Simone Zanella's Emu Tools
IDSA and the future of
emulation: a modest proposal
I've recently read the statement made by IDSA, available at: http://www.idsa.com/antipiracy/dc.htm. It
can be summed up in the following points:
- all the roms are protected by federal copyright laws, and thus cannot be distributed
over the Internet, regardless the fact that they cannot be found elsewhere;
- distributing roms is illegal and represents a cost to the rightful copyright holder,
because they are potential revenue generators and the free distribution decreases their
- no matter what the copyright holder decides to do with its old products, roms cannot be
distributed; some IDSA members could, in the future, grant licenses to freely
distribute their products, but in the meantime IDSA and its members will prosecute all the
sites carrying unauthorized copies of copyrighted material.
All this stuff is really scarying: is this
the end of the emu scene as it has been until now? Are emulators going to be considered as
My point of view will focus mostly on old
I think that the statement made by IDSA
doesn't completely make sense.
They are comparing old videogames to books, or movies, goods that can effectively be found
around and enjoyed even many years after they were presented for the first time. Old
arcade games don't have this privilege. They are electronic products, and as such they
cease to work and are retired. There is no way that they can be re-released in their
original form (i.e. as complete arcade machines), because the interest is limited only to
a marginal part of the videogaming population.
Here is where emulation emerges. Emulation is surely NOT illegal by itself, since we are
only writing a program to emulate the behaviour of a piece of hardware; it would be like
declaring illegal to write a new C compiler, just because it "emulates" the
behaviour of existing ones (i.e. compiling programs which are functionally equivalent).
According to IDSA, what is really illegal is distributing roms, the software that runs on
the original hardware. I tend to agree with this point. But I disagree when they say that
the copyright holder has the right to delay endlessly the re-release of their old
products. I think that, exactly as it happens in other fields such as patents, the
copyright holders should issue a precise statement with which they declare when and how
they are going to exploit the commercial rights of their oldest games. I think the
emulation community, and the many programmers that have worked hard to create wonderful
emulators such as MAME, Retrocade, Rage, Raine and many others, at least deserve a
statement on this matter.
IDSA says that all roms are potential
"revenue generators" and so the copyright holders have the right to suspend rom
distribution because "in the future" they could decide to re-release these old
games. I wonder how can old videogames increase their appeal on the videogaming community,
since there will always be fewer and fewer people interested on these titles, the same
people that actually played them when they were young. Show Pac Man to a 15-year old boy,
and he will trash it 10 seconds later in favour of the latest 3D enhanced videogame,
packed with realistic sound effects and graphics. It is obvious that these titles have
their market NOW, if any. And it is also obvious that many other titles, which have not
been "smash hits" when they were released for the first time, are doomed to
vanish, if not safeguarded by a "free distribution" status.
I appreciate the efforts spent by Namco,
Williams and Irem, which at least have offered a re-packaging of some of their old
material on various systems. But I think this is not enough. And big names such as Konami,
Capcom, Nintendo and Sega has done very little from this point of view, sometimes
publishing titles which are only enhancements or variations of their oldest hits, but have
very little in common with the original titles.
Emulation is about preserving
something in its original form; we're not creating now an enhanced version of the Cappella
Sistina or the Colosseum: we just preserve them as they are, for future generations. This
is of course a paradox; I'm not saying that old videogames are a piece of art that will be
meaningful after millennia, but, as IDSA underlines, they ARE a form of expression and as
such must be safeguarded.
What I'm suggesting here is that IDSA members
take a little time NOW to consider what are they going to do with their old games in the
following years, and let everybody know their decisions. I think that the original
programmers of these old titles, even though they have no weight from a legal point of
view, should also raise their voices and join emulator authors to preserve their creations
for the future.
If you agree with my ideas, do the only right
thing: write to IDSA, and let them know your feelings. Our force is in numbers.