The trouble with emulators

A frustrated jwulf writes:

“I got knocked back on including Generator, the Sega Genesis Emulator, in Fedora Extras. The official word was that it would constitute ‘contributory infringement’, and that there would be ‘no legal use for it as it is worthless without the ROMs…’ of course, those of us who legally own ROMs (yes, the cartridges) and can dump them – or even connect them via a homebrewed hardware kit, are now left out in the cold. What is our recourse now that the hardware is breaking down? What happened to ‘infinite freedom’? It’s like banning Mac-on-Linux or Xen because someone could use it run a pirated operating system, or banning an ogg player because someone could use it to play copyrighted audio.”

It’s all about how much legal risk we are willing to accept.

“No legal use” may have been a harsh way to put it, but to be fair, let’s go through a little exercise. Let’s say that we include this emulator in Fedora Extras, and someone sees the new package and yum installs it. This someone then says “ok, now what? Guess I need some roms to try it out.” So he goes to Google and searches for “sega roms” — and he’s feeling lucky, so he goes directly to the top Google-recommended site.

Well, that happens to be Gametown, which offers old Sega roms. And there’s a GREAT BIG DISCLAIMER, before any actual content:


Feel free to download and play any game that interests you. However, in order to play the games for more than 24 hours, you must adhere to the following conditions:

* You own the actual arcade or gamepak of a ROM you are downloading.
* You will NEVER sell these ROMS for profit.
* You will NOT distribute ROMS together with emulators as a package.

With that said, Enjoy your trip back in time… and Happy Gaming.


Oh, and right below that, you discover this: ” GameTown is sorry to announce that we have lost our main ROM Links. You can Click Here to go directly to Yahoo’s list of Emulator Sites.” Which, naturally, is a link to nowhere and nothing. Gee, I wonder why they lost their main ROM links? Maybe because Sega started chasing them with battle axes?

And MAME is just the same. Are there “legal uses” for these emulators? Absolutely. Are these “legal uses” why 90% of people would be using this emulator? Of course not. Everybody knows what MAME and other emulators are for — to play the ROMs that you find on teh intarweb.

For now, Fedora Extras needs to be like Caesar’s wife: above suspicion. As Fedora continues to assert its independence, we may be able to assume more risk — but for right now, gaming console emulators can live perfectly happy and productive lives elsewhere.

And as for the “infinite freedom” tagline, it’s a standard we hold *ourselves* to — not one we inflict unwillingly upon others. We don’t give ourselves the infinite freedom to infringe on other people’s copyrights. That’s not how it works.

The trouble with emulators

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