Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
19 November 2005
electricBIT: Legal Emulation? Maybe not.
There's a new site called electricBIT touting legal emulation of classic games. They offer games for the TurboGrafx 16, Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, and ColecoVision. I'm not convinced they truly are legal.

Here's the important part of their explanation:
How electricBIT keeps this site legal is simple. electricBIT purchases in high quantities copies of the games offered on this site.
I've seen this before. There is another site out there, whose name escapes me at the moment, which I recall does the same thing with NES games. I don't know if that site charges money; maybe they do. That other site has something in their site description that says they've not been shut down by the copyright holders, so they think they're in the clear.

This is not a positive defense, you'll notice. I bet electricBIT thinks that's enough, but I think it's hardly clear.

The explanation continues and there is a special bit I want to focus on:
When a user accesses a game via electricBIT to play, our server will search to see if an available copy of that game is open to play. If every copy that we own is currently being played, the user is redirected back to that console's main page. To avoid availability issues for more popular games, the volume of units purchased for that game is much higher in comparison to games which dont have as high of a user interest. No game ROM images are ever stored, distributed, or downloaded to our users computers. They remain secure on servers AT ALL TIMES.
That's my emphasis at the end.

Here's an obvious question: are they running the emulator on their end and just handling input/output over the wire to the client? That's the only way I can see the ROM image, as a sequence of zeros and ones, not ever being passed to the client in some form.

If they are not handling I/O over the wire, then it seems to me they have to have sent the ROM, either in part or whole, to the client. Even if that bit pattern is embedded in an executable, cut up into pieces, or otherwise transmogrified, it's still the ROM or a derivative work of the ROM.

And if they are sending that data to the client, then they potentially have two problems: copyright violation and misleading customers about the legality of their business.

If they are actually keeping the data locally on their end at all times, then they're probably safer. That being said, copyright law is awfully confusing.

One final question: They're offering some of the same games that GameTap, the Turner Broadcasting downloadable game site, offers. Can Turner, who spent a tremendous amount of effort and money to license games, allow any dude with a garage full of Genesis cartridges to put out a virtual shingle and compete at a much lower cost?
--Matt Matthews at 07:08
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