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I am interested in creating and selling hardware for emulating old arcade games. However, I am very aware that there could be several legal issues here.

First of all, many emulators are open-source, but have non-commercial licenses. Would it be legal to create a piece of hardware that would download and install the software upon the user's consent?

If the above is legal, is it necessary to ask for user confirmation?


Theoretical Software: RetroPie, which includes many non-commercially licensed components. All components are open-source.

Location: United States

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It is legal to sell hardware, but not legal to sell forbidden software even if burned into the hardware. The technical details of what you want to do are not clear (and irrelevant to this SE), but to state the matter more broadly, you can sell a computer, and you can sell a computer with software pre-installed (in some manner) if you have permission to do so, but not if the software come with a "you can't sell this or any thing about it" kind of license. A user of such a computer could, however, install software that is quasi-open with a non-commercial exception, as long as their use is not commercial. If a user illegally installs software, you are not liable unless your device is specifically designed to download illegal software (as opposed to simply making it possible).

  • FWIW, there are some exceptions to the general rule (restricted technologies for military purposes, certain hacking devices, etc.) but they clearly wouldn't apply to the arcade hardware fact pattern posed in the question. – ohwilleke Jun 11 '17 at 22:33

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