because there I’d like to avoid including things where the license terms are not clear and explicit.

p.s. I have at one time politely contacted Nishi to ask if it was ok to scan and publish certain chip manuals because the owner who could scan them for me was worried about legalities, and I did get a “yes” reply, so it is certainly possible to get in touch. However that was not enough to convince that person, I guess they didn’t find either me or Nishi trustworthy, so there’s that. Without clear licenses and licensing infrastructure, it is difficult to get certainty.

Van geijoenr

Champion (362)

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20-07-2021, 22:02

Seriously. Nobody is going to sue you unless is worth the cost. Unless you are going to make millions doing something with MSX abandonware (unlikely?), I don’t think you should spend time worrying about this.