Stern Pinball EULA Paves The Way For Connectivity – At A Price

Stern Pinball are quite simply the biggest pinball company in the world right now. There is no doubt about it. They put out the most games. Manufacture them in the fastest comparative times. Getting them in peoples homes quicker. With four cornerstone games a year. That makes them on most counts conceivable. The biggest in the industry. Personally, as an owner of many Spike 2 games over the past couple of years, I have to say they put out great games. No other manufacturer has the scale of hits as Stern.

As the biggest in any industry, they, as any other generally does, can certainly court some controversy. In an earlier post, we looked at how the Stranger Things UV lighting mod set a dangerous upgrade precedent for pinball. There has been a recent video directly questioning the quality and Stern’s willingness to address failing node boards and PSU issues, due to it increasing their cost and reducing spares sales. Add to that, luke warm reactions to the recent Led Zeppelin pro, which some have described as bare. You can see how everything Stern does gets looked at through a curious lense.

Stern dropped a tonne of new code over Christmas, packaged up as it should be as a fantastic gold mine of fun. There was a heck of a lot of polish and updates in there, for pretty much every game in the Spike 2 line-up (with the exception of Aerosmith and Batman ’66 I think…?)

On installing each one of those code updates, as a user you were agreeing to Stern’s brand new EULA. So what is in it and what does it mean

Update 6/1/2021

We reached out to Stern who told us that at this stage, they see no issue in us streaming their games on platforms such as Twitch, this came from Zach Sharpe. To reiterate our opinion, which, by the way is solely an opinion. We think Stern have had no choice but to implement these type of changes. Licenced material comes at a cost, we pay for it in the price of our machines and Stern pays for it to the owner of that IP. If infringements of their agreements are costing them potential opportunities, then they have to make a stance. This is simply business.

Streams I think it is difficult to state infringe on the IP, if the game is being displayed as made. There may be content on it that are IP, especially given how much Stern likes to make a music pin. I would suggest here it is Stern’s duty to the community to explicitly engage licencees on this issue. The streaming community for pinball is small but commands a great following and undoubtedly increases sales.

Where mod makers are concerned, if it infringes IP, then it isn’t right. However inspired by mods etc. Should be fair game.

What is an EULA?

EULA stands for an End-user License Agreement (also called Software License Agreement (SLA ), or Licensed Application End-User Agreement). Generally speaking, an EULA is a legally binding agreement between the owner of a product (often software) and the end-user – more specifically a contract between the licensor of a product and the licensee.

Source: Lubenda.com

As We Are Talking Legally

This is just my opinion and how, as a non-legally trained individual (you can’t count A-Level law for this sort of thing), I see things. My opinion in no way constitutes legal advice or fact.

What’s In Stern’s EULA?

For a full copy of the EULA in the latest code updates from Stern, check out the full Stern EULA here. I haven’t installed any EULA applicable code yet myself, but it seems that the agreement to the EULA is tacit (or implied), simply by use of the code. This means, you accept to EULA simply by using the product, as opposed to explicitly accepting, by agreeing on installation. This is an interesting difference as an acceptance on installation, such as selecting a checkbox before installation, which shouldn’t be too hard to implement. I imagine, in a court of law, implied consent and explicit consent hold differing weightings, although clearly Stern view implied as legally enforceable.

If anyone has installed code and it just relies on tacit acceptance at this stage. Please let us know.

My Key Points

I have to shoutout to MarvLoco over on YouTube and his US take on the law here, he puts across some interesting points, but I wanted to make a couple of different ones. I recommend watching that too.

This is for the custom code modders.

Let’s take Jurassic Park. The game is a great game, shoots well, albeit frustrating in places, and uses the source material well. What it was missing in many peoples mind was the assets from the film. So, people created code that used these assets to enhance the game. Stern, and the licensee sees this as theft. In fact, Gary Stern even went as far as to say that some licensees were not going into pinball, because assets were being stolen. Or their IP was being infringed upon without Stern and the licensee getting their cut of the gravy train. So Stern have gone out to make it legally obvious that modding code, such as this, is illegal.

You will not use or install any Unauthorized Content or Unauthorized Software. Use of Unauthorized Content or Unauthorized Software may result in your Stern Pinball Machine ceasing to work permanently and/or losing access to Stern Pinball’s online game network, either immediately or after a later installed Authorized Update.

Stern EULA – Page 2 Clause a ii.

The Stern Online Game Network

Two things to call out here:

  • Your game may stop working if you install custom code, essentially bricking the hardware. How they do this, I do not know. It assumes there must be some memory on the CPU that is not directly linked to the SD card and notably…
  • Stern will be introducing online connectivity, which will allow them to send back the information to brick the machine. Whether this means any game that has previously had custom, unverified code on it could be bricked, I don’t know.

Letting The Mole Loose

Stern Pinball may update the Stern Pinball Software from time to time without further notice to You, for example, to update any antipiracy, security, and technical measure.

Stern Pinball UELA – Page 2, Clause a vii.

This to me reads they can legitimately send an update to either auto update the code, or brick the machine if you have installed an illegal version without your consent. It is how the mole enters the garden, before tearing up the flower patch. So to speak.

How Far Does It Stretch?

You will not copy, reproduce, alter, replace, distribute, reverse engineer, decompile, disassemble, display, perform, create derivative works based on, or otherwise modify the Stern Pinball hardware or Stern Pinball Software or any Authorized Update, in whole or in part; and will not commercially exploit any of the foregoing.

Stern Pinball UELA – Page 2, Clause a i.

Technically here, this means that all games must remain stock. You could argue that any part of the machine changing is a derivative work from the original. However, you could also argue that as long as it does not infringe on the IP, you are legally free to adjust your game in any way you see fit. I think it would be a far stretch for Stern to go after the likes of Pin Stadium, just becuase they now do some lights in their side blades. People love to mod their game, so I can’t see Stern going after such products. If you put a massive Jurassic Park logo on your side blades, or Marvel Characters on your artwork, yes this could be an issue. Expect the “House of Mouse” to come calling. Creating work in the spirit of the game, without infringing IP, I think would be a very messy way to further alienate Stern from the community. Also, a case they probably wouldn’t win.

What About Streamers?

Yeah technically you have to ask Stern every time you stream for their explicit permission.

In view of the rights held by third-party owners of Authorized Content (e.g. music and video clips) You will not stream your gameplay of your Stern Pinball Machine without Stern Pinball’s prior consent.

Stern Pinball UELA – Page 2, Clause a v.

We have reached out to Stern to ask if this is the case, at this stage, they have not responded, but it is early days. Once we have a response we will publish it. So whilst we love Jack Danger, it would be a bit of a kick in the teeth, if the only place to watch games, was via his channel. Ouch.

Is the Stern EULA as bad as it sounds?

The truth is, we don’t know. It all depends on how Stern police it. For the most part. Massive updates of code that gets streamed on a daily basis that infringes IP. You can see where they are coming from, especially if commercially it stops them from getting certain IP over the line. If they are going to go after people making a living in the community, enhancing their games, or sharing them with the wider community via streaming. It is a pretty awful thing to do. Let us know your thoughts below.

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