The way I see it, many of us enthusiasts are probably familiar with emulation and use emulators to play classic games. (I do, I'll readily admit.)

However, it's also fairly likely that many cartridge/disc/tape/etc. rips for said emulators are ... well ... not 100% legal, at least in the U.S., and I believe most other Berne Convention countries.

Do we have an official stance? Is it as simple as "assume the user is innocent unless he/she blatantly states, 'diz is an ill3gal w@rez rip!!!111!!1!'?"

(Yes, the rotten wording is intentional.)

  • 2
    Unfortunately, not all consoles are created equal. It is much more likely that someone is using an emulator to play a legit copy of a PSX game than that of an NES, for example, because they could just drop the disc in their PC's drive (whereas I've never seen a USB cart-reader).
    – Drew
    Commented Sep 19, 2010 at 8:17
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    I have a NES Double Dragon II cartridge. There are laws in some countries that'd try to paint me as some kind of criminal for playing a ROM dump of it on an emulator. Let's not lose sight of the fact that such laws are absolute nonsense. I own the game. Let's be careful we don't start talking like there's some kind of legitimacy to these laws just because some special interest groups pass them into law somewhere.
    – MGOwen
    Commented Nov 11, 2010 at 0:56
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    @MGOwen: Legitimacy of the laws isn't the concern; the concern is the greater impact on the StackExchange network as a whole. Bringing Jeff Atwood, Joel Spolsky, et al under undue litigation is a Very Bad Idea®.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Nov 11, 2010 at 1:38
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    Emulation itself is not illegal. We make a good faith assumption that the user has bought the game in question.
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 15:14
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    Buying the game does not give you a legal right to download a ROM for it.
    – GnomeSlice
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 15:18
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    What assumption is being made that you downloaded a ROM? Last I checked, every modern console uses discs that can be read by a PC. We get into iffy territory for cartridges, but it's still possible to rip them yourself, which is totally legal.
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 15:21
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    I'd've agreed with you much more wholeheartedly before I used dolphin to take my (purchased, from a store, legitimate) copy of xenoblade on the road with me and play it in HD. I'm somewhat more ambivalent at this point. Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 15:25
  • There are also 'official' emulators that people might be having trouble with, such as Nintendo Virtual Console or the PS1 emulator on the PS3.
    – Robotnik Mod
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 22:34

7 Answers 7


I can understand how-to-obtain-ROMS info being banned, as the site is hosted in the US, and there are a lot of ridiculous copyright laws there about downloading copies of things you legitimately purchased getting you thousand-dollar fines.

Other than that, emulation should be completely on-topic. Everything.

There is no other stackexchange site for it, and nothing close to a sensible reason to ban it.


Actually linking to (or asking where to find) ROM sites ought to be against the rules (as would asking where to find a Photoshop torrent on Superuser, for comparison) but there's nothing inherently wrong with discussing emulation.

The real question here should be "Are questions about console emulation about gaming, or about software?" Does a question like "Why does ePSXe freeze whenever I start a chocobo race in Final Fantasy VII" belong here, or on Superuser? (The asker may be playing from the original disc, from an image they made of their original disc, or an image they downloaded illegally. It may or may not be relevant to the answer, but it isn't relevant to the question.)

Another one: How about a question like "Is there any way to use Game Genie codes with ZSNES?" Where would this belong?

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    i think the one about using game genie codes with an emulator is definitely ok here
    – Kip
    Commented Jul 13, 2010 at 19:17
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    Gaming vs software? Why is this even being discussed? Does anyone seriously imagine game emulation questions sent to superuser won't immediately be closed and sent back here?
    – MGOwen
    Commented Nov 11, 2010 at 0:33

The essence of emulation is to run software in environments that are not or no longer supported. Consider the case of DOSBox:

DOSBox is a DOS-emulator that uses the SDL-library which makes DOSBox very easy to port to different platforms. DOSBox has already been ported to many different platforms, such as Windows, BeOS, Linux, MacOS X...

I could keep around that 486SX with MS-DOS for running an old game, sure (double speed CD-ROM reader, FTW!). But a decent emulator saves me that trouble.

Local consumer protection laws may allow people to make private copies of software they have purchased or licensed, or may allow them to reverse engineer parts to make it run in new or uncommon environments, even if expressly forbidden by their license.

The use of an emulator, or trouble in using such an emulator, is not evidence of piracy. That's not to say that there are no shady individuals using emulators to facilitate piracy—that'd just be naïve—but we shouldn't automatically presume guilt based on this. Judge case by case.


It seems to me that my questions/answers for the site would be the same, whether I'm playing the original game on the actual console, or emulating it and using a ROM. The question/answer should be agnostic to emulation. Unless, of course, you were asking "Why does the game X crash when I do Y?" and the answer ends up being you have a bad ROM or the emulator has a bug.


I think there really is nothing wrong with linking to emulators and resources thereof, especially from a moral standpoint. You want to play a game no longer sold on a console no longer sold and either of those breaks -- where, exactly, is the harm here? Legally there may be problems but we are not lawyers -- we'd just judge on FUD rather than actual laws.

Last I cheked, TASVideos.org has been up four years without problem...

That said, other site policies remain.



  1. No links to emulation sites.
  2. Flag content that asks for or gives links to emulation sites.

Emulators are too much trouble. They are 'illegal' in the US, and this site resides in the US. Therefore this site is subject to US law.

Note: DOS Emulators or PC Emulators where you have the physical media and are using that to play are different and should be handled differently.

  • 32
    Emulators are not illegal in the United States. Unauthorized distribution of copyrighted content is. Pirated ROMs and ISOs are the issue. Companies have also started copyrighting BIOS files to try to slow development of emulators.
    – JamesGecko
    Commented Jul 8, 2010 at 2:18
  • @James hence the scare quotes. If the Emulator isn't illegal, but very few people legally use them, what's the difference? The practical effect is illegality. Commented Jul 8, 2010 at 11:10
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    Discussing something that is illegal isn't illegal in itself. I agree with your stance, but we shouldn't stop any discussion of emulators. I use emulators to play games I already own, which is completely legal where I live. This should be allowed.
    – user56
    Commented Jul 8, 2010 at 13:23
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    Emulators aren't always used for piracy or even playing retail games; homebrew development is a legal use of emulators (if you have obtained the BIOS, etc. legally). Also, emulators themselves are not illegal. I agree that linking to warez sites and ROM download sites should be banned, but mere discussion about emualtors shouldn't. Commented Jul 8, 2010 at 14:08
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    I didn't say stop discussion of emulators, just don't allow links to emulator sites. Commented Jul 8, 2010 at 14:57
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    @George Stocker: What do you define as an 'emulator site'? Would pcsx2's site be banned, for example? JSNES? Or just ROM sites? Commented Jul 8, 2010 at 15:05
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    I think this should be placed in the FAQ.
    – Piaskal
    Commented Jul 13, 2010 at 6:19
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    Rom sites = no, emulation sites = yes.
    – MGOwen
    Commented Nov 11, 2010 at 0:24

Personally, I dont see why when its legal in SOME PLACES, we should blacklist discussing OR linking to emulator\rom websites. Just because it is illegal somewhere doesn't mean any question or relative answer has anything to do with the possible laws in any given area. Until its illegal to discuss or show someone something EVERYWHERE, I feel it should be allowed.

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    'some places'. 94% of the world is not 'some places'. Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 16:52
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    Emulators and ROMs are two separate issues. This meta is about emulation, which is fine. ROMs are not. That said, the "if it's legal anywhere, it's fine here" argument is the opposite of a good policy.
    – user9983
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 17:07
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz I argue good sir, that 94% of the world is EXACTLY 'some places'. AS in, SOME but not OTHERS, or SOME but not ALL. Clear cut definitions of all words involved confirm this. MY name is Christopher Lombardi, and I support this message.
    – Ender
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 17:46
  • I'm sorry, but I don't think that providing answers about video games that are primarily relevant in places like Cambodia and Nigeria does much to Make The Internet Better. Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 17:48

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