Get your lawyer on speed dial; it’s time to answer the age old question of are emulators legal.
Don’t worry, you’re in safe hands here. The answer isn’t as scary as you think, and we’re not going to get you into any trouble with Doug Bowser and the Nintendo gang just for reading this article.
Although we can’t vouch for what King Koopa Bowser might do; the guys an enigma.
If, like most of our regular Retro Dodo readers, you’re into preserving past games and replaying classic titles, then the question of ‘are emulators legal’ probably swims around your head quite often.
No one wants to do anything illegal, but everyone wants to play Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in the office.
Am I right?
I can feel your pulse racing; let’s get on with the reason you came here so you can crank up Streets of Rage and go back to not filling in that spreadsheet.
Table of Contents
Are Emulators Legal?
Emulators are 100% legal, as is the process of downloading them. They are no different to other programs you might download such as word processing or music player software. Downloading and uploading ROMs is illegal, however, so make sure you use your own game files. Retro Dodo does not condone downloading ROMs illegally.
Let’s unpack this paragraph a little bit.
Think of an emulator as an MP3 player – the program itself is useless without files that it can run, and those files are called ROMs
A ROM is basically a digital image of a video game. Users can use software to rip the files from their favourite carts and CDs before pulling them onto a computer. Emulators then play these ripped files.
Where Can I Find Emulators?
Emulators are used in all of the best mini consoles on the market. Yes, they’re found in proper hardware that you can buy from shops!
They also come preinstalled on many of the handheld consoles that we review here at Retro Dodo.
And, if you’re looking for programs from the best Sega Genesis emulators through to the best Nintendo Switch Emulator, then we have all of the information that you could ever need right here on our website!
Things start to turn murky when companies ship handhelds with tonnes of ROMs preinstalled. This isn’t legal, though it doesn’t seem to stop many handheld builders from doing it anyway…
Are Emulators Safe To Download?
Emulators are generally safe to download as long as they are from reputable sources. Instead of writing about the 100 best PS1 emulators, we picked 7 that we know work and are safe to use.
As anyone can make an emulator and use the code from other open source software to build their own, the quality tends to vary between program to program.
That’s why we only feature the best.
Just remember that many emulators for modern consoles such as the PS5 are likely to be fraudulent. The technology just isn’t around to properly emulate these next-gen consoles yet.
It took the Citra team 8 years and a team of 150 people to get their 3DS emulator working correctly, for crying out loud!
If you’re unsure, check our website and do some preliminary research on the net before downloading. If it looks too good to be true, then it usually is!
Are ROMs Legal?
If you own the game and plan to back up your copy or play on your own handheld or mobile device, then creating a ROM for personal use is legal. Uploading those ROMs to the internet for others to use or downloading ROM files that other users have uploaded is not legal. Once again, we do not condone any illegal downloading activity.
Yes, just like selling pirated DVDs or uploading ripped films for users to download, uploading game ROMs is 100% illegal.
It breaks every copyright rule in the book, which is why Nintendo are constantly at war with ROM uploaders and handing out lawsuits left, right, and centre. It’s also why they are so keen to promote their online gaming subscription service.
And, with N64 & Sega Switch Online subscription now on its way (or already here if you’re reading in the future), I guess you can’t really blame them!
So, are emulators legal? Yes, they are, but it’s all about how you use those ROM files.
Just remember these simple pointers
- Downloading an emulator program is fine.
- Uploading files of games you own for other users to download and play on their emulators is not fine.
It’s not rocket science; just don’t do anything shady and you’ll be fine.
Now, where did I put that Banjo Kazoo cart? It’s time to kick Grunty’s ass on my morning commute!
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 33 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.