Will you release the file format and/or source code for handling IPF files in the future?

Yes, absolutely. To not do would be rather flawed preservation.

However, this is a delicate subject. As we will attempt to explain here, there are certain reasons that prevent us doing this at the current time. It is worth noting that anything you need to do with IPF images can be done through the library. Nobody actually needs access to format specifications or the source code, but it still needs to be done - for the preservation aspect.

Some of the reasons for the delay in opening up the technology are discussed in the preamble of the licence.

It partly boils down to the presence of a few companies who would jump at taking advantage of the fruits of our work. We know this because they contacted us, assuming we would want to capitalise on it. We said no, because we are not willing to let these people rip off the game developers who poured such love and effort into their games. Aside from that, they would also be taking advantage of us at SPS, and the retro-community in general. It is just not right. This stuff should be free unless it is the people who actually own the rights that are doing the selling. So the only people that should profit from the results of our work is the original game authors - should they wish to sell their original games in a more flexible form. This is why our user library license is so strict about money changing hands for distributing it. You cannot even put it on a magazine (unless the magazine is free of course) without express permission.

But there are another reasons.


The IPF format and the associated technology is completely generic and so people wanting to find information about a particular system in it would be disappointed. However it does contain information that we can’t possibly disclose at this time.

Reverse engineering techniques are completely legal according to European law as long as the information cannot be gained another way. However, the same laws state that it is illegal to share any knowledge gained. Why do you think “DVD Jon” got into so much trouble? It was certainly just because he did it, it was because he made that information available. These same laws apply directly to SPS and what we do, and it would be very irresponsible to flaunt them. No test cases here thank you, the gaming artifacts we work to preserve are too important to risk.

It is worth noting that exemptions to the US-based Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) were added in 2003 to make circumvension of access controls for obsolete media legal thanks to the Internet Archive, Stanford University FIXME (link), and others. Of course, since we do not circumvent Copy Protection anyway (the protection is preserved too), it does not really apply to us (especially since none of us live in the U.S.) but it does make our legal standpoint stronger.

Comparisons to Other Projects

You can see the effects of these legal problems elsewhere. For instance, even though Linux is an open source community, you will never see a single line of source from SecuRom or SafeDisc copy-protection emulation/support added to open extensions. Take WineX. The main parts dealing with the copy protections are closed source. Same with Daemon Tools, a CD device “emulator” that supports various copy protection schemes.

In our case, everything we have done is completely legally reverse-engineered, and it represents (and completely documents) millions of pounds worth of investment by companies specialising in the field. Today as you can imagine, floppy disks are not used commercially for much anymore. Trace no longer produces floppy mastering hardware, so the only ones still in active use are old. Most floppy disk duplication done today is duplicated on something called the “Ghost Writer”, which is an inflexible PC based hardware device for low volume runs.


The technology contains detailed information about protection schemes that are still under NDA’s, and their basic principles can be applied to (more-or-less) any media including CDs and DVDs. This is not how we would want it, but the law is unable to deal with issues like this, and that reflects the knowledge available to those who made them.

As soon as anything changes about the companies involved and/or the copyright laws we’ll have a page ready with the appropriate sources and much, much more. But for now we would just face troubles of legal and otherwise that we are not prepared to deal with. The time and money is better spent on preserving the games than fighting legal battles.

Not all bad news!

Each system that we work on tends to reveal vast amounts of technical information that was previously unavailable, inaccurate, or just plain wrong. Take the Commodore Amiga as an example; the WinUAE sources now contain 99% of the real disk information based on research we carried out before our organisation went public. If you are interested in the details of the Amiga disk system then look at WinUAE, it is a much better resource.

Emulation of original games for most systems is only possible with exact disk emulation, and by working with emulation projects we have achieved that, and we will continue to do so for each supported system. It is important to remember that the IPF format itself is about preserving magnetic recording on disks, nothing to do with each system by design.

Other Reasons

Other than the above, the other reasons that compounded this decision are:

  • This stuff is insanely complex, making the details available would benefit very few people because a background in Magnetic Recording Theory is needed. In reality there are only a few people who actually worked with this stuff that could understand it. This is probably why this sort of thing has not been done before, it takes far too much knowledge and time, and the combination of the two is very rare.
  • The technology is well written, and the file format is very advanced, but it is a fundamentally different approach based on deep technical knowledge of magnetic media, and this is a huge subject area. If you search for "magnetic recording" on Google, you will see some of it, but most is detailed in 120+ EUR books aimed at industry. Without a firm background in it, it just won’t make much sense. Again, we are not talking about disks from any particular computer system, but actually how magnetic particles are made up to form bits on a disk. It is deeply theoretical stuff.
  • The IPF images we produce are perfect representations of the originals. If people have access to the technology, they could possibly (though it is unlikely) make disk images based on ones we have provided, which almost certainly would not be authentic to the real media, would likely be broken, and may be confused with official ones.
  • Porting is done on request, just as long as we have the hardware to test on.
  • Floppy disk mastering should come at some point in the future. As soon as we get the time and have the money to work on it we will.
  • Prevent companies gaining any sort of profit from our work. We have encountered people that really made this a valid point (for the time being). We like doing this for free, but people making money on our work is a very different matter unless they hold the rights to the games.