|»»» The Legality Issues of Emulation « «« «««|
For those interested, here is some good information on the legality of
emulators, ROMs, and backup units. Some of the information *may* be
incorrect. I am not responsible for any actions you take after reading
The following is taken from the Project UnReality Legal Issues
To begin, console copiers themselves are NOT illegal. What you do with
them determines their legality. You are not allowed to make a copy of a
game you do not own, whether it be a friend's game or a game you rented.
You are only allowed to copy games that you own. As most people know,
there are images of games on the Internet. Downloading these are
NOT legal either. Even downloading a game from the Internet that
you own is not legal.
To sum it up: You are ONLY allowed to make copies of games YOU
Federal US law allows a user to make as many archival copies as necessary,
including relocation to a different medium of storage. Title 17 USC
Section 117 backs up this claim:
117. Limitations on exclusive rights: Computer
- Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is not an
infringement for the owner of a copy of a computer program to make or
authorize the making of another copy or adaptation of that computer program
- That such a new copy or adaptation is created as an essential step
in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a machine
and that it is used in no other manner, or,
- That such new copy or adaptation is for archival purposes only and
that all archival copies are destroyed in the event that continued
possession of the computer program should cease to be rightful. Any exact
copes prepared in accordance with the provisions of this section may be
leased, sold, or otherwise transferred, along with the copy from which
such copies were prepared, only as part of the lease, sale, or other
transfer of all rights in the program. Adaptations so prepared may be
transferred only with authorizarion of the copyright owner.
As for the legality of emulators, they are NOT illegal. However, using
copyrighted games that you do NOT own with an emulator *is* illegal.
Here is an excerpt from Marat Fayzullin's "How To Write a Computer
Although the matter lies in the "gray" area, it appears to be legal to
emulate proprietary hardware, as long as the information on it hasn't been
obtained by illegal means. You should also be aware of the fact that it is
illegal to distribute system ROMs (BIOS, etc.) with an emulator if they
This excerpt is from PC
Gamer 10/97 issue, page 84
Emulators exist in a sort of nebulous gray area among the outskirts of the
law and on the fringe of the gaming industry. The emulator program itself
is not illegal. Neither are the ROMs - provided you only download ROMs for
which you still own the actual cartridges.
So, the way I understand it, to use an emulator, you can only use your own
game ROMs, which requires a copier, or Public Domain/Freeware ROMs, as found
on this site. You are allowed to make whatever copies that you want of
carts, but you can not distribute the ROMs. ROMs that you find on the
internet are not the same as what you would get off of a copier, this is
why you can't use those images. Technically, it's a different piece of
software, and not your own, so you may not use it. The "If you do not own
this cart, you must delete the ROM after 24 hours" business is still
unclear. I recall some law about viewing recorded videos, or using
pirated software for testing purposes for 24 hours, but this may not be
true. I will have to look into that.
Now, this is the Nintendo
of America legal page. I've always liked Nintendo the best as a video
game producer, but I hate their legal system. I have added in comments
in white to errors or lies in the page.
Thank you for your interest in Nintendo and our products. Infringement
of Nintendo's Intellectual Property ("IP" for short)
rights hurts not only Nintendo, but our players and the legitimate
businesses connected with Nintendo. Counterfeiting is a serious
problem not only for Nintendo but also the entire video game industry.
Nintendo will continue to aggressively protect its intellectual
Intellectual Property Rights
Nintendo owns intellectual property rights in its products. These
include copyrights, trademarks,
A copyright is an exclusive right granted to an author of a literary,
musical, audiovisual or artistic work, giving the author the sole right to
reproduce and distribute that work. There are several different types of
copyrights which are associated with Nintendo's products. These include
various copyrights in Nintendo's software source code, executable code,
game visual display, game music, game characters, product packaging, game
manuals and labels; hardware chip microcode; artwork and
Trademarks are the distinctive names, words, logos, designs and symbols
used to distinguish a product of a particular manufacturer or source.
Some of Nintendo's most widely recognized trademarks include
Nintendo®, Game Boy®, Super NES® and Super Mario
Bros.®. The Nintendo® trademark has been filed in many
countries throughout the world and registrations have been issued in
Nintendo's name in many countries.
A patent is a grant of the exclusive right in an invention for a period of
time. Nintendo owns many utility and design patents. There are many
patents and design patents associated with Nintendo's hardware and
There are also a whole lot of
Patents Pending.. hence the name of this site (see
Origin of Patent Pending)
Independent Publishers/Licensees/Licensed Property Owners
Nintendo licenses a number of independent third party publishers to use
its patented technology, copyrights and trademarks in developing, creating
and marketing their own video games. Additionally, there are a number of
intellectual property rights associated with these games that are owned by
And if Nintendo doesn't like
them, they do not get licensed, but make games anyway and get in to big
court Anti-trust battles.. Tengen anyone?
In addition, many independent property owners from such sources
as movies, television, sports leagues, etc. license their intellectual
properties for use in video games.
A counterfeit Nintendo product is an illegal copy of an authentic Nintendo
product. These counterfeit products often originate from Taiwan, Hong
Kong or China. The production, distribution, or sale of counterfeit
Nintendo products is illegal.
Of course, now these products
are starting to surface worldwide.. North America.. Europe..
Nintendo has brought many legal actions worldwide to stop counterfeiters.
In addition, many criminal actions have been brought against those
found to be distributing, reproducing, or selling unauthorized, illegal
copies of Nintendo video game products throughout the world, including
criminal actions against on-line distributors.
Now this isn't a pretty topic.
Nintendo tries to pressure emulator writers.. like Jerremy Koot, Snes'9X,
or Jeremy Chadwick, SNES Document into stopping writing emulators and
documents of Nintendo systems, claiming they are illegal, and had their
copyrighted coding stolen, of course which was not true. Nintendo has no
right to stop emulation itself, but who knows what their lawyers might be
able to pull off.. Anyway, once Nintendo shut down a pirate game company
in Taiwan in which the Taiwanese government itself had 40% stock! (from
TSR's NES archive, I'll have to dig that address up..) Until recently,
NOA has has a pretty good control of pirated Nintendo products in the US.
The internet kinda screwed them over in that way. Of course, maybe the
whole problem lies with Nintendo's own emulator, Silouette. More on
Snes'9X, VeNES, and Silouette later.
Q. What are "Disk Copy" Devices or "Console Copiers"?
A. "Disk Copy" devices or "console copiers" are electronic devices that
enable users to make and play illegal copies of video game
software. They have no other purpose. These devices enable users to
illegally copy video game software onto floppy disks, writeable compact
disks or the hard drive of a personal computer.Of course we already know that this is
bullshit. Yes, console copying is *usually* done for illegal acts like
distributing ROMs, but the copies are NOT illegal if kept in the possesion
of the cart owner! They do have other purposes, like emulator testing,
which of course Nintendo would like to call illegal anyway..
Q. Where do Disk Copy devices come from?
A. The Disk Copy or Console Copier devices are primarily manufactured
in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China.
Again, these devices are
steadily finding their way into the worldwide market.
Q. What are the names of some of the devices used with Nintendo
A. Most of the copying devices sold today are for use with the SNES
and N64 hardware systems. Some of these names include:
DOUBLE PRO. FIGHTER
GAME DOCTOR SF 7
MULTI-GAME DOCTOR II
MULTI-GAME HUNTER (MGH)
PROFESSOR SF II
SUPER COM PRO.1
SUPERCOM PARTNER 64
SUPER PRO. FIGHTER
SUPER WILD CARD
TWIN SUPERCOM PRO.5
UFO SUPER DRIVE PRO
WILD CARD II
WILD CARD 64
I'm kind of surprised they listed them.
Q. What are emulators?
A. An emulator is a software program that is designed to allow console
based video games to be played on personal computers. The video games are
obtained by downloading illegally copied software (often described as
"ROMs") from on-line distributors which have previously been copied
out of an authentic video game cartridge. The software works with the
emulator to enable game play on the computer.
This should be reworded: "The
video games CAN be obtained by downloading illegally copied software" We
haven't forgotten our friends the console copiers already, have we?
Q. Is it okay for me to download Nintendo games from the Internet/
electronic bulletin boards?
A. No. The unauthorized exchange or transmission of copyrighted Nintendo
video games on the Internet/bulletin boards is a violation of Nintendo's
intellectual property rights and is illegal.
Q. How can I identify counterfeit Nintendo products?
A. Counterfeit products often can be recognized from a careful inspection
of the product. "Tips" for recognizing counterfeit products are listed
The ";Official Nintendo Seal of Quality":
Look for this seal. In authentic, original products, the seal indicates
the product has been tested and approved by Nintendo. Licensed merchandise
products also display the "Nintendo Licensed Product" seal. The seal
is printed in gold.
Nintendo Trademark and Copyright Notices
All authentic Nintendo and licensed products display copyright and
trademark notices. Look for (™ and ® ARE TRADEMARKS OF NINTENDO OF
AMERICA INC.; or ™ and ® ARE TRADEMARKS OF NINTENDO CO., LTD.) (©
year NINTENDO OF AMERICA INC.;© year NINTENDO CO., LTD).
Without these notices, it is likely a counterfeit or unauthorized
product. Many producers of counterfeit Nintendo video game products
remove these notices.
Where is the Product Sold?
Always inspect the packaging of the video game product. Nintendo products
sold in the United States clearly state on the outside packaging: "FOR
SALE AND USE IN THE U.S.A., CANADA, and MEXICO ONLY" or "FOR SALE AND USE
IN NORTH AMERICA AND LATIN AMERICA ONLY." Video game products in Japan
state on the outside packaging, "FOR SALE and USE IN JAPAN ONLY. BUSINESS
USE and RENTAL PROHIBITED." Similar markings are used on Nintendo
What Language is Being Used?
Nintendo products marketed in the U.S. are always in English. Nintendo
products for Canada are always written in French and/or English.
Counterfeit games often can be detected by non-native or Chinese language,
poor grammar or spelling or "funny" sounding text.
Instruction Booklets/Warranty or Other Written Materials
Counterfeit products may not include an instruction booklet or warranty
card. Instruction booklets or other documents that are included with the
counterfeit product may have blurred printing, faded colors or be of other
poor quality. They also may contain spelling errors or other signs of
Over-all Product and Packaging Quality
Counterfeit products may not look like a quality product: packaging
may contain fuzzy/blurred reprint of the package design, not shrink
wrapped, colors aren't quite "right", not well constructed. The general
sharpness of the printing (especially the fine print) and the game play
photographs on the package and labels may be hazy. The box for the
counterfeit hardware unit may have a severe ribbed-like texture or be of
The screen shots usually suck
The clear plastic cartridge case of the counterfeit (for Game Boy)
game cartridge and the counterfeit hardware unit may not contain the
Nintendo name embossed on the back of the case and/or may contain
scratches or other flaws. The counterfeit game cartridge, cartridge case,
and hardware units may not be packaged in a plastic bag inside of the
box. Nintendo 64, Super NES and NES game paks may lack an
antistatic bag or other protective packaging.
The color of the plastic housings on the counterfeit game cartridge and
hardware units may not exactly match authentic Nintendo products and often
will be a slightly lighter color. The plastic housing for the counterfeit
game cartridges and hardware units may be copies of old versions of the
plastic housings on authentic Nintendo products. The housings also may
contain scratches, flaws or other signs of poor quality manufacture. The
upper and lower halves of the counterfeit game cartridge housings and
hardware units may not be secured by specialized security screws. Often,
the counterfeit housings only snap together. If screws are used to secure
the housings, they may not incorporate special heads like the security
screws used on genuine Nintendo game cartridge housings and hardware
Security screws.. so you can't screw around with their cartridge..
Number of Games Per Cartridge
Often, counterfeit cartridges offer many game titles on one cartridge,
anywhere from 50, 100, 500 or more in one game pak! Often, these are
not separate games, but merely various game levels or slightly
modified versions of the same game. These are not authentic
Most of these died out with the NES anyway..
"Adapters" designed for use with counterfeit goods are designed to
counteract the Nintendo security system and may damage authentic Nintendo
products. These "Adapters" usually do not have the Nintendo name
on them. Use of the adapters in some countries may be illegal.
Or, maybe you just have a game
from a different country, or an "Aladdin" game, which require an adapter,
but can be perfectly legal.
Know Who is Selling the Product!
Look for authentic Nintendo products from the official Nintendo
distributor for each country. Suspicious indicators for sellers of
counterfeit product include; not a reliable place of sale, flea markets,
street vendors, door-to-door sales, newspaper ads by phone number only,
sellers who do not charge required taxes, sellers who refuse to provide a
sales receipt, sellers who hide goods "under the counter", or sellers who
are selling other suspicious goods.
They make it sound as if they
are selling drugs or something.. Not that I agree with what they
Retailers are free to price video games at any price they choose.
However, significantly low prices may indicate that the products
They need to make some money,
Here is the Warning that most
Nintendo game manuals now display:
CAUTION: This Nintendo game is not designed for use with any unauthorized
copying device. Use of any such device will invalidate your Nintendo
product warranty. Nintendo (and/or and Nintendo licensee or distributor)
is not responsible for any damage or loss caused by the use of any such
device. If use of such a device causes your game to stop operating,
disconnect the device carefully to avoid damage and resume normal game
play. If your game ceases to operate and you have no device attached to
it, please contact your local authroized Nintendo distributor.
The contents of this Caution do not interfere with your statutory
WARNING: Copying of any Nintendo game is illegal and is strictly prohibited
by domestic and internation copyright laws. "Back-up" or "archival"
copies are not authorized and are not necessary to protect your software.
Violators will be prosecuted.
Again, this should be
reworded: "Copying AND DISTRIBUTING of any Nintendo game is illegal and is
strictly prohibited by domestic and internation copyright laws." Nintendo
has no right to tell you that you can't copy your own cart.
This manual and other printed matter accompanying this game are also
protected by domestic and international copyright laws.
The rental of this game without permission of Nintendo or its licensees is
Well that about sums up Nintendo's side of the story.. or does it?? lets
look a little deeper (thanx to
From "The Affinity Y0SHi Interview" 96.10:
As all SNES
programmers know, Nintendo of America is very tight-assed about giving
programmers their documentation (Nintendo of Japan isn't as anal, may I
add). At the time, documentation on the SNES's registers, sprites, and
sound chip were not available to me. All I personally had was a document
from Dax, which was horrendous... and turned out to be almost 35% wrong.
In the midst of my journey to program the SNES, I wrote my own
documentation, basing it on Dax's document, correcting the flaws and
Over time, this document grew to a phenomenal size, providing almost all
definitions for all registers. My document also contains source-code,
showing how to scroll two backgrounds, one controlled by the joy-pad,
the other by the CPU, as well as playing music.
...it is 100% free, and is available to anyone who wants it. It can be
found on many FTP sites all over the world.
I need to also stress something in regards to The SNES
I have been approached by Nintendo of America in regards to it being
freely available; Nintendo would like to claim that I have been
"distributing company secrets" -- as if I had stolen a copy of their own
documentation and copied it.
This is untrue, by the simple common sense that, yes, The SNES Document
*DOES* have flaws, and I am very aware of them. Anyone who has seen it
grow from 1.0, to 2.0, to 2.3 knows that...
All information in my document was provided by anonymous sources, as well
as by myself, via tinkering around on the SNES.
Of course this was an obvious reason why they did not like the SNES
Document (from "Super Nintendo Emulation Ego" 97.10.23):
...developers in Germany to Email me 2 years ago and tell me they were
WRITING *COMMERCIAL* GAMES using my documentation, because they did not
want to agree to Nintendo's NDA...
but there was also this:
Due to Nintendo threatening a lawsuit against me if I updated my
documentation again, I couldn't fix the bugs.
and this from "The End of Snes'9X" 97.10.30:
Due to several reasons Snes9X can't continue... One is a
possible claim of Nintendo... And then there is one more reason which,
due to circumstances I can't even explain...
We know that these weren't the main
reasons, but maybe the "claim of Nintendo" and the "circumstances" can be
explained. Read "Silhouette: The Story"
So, in the mess of legality issues, we find so much more than the 24 hour
rule... And remember.. this article only focused on Nintendo.. think of
all of the other systems/companies. As I bring this article to a close,
I draw your attention to one last excerpt (from the
"Interview with James McKay"):
...so I'm not allowed to download Golvellius to try and
get it working. I'm sure everyone would love that, don't you know that
you'd be stuck with R-Type, Outrun, Sonic 1, Sonic 2 and a few others if I
hadn't had the ability to see cartridges that I did not own. Do you think
that there are shops all over the place which I can just walk into and buy
games that have been out of circulation for years?
Or do I delete them after I have got them working, then when I make further
changes to the emulator I then have no idea if it has a detrimental effect
on all other games?
March 16, 1998
Special Thanx go to Micheal Tedder (breakPoint), Jeremy Chadwick (Y0SHi),
Alan Dykes (Shadow Dragon), Jerremy Koot (The Teacher), Chris Hickman
(Tides/Typhoon_Z), Marat Fayzullin, James McKay, Stephen Sharp, NOA, and
PC Gamer for the content.