Emulator Talk Legal or a no no


Do you think computer emulaters are ilegal or should be used rather than the normally worse official ones or have more



Emulators are perfectly legal. Emulators is how classic games get ported in the original state to new systems. And Emulators on PC is fine, even those unofficial fan made emulators.

The legal questionably is in roms, as in the rom images of those games and bios files of those old consoles. Homebrew roms and roms of carts you own are fine. Downloaded Roms of games you don’t own are not. But then again there little means to catch someone with a large rom library.

On SRK we can talk about emualtors, frontends for emulators, emulation set up including netplay.
Even Rom translations, just not about where to get the roms your self.



thank you that makes sense i just forget that



Well, what we think about shoulds or shouldn’ts has nothing to do with legality. The laws remain the same until an appropriate legislature rewrites the relevant statutory or constitutional provisions, or the precedence determining how those laws are to be interpreted is overturned in the courts. I am not entirely sure what the laws are myself, since I am not a legal professional, but purely for the sake of discussion I shall mull over what I do know:

Legality depends on the existing laws of a particular jurisdiction, somewhat (the berne convention sets some international standards to copyright law), but because the nation is so much more populous than all of the others which use English as its primary language, even combined, I am going to assume you mean in the U.S.A.

Sony fought the battle against emulators years ago and lost in Sony vs. Connectix and Sony vs. Bleem, and surprisingly, they lost both cases and ended up using extra-legal means to put those companies out of business. Sony bought out Connectix, and used their marketplace leverage and deep pockets to bully and stall Bleem’s until they were ready to launch the Playstation, rendering both the P.C. Bleem emulator and Bleemcast mostly irrelevant as a commercial product. Bleem was fed up with it, so they closed up shop. The Gaming Historian has a very good Youtube video going over the details of the matter.

These days, reaffirming the legality of the emulators is that companies like Sony are using the same open source emulator you would use to power a Raspberry Pi, or an unlocked cell phone for the Playstation Classic, which is Psxrearmed. Sony isn’t the only one doing that either. Steam downloads are often run through D.O.S. Box., and companies like Hyperkin or Retrobit have also been using open source emulators to run the games.

The tricky part about it is accquring a copy of a game game that you can legally use with the emulator. The reason it never came up in the Sony lawsuits is because those games were made on regular C.Ds., and the copyprotection measures for Playstaton games were largely limited to preventing backups from being played back on the original console.

You can’t just download it, because the copyright holder generally retains a monopoly on creating new copies, as well as their distribution, and none of the exceptions apply to downloads. Napster tried to argue that downloading a backup copy of a music file you already own might constitute fair use as a form of space-shifting, but that rationale was denied, and the same rationale for the denial would probably apply to all media.

You would have to use a copy of the game that you already own, and even that can be difficult.

First of all, as a rule of thumb, bypassing copy protection measures violates the Digital Millinium Copyright Act’s anticircumvention provisions. The U.S. copyright office can make exceptions for specific purposes, and they have for video game consoles that were put off of the market in the past, but only temporarily, for a duration of three years before they have to be renewed. Something else that needs to be noted is that the Sony cases only tried these cases from a copyright angle. They didn’t try to sue Connectix for any patent infringements. It is likely that this is because the way emulators and original hardware works is so different that even patent laws wouldn’t have protected against the differences of functonality, but that remains untested in a court of law to my knowledge. Patent laws generally last 20 or so years, so again, I wouldn’t even be thinking about emulating anything past the dreamcast for this reason too.

The combination of these factors make it unlikely that any commercial games past say, the dreamcast can be legally used with a computer. The patents for those consoles haven’t expired yet, and even if they are non-applicable, the console manufacturers probably took note of the Sony vs. Connectix case and decided to implement copy protection measures against emulation as a result

Making matters even more difficult is that most earlier video game consoles are somewhat different from the Playstation, in that they are cartridge based, and you can’t just insert a video game cartridge into a computer lto play the authorized copy directly off of the cartridge like you can with a C.D. You have to find some way that will allow the computer to read the R.O.M. file. Historically the devices which allow you to do that have also been determined to be illegal.

U.S. copyright law has statutory provisions allowing people to back up computer software, but only as specified as U.S.C. Title 17 §117, and Atari vs. J. S. & A. held that those provisions did not apply to video game cartridges because video game cartridges were not volatile enough to require backups. Personally, I think this case is in error because cartridges are prone to malfunction, even if they are not as prone to malfunction as the magnetic media of the day. However, as of yet this case has been essentially upheld in Nintendo’s lawsuits against Bung Enterprises regarding the Game Doctor devices , and the doctrine of stare decisis makes it difficult to overturn bad precedent.

However, there may be a legal distinction between a copier and a mere reader. A copier can directly write a copy of the game to new media, like a cartridge or a disc. A mere reader would simply allow a computer to interface with the device, and only incidentally allow the creation of a new copy to be made as the result of the computer’s ability to copy the file. This would be done at the user’s discretion, pursuant to the mitigating factors of law, such as fair use. This is based on the determination of R.I.A.A. vs. Diamond Multimedia that makes copying music files from a music C.D. somebody owns to an MP3 player legal. This rationale could probably be applied to video game emulation, although it has not been directly tested in the courts yet, so it is hard to say for sure. If you took this route, you would need to acquire such a device and personally own a copy of the original game, which is probably going to be more expensive than downloading the same game through a licensed game.

Another way to go about it would be to license the R.O.M. from a website, then take that R.O.M. file and use it with an emulator other than the one that came with it. However, if you take that route, then it is likely that your ability to use the R.O.M. is going to be contractually limited in accordance to the terms and conditions of an E.L.U.A. meant to prevent illegal redistribution, which may incidentally restrict your ability to do that, and even if it is not directly restricted in such a matter, the D.M.C.A. anticircumvention measures could also stop you from using it with a third party emulator if the file has copy protection specifically designed to prevent that. However, in lieu of a restrictive license or such copy protection measures, then I can’t see this being much different than downloading a music off of itunes and playing it back in Windows Media Player, Winamp, V.L.C. or again, on another device such as your digital audio player.

So all in all, the most accurate answer is probably “it depends on the circumstances”, and even then, we’re not the ones who will really be able to say for sure. If you’re worried about the legality, I’d advise consulting a lawyer, while keeping in mind that the final decision would likely be made by a judge.

1 Like


Emulation is Glorious and the future! Only the anti-emulation snobs (looks at Darksakul) really have a problem with it at the end of the day. Really, if you take a microscope to even the finest emulation out there, you’re going to see SOME flaws. Emulation by it’s nature can never truly be 100.00% perfect, and trying to hold it to such an extreme is silly and unreasonable.



I was asking a question



And i was making a statement.



ok how am i a anti-emulation snobs



My view on emulation:
I have no problems with emulation itself and I fully understand that it’s a good way to preserve and play older games.

That being said, my gripe with emulation is people use it as an excuse to get “free games”, which I strongly have a problem with.

1 Like


I see things as somewhere in the middle. Once a company ceases production and support of a system & its games, it is abandoned. Sure they may re-package/re-release the game for future systems, but this is no longer a native solution. One cannot play Virtual Console games on a N64. There is nowhere to stick the bytes & bits.

ALL of my game systems are old & unsupported. However, if I could go out to the store and buy a brand new copy of Turok for the N64 knowing that profits go to the game studio and Nintendo, and I get the consumer protection of a warranty, I would still be buying games. There is no such consumer protections for any of the systems I own, and at this point none of my spending benefits content creators, development studios or the console maker. I “appreciate” that there are hoarders and resellers, but I am neither. I am a gamer and a consumer.

I know the way I do things is questionable in legal terms, but I have no trouble sleeping at night. I still own every console I grew up with. Flash Carts & other methods have negated my need to deal with resellers and hoarders. If you ever want a good laugh, ask a reseller how much of the sale goes back to the developer, and if they have a warranty. They may laugh, or they may simply decide to not sell to you because you are insane.

I have no problem with someone wanting a collection of carts & game discs. There is generally nothing wrong with this. I don’t collect for shelf decorations. I have a small collection of consoles and games, including a 2600, Genesis + 32x, Snes, Nes, N64, Playstation and even an MVS. Some of these consoles I have multiples of. I also have a Wii, and though I don’t emulate on my PC at all ever I found that the wii does a great job of emulation of my NES, SNES & Genesis. Basically I have one small unit that does an acceptable job of emulating 3 systems that I no longer need to keep plugged in. Because of this, I can store these systems and all hardware in boxes in the man-cave/storage room. The wii is the last great 15khz videogame system, and at face value is worthless. I hate the wii games and the shaking, jumping, swinging garbage. However as an analog game system emulator, it is exceptional and quick and easy.

On a side note, aside from my computer monitor I don’t own a single “HD” television. I have 2 CRT televisions. One in my living room, and one in my mancave. I am not a consumer of most contemporary content. I have an outstanding PC which can handle any current games at high settings, but I think its a waste. I have bought less than 1 game per year over the last 10 years for the PC. I have been a PC gamer since the late 90s, and I think I am getting to the point where I have seen it all. I am completely content with Mario Kart 64 or Metal Slug 3 and I don’t need a 5ghz intel processor to enjoy games.



One need only point to the hundreds upon hundreds of classic and FUN Arcade games over the past 30 years, that never got a console release. Or even modern home release on something like XBOX Live. And for those FEW that did? The licenses have long since run out for many, and they are once again unable to be acquired officially.

For such gems, emulation is the only option. Otherwise they’d be lost to the sands of time never to be enjoyed again.



So what does any of this really have to do with Tech Talk?