Gamers, anime fans, and geeks of all stripes have a certain history when it comes to engaging in their hobbies in ways that are, to put it simply, questionable. The legality of certain activities has long been a point of contention between intellectual property holders and those who engage with the kind of popular media involved. Here, we’re going to look at six of the online activities that have been most at contention over the past years and, as best as we know, what the legality of them is.
This has long been one of the most contentious subjects in all of gaming. A lot of people like to try and archive games by creating ROMs and then using emulators in order to play them. However, the legality of this is a little confusing. Emulators, as a piece of software, are totally legal. You can download and open them to your heart’s content. However, downloading or uploading ROMs of copyrighted games is not legal. Furthermore, you will hear a lot of people state that “I own this game physically, so it’s okay that I download the ROM to play, too.” There’s no legal precedent for this, so it’s better to be cautious and avoid it.
Much like emulators, this is another case where how you use the torrenting software is a lot more important than the fact that you use it. You can look at the entire torrent sites list on Troypoint and download a torrent client and not be committing any crimes. Sharing copyright-free videos and music, distributing your own data, and syncing your own files through torrent software is entirely legal. The big risk is when they are used to download any copyrighted files that the player does not have the legal right to access. Make sure you have the right permissions to download anything you plan on torrenting.
Fans of popular media franchises have been putting their own spins on those properties for as long as the ability has existed. With videogames, there has been no shortage of fan games, from spin-off projects to remakes of beloved classics. However, as this PC Gamer article on fan games states clearly, they are not legal. There usually isn’t any risk to playing them, but a lot of teams who are involved in developing them will get a cease and desist, which means they are prohibited by the copyright holder from continuing to develop or distribute the fan project. This is mostly applied to games, but fan art and fiction also fall into a legally grey loophole where an original creator might be able to apply the same right.
How could streaming possibly be illegal? This is another legally grey subject, where the answer isn’t as clear as you might think. A lot of people streaming on Twitch do not have any kind of license to stream the games that they are playing. Now, most developers realize that letting people play their game to a wide audience is nothing but free advertising, so they won’t make a move to stop people. However, some companies do prohibit certain parts of streaming and can launch a DMCA takedown if they want. This includes when Atlus didn’t let people stream Persona 5 for some time after the game’s initial release, or when Square Enix strictly prohibited the act of streaming Dragon Quest XIII if the stream focused on the music of the game.
As the name implies, abandonware is software that has practically been left in the dust by the copyright holders, meaning it is no longer commercially available. However, even if they aren’t selling or using that copyright, the holders still have complete control and rights to it. This means that downloading abandonware is, in most cases, against the law.
“I own it, so I can do what I want with it, right?” we hear you ask. However, the answer is an emphatic no. Although it is exceedingly rare, some people have been arrested for modding consoles in the past. Modding is usually done to make the console pirate games or access apps such as emulators, which the creators clearly do not intend for the players to do. However, it’s worth noting that the legality applies not specifically to modding the hardware, but what you use the hardware to do. If you use it to do illegal stuff, then it’s an illegal mod. Furthermore, it’s modding the software that becomes trickier, as often you do not purchase the rights to do what you want with the software, but have to abide an agreement with the provider.
Keep in mind that the above points are made using research done on the internet. By no means is any of this supposed to be legal advice. If you’re worried about the legality of anything you might be doing, then seek an actual lawyer.
Categories: Geeks and Nerds Stuff