Emulation or Piracy?


Anthony Acevedo

As the year’s progress, old video games and consoles become harder and harder to find and afford, but emulation isn’t. 

Emulation is hardware or software that allows the user to run a software, or imitate a specific type. With just a few modifications. For video games, emulators are programs that allow the user’s personal computer, or console, to emulate another video game console. Examples would be using a computer to play PlayStation games or even playing Game Boy Advance games on your phone. However, emulating games sounds very familiar to Pirating. Pirating is the unauthorized duplication of the copyrighted material. Does that mean they’re illegal?

The copyright law makes emulation of games in a grey area. The emulator software themselves are legal because they’re not violating copyright laws. What is illegal about emulation is installing the ROMs. ROMs are files that contain data from a “read-only” memory Chip, and the majority of the time they’re old games. It would seem pointless to own an Emulator without any ROMs, which leaves emulation in a grey area. ROMs contain the full game and are available for free on the internet, the same goes for the emulators, but it’s still illegal. But there is somewhat an exception. 

The rule of thumb is that if you own the game, you’ll be able to download the ROMs legally. According to the website, How-To-Geek,A common argument online is that extracting a ROM from a cartridge you own is perfectly legal, but downloading ROMs from the web is a crime”. But, you’re not distributing the ROM to anyone else or selling them, so does that mean it’s legal? No, since downloading ROMs is illegal, but there has yet to be a case about it. There’s also an argument that if games aren’t being sold anymore, they should be able to be emulated. There’s no money being lost if there’s no more production of it, right? That too is in the grey area. 

The argument that if it’s not being sold, it should not affect the business. The counter-argument of this is that gaming companies are trying to preserve the value of the game. Gaming companies want to do a similar tactic that Disney is doing, stop producing a product only to then re-release it in later years. The re-releases often create high demand from the consumers which results in an increase in sales. However, emulating an old game would most likely not get you in trouble with the Law, they’re still illegal. There are a lot of grey areas that need to be covered.  There’s 1 exception, ROM Hacks. 

ROM Hacks are modified ROMs of a Video game to alter the game’s graphics, dialogue, levels, gameplay, etc. They are legal since they’re not stealing the full unaltered game, but are instead doing minor or major changes. It’s similar to modding, but is done with non-approval methods. Again, this is placed in a Grey area because they can still be taken down by companies. 

Overall, there seems to be little to no exceptions when it comes to emulating games and creating ROM Hacks. There’s no middle ground, or silver lining, of an agreement. Both sides have their own reasons for emulation. Some want to do it to play old classics, archive them, or to play games that are hard to find. Companies say it’s illegal mainly because it’s against the copyright law and it’s their right to own and do whatever they want with their products. For now, emulation will be considered a subject within the grey area.