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»»» 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 this article.

The following is taken from the Project UnReality Legal Issues page:

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 own.

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 programs

  • 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 provided:
    1. 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,
    2. 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 Emulator"

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 are copyrighted.

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 property rights.

Intellectual Property Rights

Nintendo owns intellectual property rights in its products. These include copyrights, trademarks, patents.

Copyrights

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 publications.

Trademarks

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.

Patents

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 software products.

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 these publishers.

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.

Counterfeits

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.

FAQ'S

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 systems?

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)
MULTIPRO FIGHTER
PROFESSOR SF II
SUPER COM PRO.1
SUPERCOM PARTNER 64
SUPER MAGICOM
SUPERCOM PARTNER
SUPER PRO. FIGHTER
SUPER UFO
SUPER WILD CARD
TWIN SUPERCOM PRO.5
UFO SUPER DRIVE PRO
WILD CARD II
DOCTOR V64
WILD CARD 64
CYCLOPS 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 below:

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 products elsewhere.

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 poor quality.

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 poor quality.

The screen shots usually suck anyway..

Casing

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.

Housings

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 units.

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 Nintendo cartridges.

Most of these died out with the NES anyway..

Adapters

"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 do.

Pricing

Retailers are free to price video games at any price they choose. However, significantly low prices may indicate that the products are illegal.

They need to make some money, don't they?

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 rights.

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 strictly prohibited.

Well that about sums up Nintendo's side of the story.. or does it?? lets look a little deeper (thanx to Archaic Articles)

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 etc.

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 Document...

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" 98.01.01

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 EmuNews 1997 "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?

--=MEGAߥTE,
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.

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This section maintained by MEGAߥTE.
All content © 1997-1999 Patent Pending unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.
Please see the disclaimer / copyright section for more information.
Last update: Saturday, 09-Mar-2002 06:00:00 UTC
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