New RISC OS ownership claim may derail ROOL RiscPC ROM releasePublished: 10th Dec 2008, 03:40:50 | Permalink | Printable
RISCOS Ltd, the developers of RISC OS 4 and 6, may attempt to block RISC OS Open Ltd from releasing a RiscPC-compatible ROM built from the RISC OS 5 Shared Source project, drobe.co.uk has learned.Well-placed sources say ROL, whose representatives have this month claimed on public forums that the company now owns all versions of RISC OS from 4.00 onwards, believes the free distribution of such a ROM image from ROOL would be a breach of ROL's exclusive rights to develop and market the operating system, which was formerly produced by Acorn and later picked up by Pace.
ROL first licensed the right to work on RISC OS for desktop machines (and later a greater range of devices) from Pace in 1998 following the collapse of Acorn that year. In 2002, Castle obtained Pace's 32bit RISC OS sources and used them to create RISC OS 5 for its Iyonix computer range. ROL and Castle continued to develop and sell their own seperate streams of the OS: RISC OS 4 and 6 are used in RiscPC and A7000-compatible machines and emulators and later the A9home while RISC OS 5, as a desktop OS, remained exclusive to the Iyonix.
In 2003 Castle said it bought the OS "lock, stock and barrel" from Pace, however ROL continue to dispute the level of ownership Castle has of the OS, drawing attention to the wording of the buy-up announcement. However Castle maintain to date that it bought the OS from Pace and had instructed its own lawyers to double-check its legal position. A year later Castle and ROL briefly kissed and made up after Castle tried to stop ROL developing its stream of RISC OS soon after Castle announced its purchase of the OS.
In 2007 Castle came up with its shared source scheme and chose RISC OS Open Ltd, which is made up of ex-Pace engineers, to manage the publication and development of the RISC OS 5 source code. So far the team have uploaded the blueprints to and pre-built copies of the OS's applications and low-level components, weaved in a number of code contributions from volunteer programmers and distributed some experimental Iyonix-only ROM images. ROOL's overall aim is to allow punters to freely download or build RiscPC-compatible ROM images for their computers and emulators - a move that sources close to RISCOS Ltd believe is a step too far for ROL, which has focused its efforts over the past nine years on the RiscPC-class sector of the RISC OS hardware market, branching out to the A9home when AdvantageSix stepped in.
It is understood ROL is happy to allow ROOL to continue turning out Iyonix-only ROM images but may put the matter to a company shareholder vote on whether or not to take action to attempt to halt the distribution of RiscPC-compatible RISC OS 5 ROMs. In 2003, ROL shareholders decided not to attempt to pursue Castle for developing a desktop RISC OS computer, the Iyonix, after ROL bosses believed the company held exclusive rights to the desktop RISC OS market and the Iyonix was in breach of this. Castle strongly denied any wrongdoing.
ROL's new strengthened stance on the OS ownership dispute appears to have come about after company director Aaron Timbrell reviewed the paperwork documenting ROL's licence to develop and distribute RISC OS. This agreement was initially drawn up with E-14, a company formed during the break-up of Acorn that took on the intellectual property rights (IPR) to the technology that we know as RISC OS. This technology was subsequently snapped up by Pace to use in set-top boxes. ROL were, at the time, granted exclusive rights to continue working on RISC OS for the Acorn enthusiast market and from Acorn's final sources it produced RISC OS 4. ROL say this early desktop-only remit was extended by Pace at a later date - paving the way for RISC OS 4 to be bundled with emulator VirtualRiscPC (which is incidentally published by Aaron Timbrell).
Having leafed through the licence agreement and various bits of correspondance and public postings, Aaron now believes RISC OS 5 is a derivative of the source code base that RISC OS 4 was born from. It is understood that some of ROL's early changes to RISC OS had to be passed back to Pace, and ROL's position appears, in part, to rest on whether or not these ROL-authored updates made their way into the code that Pace engineers eventually 32bitted and turned into RISC OS 5.
And having fulfilled various obligations set out in the original agreement with E-14 (such as the aforementioned requirement of ROL to share early source code changes with Pace), ROL can now safely declare itself owner of the OS source it picked up in 1998 and all subsequent updates to it, claims Aaron - who believes Castle's RISC OS 5 also falls under this. Therefore, according to Aaron, ROL own RISC OS 5 and suitable licences must be obtained from ROL before anyone can produce a RISC OS-powered product that falls within ROL's licence remit. Hence the latest objection to plans to release a free RiscPC-compatible ROM image buit from the RISC OS 5 sources by RISC OS Open using materials provided by Castle.
In a comment posted on Drobe, Aaron wrote: "Once RISCOS Ltd had fulfilled certain obligations it acquired all 'right and title' to versions of RISC OS developed over the last decade. There have been some behind the scenes discussions with regard to this going on for some time.
"RISCOS Ltd is now a fully independant organisation that can do what it likes with its IPR (which includes all versions of RISC OS 4 onwards) without any reference to any third party. RISCOS Ltd's agreement with E-14 states that, once certain obligations had been fulfilled, RISC OS 4 (and any deriviative produced from the source) would be then owned exclusively by RISCOS Ltd.
"Since RISC OS 5 is a derivative from the same tree and was based on the RISC OS 4 code that was licensed back to Pace for their STB projects, it follows that RISCOS Ltd also owns this. If you check you will find comments from several of the ROOL guys that confirm this history of RISC OS 5. Neither E-14, Pace or Castle have ever owned any version of RISC OS from RISC OS 4 onwards. They have only ever been able to use them under licence from RISC OS Ltd."
Fellow ROL director Dave Holden added: "After a certain period ownership of RISC OS 4 and all its derivatives passed to RISC OS Ltd."
Castle declined to comment on Aaron and Dave's claims, but it is understood the company is adamant it bought RISC OS from Pace and carried out its own legal investigations into the ownership dispute.
RISC OS Open's response
Meanwhile, RISC OS Open boss Steve Revill said any action taken by ROL to stop ROOL from distributing a RiscPC-compatible RISC OS 5 ROM would have to be directed at Castle, rather his own company.
Steve said: "I wouldn't lose too much sleep over this for the following reasons: first, the IPR belongs to Castle Technology Ltd and ROOL have released it under a shared source licence provided by Castle. If ROL has any complaint they need to address it to Castle, not to ROOL. Second, ROOL has no contractual relationship with ROL and are not party to any agreements between ROL and Castle. Accordingly, ROL has no legal basis whatsoever to take action against ROOL as they don't own the IPR but merely license it from Castle.
"ROOL's position is no more and no less special than that of anyone else out there in the community. If ROL object to what is published, they first have to prove in a court of law that they are completely right and Castle are completely wrong. Then, and only then, would they be able to (possibly) revoke the shared source licence."
• RISCOS Ltd's new online ordering website is up and running after it was downed by technical difficulties earlier this week - just as the world showed interest in low-cost copies of the OS. Orders could still be placed over the phone or by email.
Update at 13:22 10/12/2008
Dave Holden says ROL have offered RISC OS Open a licence, the terms of which are not known.
RISCOS Ltd's website
RISC OS Open's website
Castle's website - although now rather out of date
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