The Anti-Emulation Position

Opponents of emulation argue that emulators are unqualifiedly illegal and should be banned. Their main arguments:

Emulators support piracy.

Emulation opponents allege that emulators contribute to and encourage software piracy. This is because an emulator is useless if you don't have any software to run on it. What's the point of downloading, say, a Nintendo 64 emulator if you don't have any Nintendo 64 games to use it on?

The result of this lack of software, the argument goes, is that it is now a common phenomenon for websites that offer emulators for download to also offer, for download, pirated software for the platforms being emulated. The purpose of this is to provide those who download the emulators with software that they can use the emulators on.

Posting pirated software on the Internet so that it can be run on an emulator is commonplace nowadays -- and also costly. The Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) alleges that the $6.3 billion interactive entertainment industry loses $3.2 billion a year to software piracy, including this kind of Internet software piracy. Moreover, the IDSA alleges that this kind of piracy would not exist were it not for emulators.

The IDSA argues that if there were no emulators, there would be no demand for pirated Nintendo 64 games -- or pirated software for any other emulator-supported platform, for that matter -- on the Internet. Emulators, in making it possible for users to run such software, encourage users to post that software on the Internet as a result.

Nintendo spokeswoman Beth Llewelyn best summarized the IDSA's stance when she commented that "emulators are illegal, and they continue to support counterfeiting and piracy . . . this infringes on our intellectual property rights, and that's something we actively protect." In other words, emulators should be banned because they contribute to piracy by encouraging the illegal distribution of pirated software, over the Internet, for the platform being emulated.

Emulators make software piracy possible by circumventing anti-piracy countermeasures on video game systems.

Every Sony PlayStation video game system comes with a special security chip installed that prevents the unit from playing pirated PlayStation games (copies made from the original using a CD burner, for example). One of Sony's justifications for filing a lawsuit against Connectix, developer not only of the Virtual PC but also of the Virtual Game Station (VGS) PlayStation emulator for the Macintosh, was that the VGS did not emulate the PlayStation's anti-piracy chip. Unlike the original PlayStation, the VGS can allegedly play pirated games, which "means that this product will not only negatively impact Sony Computer Entertainment America hardware sales, but third party developers and publishers of PlayStation software could now lose sales to pirated goods . . . as a direct result of the 'Virtual Game Station'," as an official Sony statement on the lawsuit puts it. Similarly, Nintendo spokeswoman Beth Llewelyn claims that the authors of UltraHLE "obviously had to circumvent our security chip" on the Nintendo 64, which "promotes continued piracy."

Emulators lead to trademark dilution.

Sony argues that the VGS "attempts to imitate PlayStation gaming, but more than 17 million consumers can attest to the fact that nothing technically can compare to the experience delivered through the PlayStation game console in tandem with a home television set." In other words, the VGS is illegal by its very nature -- it is not a real PlayStation, so it cannot provide the "full" PlayStation experience (which, presumably, entails playing PlayStation games on a real television while using Sony joysticks for control, as opposed to playing them on a computer monitor while using a keyboard for control). This dilutes the PlayStation trademark, which associates the PlayStation name with the "full" PlayStation experience and which Sony has poured significant resources into building up.

Emulators that utilize a ROM BIOS that is copyrighted or patented are illegal.

All computer systems have a Basic Input-Output System, or BIOS, stored in the Read-Only Memory. The BIOS is a critical part of any system and must be faithfully reproduced in an emulator if that emulator is to function correctly. Certain emulator developers have done this by taking a verbatim copy of the BIOS from the system being emulated and sticking it into the emulator code -- which of course is illegal if the BIOS happens to be copyrighted, as is often the case. Apple and other system manufacturers have argued (successfully in court) that emulators that use verbatim BIOS copies are clear-cut cases of copyright infringement and should be banned.

Emulating proprietary hardware is illegal.

On a similar tangent to the above, the IDSA has argued that emulators are illegal because the hardware that they emulate is proprietary and any emulation of that hardware without the consent of the manufacturer constitutes an illegal copyright violation.

Emulation may lead to the death of hardware development.

In the words of Salon Magazine, "[emulator] programming is seriously blurring the lines between the proprietary formats that have always balkanized" the computer industry. Salon went on to quote one emulator developer, who pointed out that "emulation could advance to such a point that people would ask, 'Why develop [new hardware formats] when we can emulate the process quicker in Windows, Mac OS, etc.?' " In other words, if emulation becomes pervasive enough, it may severely cramp new hardware development by acting as a substitute for new hardware.

The above are the main arguments advanced by those who oppose emulation. The next page contains the main counterarguments advanced by those who support it.

NEXT: The Pro-Emulation Position

MPEG Layer 3   |   Search Engines and Directories
Reverse Engineering   |   CD Burners


Ted LeVan   |   Huat Chye Lim   |   Marissa Mayer   |   Ann Rose Van

Computer Science 201 Final Project
Stanford University, March 1999