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Is The Future Of Emulation In Jeopardy? - June 14,1998 by Big Val
In recent interesting happenings, the IDSA has made clear demonstrations of their intentions to protect their softwaredeveloping members slapping copyright laws in whomever decides to say "hello" to certain ROMs. What triggers the IDSA'behavior? Is there something we can do to stop this? Read on, this interesting article written by Big Val presents some points you might or might not be in line with.

Warning: The Points stated in this article are not the opinion of JoseQ or EmuViews. They aresolely the property of Big Val and him only. Any comments, or reactions should be directed to him.

The past few months have been very exciting for emulation enthusiasts all over the world. MAME has almost hit the 600 game mark,KGen 98 has pushed Sega Genesis emulation to near perfection, and Neo RAGE has made Neo Geo Emulation a reality. All of this is just thetip of a mighty iceberg that grows day by precious day. Emulation is not just a fad, nor is it an activity for computer geeks with too muchtime on their hands. Whether argued as a means of self-expression or historic preservation, emulation has turned the heads of thousands ofInternet users.
Not only have game players taken notice of the emulation scene, but so too have the game publishers. The Interactive Digital SoftwareAssociation (IDSA) has made its presence felt, causing great Fear and Loathing across the Net. The IDSA has forced many emulation and ROMarchive sites to delete entire pages of material that are deemed "pertinent intellectual property." Major ROM sites, such as The Dump,Dave's Video Game Classics, and IHOR have been targeted by the IDSA. Charging into the battlefield with threats of legal action, the IDSAhas been an effective weapon for touchy software publishers so eager to wage war against the emulation community..
To many people involved with the emulation scene, the actions of the IDSA seem hostile. With arguments of free speech and historicpreservation cast aside, one fact is abundantly clear: Legally, the IDSA is in the right. U.S. and international copyright laws are veryclear on the matter of intellectual property rights. Generally speaking, software publishers have exclusive rights to their works forperiods of up to fifty years. The common assertion that owning a game legally entitles you to own a backup copy in the form of a ROM isfalse. When you buy a cartridge or CD based game, that is exactly what you buy: one game. In a sense you have merely bought the "rights"to own a single copy of the game.
Furthermore, ROM distributors are in the line of fire for making these illegal copies available to the public. This is not a popularassertion among members of the emulation community, but the law speaks for itself. It is letter of the law that gives the IDSA the abilityto threaten legal action against ROM distributors. When the IDSA issues a warning, ROM distributors take heed. Ever wonder why adistributor has yet to challenge the IDSA in court? First of all , it would be a costly venture win or lose. But most importantly, itwould be a loosing cause. A ROM distributor foolish enough to fight the IDSA based on the assertion that "distribution is legal providedthat no monetary profits are made forthwith" will find themselves paying several steep fines very, very quickly. The law is the IDSA's12-guage; all they have to do is hold it to your head and threaten to pull the trigger. Resist and be prepared for the contents of yourhead to make a nice "brain motif" on the closest wall.
As nefarious as the IDSA sounds, it is not the greatest threat to the emulation scene. The IDSA is merely a tool, acting on thewhims of the software publishers that comprise its membership. The IDSA does not spring into action until the publishers are aware of thesituation. That is the key word: aware. It is sad to say, but sometimes it is the actions of members of the emulation community that makethe publishers aware that a situation exists. What I am hinting at is nothing that has not been said before. The greatest threats toemulation are you and me.
Case in point: The author of Dave's Video Game Classics was notified by the IDSA that Nintendo wished for all arcade ROM's bearingthe Nintendo name be removed from the site. From what I have observed, the IDSA had left this site alone previously, but something happenedto bring Dave's to their attention. A few weeks prior to the warning, Newsweek published a small article about Dave's Classics in theirCyberscope section, giving the address of the site and commenting on arcade emulation in general. The article featured a picture of aclassic arcade game. Any guesses as to which game it was? If you guessed Donkey Kong, you must have seen the article, too. Newsweek is arespected and widely read magazine, with a circulation in the millions worldwide. Yes, that means it is available in Redmond, Washington aswell as in Japan. It's no secret what tipped off Nintendo.
Newsweek's Cyberscope section is a conglomeration of articles written by Internet affectionados. Members of the emulation communitycreated a buzz about Dave's site and someone at Newsweek decided to write an article. Luckily, the author of this site is very clever.The Nintendo arcade ROM's are still available "through" the site, but not "on" the site. He linked them all to a source in South America(Argentina, I believe), far from the reach of the IDSA. It was a brilliant move, and a definite victory for the emulation scene.
With this in mind, I see another development that might cause serious alarm, this time involving Sony and the IDSA. That alarm isthe emergence of Playstation emulation. While Playstation emulation is in its infancy, major breakthroughs could be made in the next yearor two, making possible a time when gamers can play Playstation games on their PC without owning the console. This would be very dangerousto the emulation community.
The problem is not the legality of creating such an emulator (I am not versed well enough in patent law to comment on emulatorlegality), it is the fact that an emulator would exist for a popular, viable game system. The Sony Playstation is a literal monster inpopularity. Not since the NES of the late 80's has the video game industry seen such a profitable system. Sony is behind this system 100%.There is no question that two years down the line the Playstation will still be a popular system. Do you think that Sony will take thenews that a working emulator exists for their highly profitable game system lightly? Hell, no!
Whether or not Sony can stop the distribution of the emulator is not an issue. The issue is the alarm such a development wouldsound all over the video game industry. An emulator that replaces the need for a fiscally viable game system would reek as a threat toprofit margins. There is no doubt in my mind, and in the minds of all sensible followers of U.S. corporate history, that the industrywould fight back. If you think that the IDSA is intrusive now, just wait. The scrutiny placed on Playstation emulation would then spreadto other systems and platforms. The worst case scenario would eradicate all major ROM sites and force the entire community underground. Wedon't need that. Not now, not ever.
There is a time and place for Playstation emulation, as well as the emulation of other systems such as the Sega Saturn and theNintendo 64. There is no harm in working on these emulators. The programmers working on these emulation projects are talented andtenacious, and deserve credit for their efforts to enrich the gaming experience of us all. Nevertheless, it is essential that the authorsof such emulators use restraint in distributing their product. There is nothing wrong in waiting for a time when the system their programemulates is no longer fiscally viable. Johan Koler is a perfect example of the attitude and wisdom so sorely needed in the emulationcommunity. He has voluntarily withheld his phenomenal NeoGeo emulator in order to assess the legality of his situation. Perhaps herealized that releasing an emulator for a viable arcade system could possibly open himself up to legal action. I argue that it could domuch more than that. It, too, could bring unwanted attention to the emulation scene. Not only has Koler saved himself, but he may havesaved us all by his example. Emulator authors worldwide should consider his example as the rule, not the exception.
Emulation is a wonderful concept, legal or not. The ability to experience the same games we all grew up with is a gift. I do notwish to see this gift squandered by those so shortsighted that they cannot admit that problems loom ahead. We must act responsibly todayin order to save emulation for the future. It is up to us all to preserve the emulation scene, I pray that we make the right choices.

What do you think? E-mail me Here.

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