Emulators, Roms, and dilemma?


Hi everyone! Got myself a bit of a dilemma here.

So a little bit of the back story first. A few months ago, my friend and I teamed up to create a multicade. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, a multicade project is one in which you put a gaming computer inside a arcade cabinet. It’s really fun!

But the problem that’s bothering me is the software we are using. See, I’ve always been an avid fan of classic gaming, so from a young age I’ve always used Roms and emulators to play what games
were sold far before my time. For those of you too busy with family or other obligations to keep up with modern technology, an emulator is software that emulates piece of hardware on another platform.

Lately however, my conscience tells me that it’s wrong. I always used to justify the use of emulation with arguments like: the console has been long dead and the games are no longer for sale, so it’s okay. But after having a debate with my brother on pirated music (which I’ve always stood firmly against), I found that using emulators and downloading Roms while being against music piracy seems hypocritical.

I don’t wanna pull the plug on our project (its been so much fun and we are both putting so much work into it!). The computer is a large part of what I’m doing for the project, so I feel I have a duty to my friend and the project, but I don’t want to be committing a sin towards God :confused:

Emulators are perfectly legal so as long as they don’t copy the code of the original console (most are coded in a way that they don’t). Roms are only legal if you have a copy of the original game. I’ve been considering legally purchasing retro games available for the wii. Would say, downloading Super Mario Bros for the virtual console entitle me to a copy for this arcade machine since its practically only for personal use? The money would be going to the copyright holder that way.

But then what about all the games not available for the Wii virtual console? Are all those generally considered “abondonware" if they haven’t been rereleased in any way shape or form? If I buy a used original version of a game like that, no money will be going to the developers. Wouldn’t that be morally equal to downloading a ROM except for the fact that someone besides those who own the copyright law is profiting?

In general, I just need to determine what’s a sin, what isn’t, and what I can do about this project. I don’t wanna quit the project. And I often catch myself thinking that I can just go to confession when its all finished, but I know that’s not the way to think. And I don’t want to go to confession with it unless I know that I’m gonna stop using the illegal Roms for the multicade. I’m in a dilemma, and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!


I used to use a lot of roms and emulators, still do to a certain extent when the mood hits.

When it comes to something like MAME, I don’t think there are any issues because the copyright on most/all of those games has run out. I believe the same is true with the NES / Sega era games, though I’m not positive on that one. Any games that Nintendo has renewed through the WII virtual console would be off limits, since the copyright would have had to have been renewed for that.

As for more recent games, I’ve pretty much given up on emulation of them unless I’ve hunted and been completely unable to fund them elsewhere, and even then I tend to shy away from it now.

Sorry I can’t be more specific, but this is my take on the issue. The thing that’s wrong with using roms and emulators is that a lot of the time the games been played with them are still under copyright, and therefore still the property of their respective copyright holders. Once a game leaves copyright though, legally speaking I think they’re fair game.

Also “going to confession when you’re finished” as you described it wouldn’t do you much good. For one, you’re participating in the sin of presumption (saying “yeah, I know it’s wrong, but I can just go to confession later, so who cares”). This sin is severe (not sure if it’s mortal) because it shows a disregard for God and his Laws. In addition to this, continuing to use the illegally obtained roms would constitute a continued sin… I think… I’m not sure on that one. If so, I need to clean out my music…

Digital media is confusing, because downloading something doesn’t reduce the original, nor prevent the owner from continuing to make money on it… That’s why I tend to base it on copyright.

Hope this helps a bit… If you’re building a mame box, I think you’re good. If you’re adding NES, SEGA and PS1 era games then you need to look into the copyright status of the games you’re wanting. If you’re loading anything later than that, I believe they would still fall under copyright and therefore be off limits.


I would be more conservative here.

Copyright can last as long as 75 years or so, well within the advent of the video game era in the early 1970s.

Even if the original company that created the game has ceased, typically that property has not become an electronic form of “community property.” Somebody still owns it, even in liquidation.

If you are able to download games, even if long out of service from an arcade, they are technically illegal to possess without a clear statement otherwise by the copyright owner.

The Wii’s Virtual Console (which I love) was introduced to tackle this problem positively for many Nintendo players who had older games that couldn’t work on now-defunct consoles.

A few companies give away their source code but still own the sales rights while allowing players to adapt and recompile it to play the games on modern hardware. One company with a familiar name did this: Bungie. Long before Halo, they made its inspirational predecessor, Marathon. This and the two sequels, Marathon II: Durandal and Marathon Infinity, are part of the Aleph One project that gives all three games away for use on the major computer platforms. Some other makers might have done similar things; check around.

Sadly, while I would love to build a *Tron *arcade replica and use a downloaded ROM from the net to empower it, it’s illegal. While Midway Games declared bankruptcy in 2009, Warner Games bought the properties.

There are many games to play, new and sometimes completely free from the internet. I miss my older games, but I don’t want to steal them now, which I did before becoming a Catholic and realizing the ethical error.


Huh, I’ve never bothered to look. On further research, it appears that you are right.

Sorry OP, I’d have to say you should call off the Arcade box.


I do not have a problem playing ROMs, mainly because I have no desire to play any except some of the classics I owned years ago, or still own. Since it is stealing to play something you never own, I consider it equally stealing to charge twice for the same game.


What if we owned some sort of copy of each game we had?

I know that sin is always sin, but if we could somehow make the certain situation we got going on here more legal or ethical that would be awesome.

I would have no problem calling it off if it was just me, but calling it off would seem like a huge slap in the face to my partner. We have been pouring our blood sweat and tears into this project. We are almost done with the cabinet work, and we are about ready to put the PC in.

Maybe we could replace the PC with a Wii or some other console? There will likely be some debates between us that ensue in the future over this.


If you own it, it’s fair game. You’ve paid for it. I have roms of games I own because they’re easier to play on the computer, or its’ nice to keep them all with me on my phone. Downloading a rom of a game you own is legal.


I use to have literally thousands of roms myself, but got rid of 'em when I concluded that it was wrong, as I haven’t paid for many of them, and it was against the law on how I obtained them.

:thumbsup: See here for reference.

Emulators are legal, but from what I understand, it is still illegal to distribute or download the bios file for them, if there is one. You would have to create your own bios, or if u own the actual system, you’d have to dump it yourself onto your PC.

As far as ROMs go, apart from some exceptions (and what country u live in), u generally can’t legally download or distribute ROMs, but if u own the original game, u can generally legally dump the images with a dumping device; Now unless the copyright holder makes them available for download/purchase someplace, that would normally be your only way to legally obtain the ROM image of a game. And those dumping devices are expensive from what I hear.

Nintendo actually has a legal page in which it talks about the legality of Nintendo roms.


Yes, they do, but they are not a court. They represent their side of the legal dispute and would be happen with re-selling the same game to people over and over, cheating others while complaining about themselves being cheated.


What they’ve said though about the legality of downloading Nintendo ROMs is right on, though.


I think that suko is right that it is illegal to download ROMs even if you own a physical copy of the game, but I concur that dumping the ROMs from a legally obtained physical copy of the game is okay legally and morally (as long as you don’t sell/give away the physical copy and keep the ROM). Here is one such dumping device: stoneagegamer.com/retrode-en.html.

So yeah, it will be expensive to purchase all this stuff (and you have to purchase add-ons separately to dump N64 and other console ROMs). But if you are willing to take the financial hit I think you’d be able to continue your project with a clear conscience. Kudos to you for trying to do the right thing! :thumbsup:


I emulate too. And pirate stuff.

We live in a world where a person found to be resistant to leukemia can have their DNA copywritten by a corporation. It has happened. Additionally, the reproduction of people (i.e. if they have a child) in that scenario is legally a violation of copywrite law, no different that of downloading a song or a movie illegally. It is the same law.

We live in a world where a journalist can expose that voting machines are easily tampered and easy to alter the results of and then be shut down for violating copyright law of the machines. The law is very commonly used for censorship.

The difference between these and other kinds of property rights is this: while ownership of material goods guides the user of scarce means to their most important uses, in the case of immaterial goods such as literary productions and technological inventions the ability to produce them is also limited, yet once they have come into existence, they can be indefinitely multiplied and can be made scarce only by law in order to create an inducement to produce such ideas. Yet it is not obvious that such forced scarcity is the most effective way to stimulate the human creative process. I doubt whether there exists a single great work of literature which we would not possess had the author been unable to obtain an exclusive copyright for it; it seems to me that the case for copyright must rest almost entirely on the circumstance that such exceedingly useful works as encyclopaedias, dictionaries, textbooks and other works of reference could not be produced if, once they existed, they could freely be reproduced.

During the early days of film, many films became lost. The main reason for that is copywrite and the subsequent destruction of the originals. The classic movie “Nosferatu” was in violation of the law and was meant to be wiped from the face of the earth. Now it is known as a classic silent movie. Quite simply the destruction of the classics have been caused in part by this corrupt lawcode. The retro games are very much in risk of becoming lost and several games already have (“Dare, Bluff, or Die” and “C.I.T.Y. 2000 Paris.”) Emulation is key to preventing the games from being lost. Why? is because the consoles and the games will continue to become rarer and rarer. Virtual copies are required to keep them alive. Most of them won’t survive 75 years to become public (and they can be prevented from public release even then.)

Additionally years where the law is better enforced, the industries who claim that “hurr duur, piracy is killing the industry” do far worse than when the piracy is rampant. There has never been a study done that validates the law or the reason the law was created only about a hundred years ago.

Imagine if you would that I own a car. You can copy that car. Now you have a car and I have the car. Did you steal it from me? No. There is nothing immoral taking place. Rather, I would say that it is moral to keep these great artworks alive and appreciated.

Oh, and downloading a game for emulator is entirely legal if you own a legal copy of the game.

  1. Emulators are legal
  2. ROMs are illegal according to the Berne Convention* unless you personally made the copy, there is only one copy, you continue to posses said copy.
  3. Abandonware is still subject to point 2
  4. ROM is an acronym (Read Only Memory) and as such is completely capitalized

*Pretty much everyone has signed it, the exceptions are" San Marino, West Morocco, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran, Palestine, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Burma/Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan.

It’s illegal, but definitely not a mortal sin in your case.


I have to agree with you on this one. Copyright laws have become more unjust with each generation, as the only lobby influencing the government are the producers, not the consumers. They have become patently absurd with time, pun intentional. Instead of encouraging creativity, they stifle it for the purpose of keeping money in the hands of those that already have it. But that is our society now.


Would like to ask then, while the Virtual Console could maybe help with other things, what about thje gmes that are NOT included in the Virtual console? Such as (but not limited to) the first 3 generations of Pokémon, San Francisco Rush (2049 as well maybe), Excitebike 64, Goldeneye 007, etc? Would it be dictated that such games would, thus, would have to be completely unplayable FOREVER on pain of doing a bad action if it’s downloaded? Cuz, atm, not even sure if several of those games could be adquired (through practical means, rather than “Vintage artifact” buying), and if they were got with ROMs why would it be bad if there would be no customers anyways?


Golden Eye 007 can be acquired through re releases in disc form for multiple systems. They tend to be limited editions, contain bonus stuff, and cost a bucketload of money. Think about paying $80 or more for a game almost 20 years old.

It might also be noted that it is nearly impossible to prosecute emulation and online piracy in general. Why? is because the only way for a government to do so is to break multiple laws and commit multiple felonies. In the case of Sweden’s attack on The Pirate Bay, the police shut down all the servers in the building, which destroyed the websites for several hundred legal companies (destruction of private property) and a political party website (political censorship and high treason.) The only reason they did so was because the U.S. was threatening an embargo on Sweden if they did not convict the operaters of the Pirate Bay (because the Pirate Bay was violating U.S. Law (Not Sweden’s law, they were a legal operation in Sweden at that time) ). Now, as it happened, the judge of the case was also intimately tied with anti-piracy lobbyist groups and organizations. A biased judge in a violation of the defendants human rights.
This is how it is almost always done.
Nearly always, the law is created in order to create a way to prosecute the target that certain industry lobbyist decide upon. PRO-IP was passed in order to take out Megauploads.
With each bill passed, freedom is slowly eaten away.

Not that legality decides morality. As I said, online piracy is not immoral. It isn’t even really piracy.

For more information: Just start reading wherever to learn about the real virtual world.


Public Domain used to be a thing. After a certain period of time, the original artist can no longer claim ownership over his work - he’ll have to make something new to continue to make money. If he thinks that he can still make money off of it he can certainly try, but he cannot prevent others from doing the same or distributing it at zero cost.

Almost all emulators are for N64-era games or older. (A Gamecube/Wii emulator exists, but it’s rather dodgy to use) The N64 was discontinued over a decade ago. Copyright law in its current form is very unreasonable, so it’s up to you, the reader, to decide if something fits in the public domain or not.


Public Domain continues in effect 75 years after the copyright starts unless otherwise opened for others. It can easily be lengthened to be longer. It can be renewed by someone else or by a corporation. Michael Jackson owned most of the Beatles copyrights, because of a change in the law. So Paul, John, Ringo, George didn’t get a cent from those songs after that. Think about that… Copyright law depriving the artists of the product of their work… which the law is supposed to protect…


No, author’s rights only last for ~10 years, because I have personally decided that this is a reasonable timeframe and I refuse to recognize a set of unjust laws. Additionally, copies can be distributed for free even during that time, because it has has been made abundantly clear that such is the natural order of things in a post-scarcity environment.

If someone tries to abuse author’s rights, then it is best to try them in the court of public opinion rather then the court of law. The Streisand Effect proves that this is viable.

Copyright was never meant to protect artists in the first place. It first started seeing widespread use in the 16th century, because the political elites of the time didn’t like how anyone could grab a printing press and quickly spread dissenting information. Artificial constraints had to be put in place to maintain the status quo, and these constraints had to be justified to the public somehow.

The mid-15th century saw the introduction of the Gutenberg Bible. It was very scarce and thus enormously expensive - but it was still cheaper then a manuscript bible. Many scholars were able to read the Bible for the first time, and the contents weren’t quite what they were taught. As the printing press became more ubiquitous, soon too the common person was able to tell which priests were deceiving them and how.


I am in full agreement. My point is that is the justification to the masses that the elite give.

Copyright law depriving the artists of the product of their work… which the law is supposed to protect…

My point is the hypocrisy in the reasoning.

I think a 10 year timeframe seems acceptable.
Still, the copyright lasts 75 years, and they are known for looking for examples to crucify in court. So always be careful and know the risks.

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