Are Video Game Emulators Legal?

Video games have always been a popular source of entertainment for people of all ages. They have become so popular that there are various kinds of consoles for people to choose from depending on preference. After a certain amount of time companies create new consoles with more powerful hardware and new innovations to appeal to people’s personal interests. When these new consoles are released, the companies slowly decrease the production of older video games and consoles to force people to upgrade. What happens to the people who lose or sell their old video game/console and want to them again? If they don’t want to search the internet for who is still selling, they can use an emulator to play these old games on a PC or smart phone/tablet. This raises the question of whether or not these emulators are legal to use.

Copyrights are a big part of why emulation is given a negative view. Copyrights last for the life of the person who created the copyrighted work plus 70 years after that person’s death. While it is illegal to use these programs to play the software, some feel as if copyrights are unfair and that they restrict people’s freedom to do what they want. Emulation provides opportunities for people to obtain video game products without having to pay for them. Companies are against this because they claim that since their customers can find their work for free, then then will stop paying for the games in stores. This is not completely true because everyone has different demands. The population as a whole won’t collectively stop buying video games from stores because people’s demands vary from person to person. Emulation takes a lot of work and most people will make the simple choice of walking into a store to make their purchase.

Many large video game corporations such as Nintendo, are completely against emulation and claim that it violates copyright laws and not only hurts their business, but hurts the entire video game industry. Nintendo states “The introduction of emulators created to play illegally copied Nintendo software represents the greatest threat to date to the intellectual property rights of video game developers.” The availability of their products becoming available for free hurts their revenue and can lead to a loss of jobs. They compare emulation to piracy where the video games are obtained illegally without purchasing a copy. Many companies have legal information regarding the use of emulators and copyright infringement. Large companies try to fight against emulation by having certain distributors shut down to protect their products and revenue.

While most video games companies are against emulation of video games, the people who use them argue that emulators benefit the video game industry. Use of emulators promote interest in these video game franchises and can lead to an increase in sales for a company. If someone who has no prior knowledge of a video game plays an emulation of it on their computer, they may be driven to go out and purchase merchandise related to the video game. Emulations preserve older games and keeps them from being forgotten. How does the possibility of increased sales sound bad? A lot of companies assume that everyone that uses emulation would buy their product if the option to emulate didn’t exist. What happens when a company produces a game that many people buy, but dislike because it’s a bad game. They are going to voice negative reviews about it and tell others not to buy it. If someone is on the fence about whether they should buy it or not, playing it on an emulator may convince them to buy the game add revenue to the company.

A popular website for obtaining video games through emulation

There are many sources online for finding emulators for specific video game consoles. Some of the most popular consoles have emulators that are popular online. Many emulators are used mainly for discontinued consoles that are difficult to obtain. The fact that these old games can be found on the internet attracts people to use emulators to try games that they were unable to find or to play old classic games such as Sonic the Hedgehog. Emulators allow the PC to act as a certain console so that it is able to run the video game or ROM for that specific console.

There are some misconceptions when it comes to using emulators. Owning a copy of the game does not make it legal to download a ROM. Even if you have a copy of the game already you have to purchase the game each time for every single copy. This relates to downloading illegal music or DVDs as well. Every time you want a new copy you need to pay for it. If a game is no longer being manufactured this doesn’t make it legal to download a copy of it online. The copyrights of almost every single game created still exists so the owners of the copyrights can sell them to others to remake old games for new platforms or consoles.

The age groups that use emulators the most likely points to kids in middle school, high school and even young adults in college. These age groups will try to get things they want if the price is not too high or even free. The mentality is probably along the lines of “Why should I have to pay for something if I can get it for free?” Most children don’t have large amounts of money to spend due to parent supervision. Younger kids will want anything they see and not really regard how much it costs. Since many more children of younger ages have access to the internet, they have the the opportunity to acquire these emulators for free without paying. Many college students will take what they can get for free as well. Older adults still have the option of emulation but are more likely to have more money to spend freely as they wish.

Most emulators themselves aren’t illegal, but using them to play ROM files that contain copies of copyrighted content is. Having just an emulator by itself defeats the purpose of it because it was created to play these files. It can be compared to an underage kid trying to drink out of an empty beer bottle. It would benefit these large companies to find some kind of middle ground when it comes to emulators because they are most likely never going to get rid of them. They can try to create lawsuits against as many people as they want, but in the end these companies will only hurt themselves. Spending money on investigations and losing consumer trust will not benefit their sales at all. The number of people that create and use emulators grow each day. Many of these people aren’t so stingy that they would stop buying video games completely. Using emulators only further increases people’s desire to buy new games that they did not know about prior to using emulation.

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