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  1. #1
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    Commercial applications for PS1 Emulation. The legal issues

    Hello

    I've been looking for advice/clarification on what is quite a tricky legal area regarding Emulation in general as far as using emulation in a commercial, mass produced commercial product.

    So, there are a lot of 3rd party devices you can buy on Amazon or Ebay that emulate classic consoles - a quick search shows loads emulating Sega Genesis and SNES era consoles, at ever reducing prices, usually with several hundred games included, etc. I'm not talking about hobbyists kitting out a Rasberry Pi to allow emulation of all types and selling for $75-to $150+, but small - mass produced units that have been transferred to PCB's and are being mass produced and aimed at the cheaper end of the market.

    I've been looking into the possibility of trying to develop such a product utilising PS1 emulation, however - while I know I could design a prototype, with working emulators - and I've a basic understanding as to how I could get that transferred for mass manufacture, I keep coming back to the whole legal issue with regards to Emulation, the game roms and in particular with the PS1, the BIOS.

    My brief understanding is that creating a product that utilises an open source PS1 emulator isn't illegal. Packing in a load of ROM's, well that's a grey area, and the thorny issue of the BIOS is that you're absolutely not allowed to redistribute the official BIOS's that may or may not be available to download on the web.

    Now, I know both Sega and Nintendo have actually cashed in on this market themselves - there are lots of licensed Genesis emulators consoles, and Nintendo themselves have had great success with the NES and SNES mini, but I've not heard about either of them (surprisingly not even the Big N) taking legal action against unlicensed devices - and there are literally loads of them. They work straight out of the box, deliver a reasonable playing experience and usually contain all the games you'd expect.

    To me it seems natural that the PS1 is next in line for products of this nature, and significantly, being that it was the console that put gaming on the mainstream map, it's surely going to be a big money spinner.

    So, here are the crux of my questions;

    1) Firstly, will Sony take a different view than Sega and Nintendo's fairly lenient stance? As I said above, this is the console that bought gaming to the masses - a low cost, 3rd party dedicated emulator based console ought to be popular. Would Sony sit up and take notice of the revenue that is being made on it by other companies?

    2) Assuming they don't, presumably the next biggest legal hurdle would be this business of the BIOS. Am I right in thinking that it would be illegal to distribute a 3rd party device with the official PS BIOS already pre-installed? Has any emulator ever come up with a legal workaround for this? I've read about some early PS1 emulators utilising some kind of simulator BIOS, but got no idea how that works. Interestingly, my son has a gaming tablet with a PS1 emulator on it that worked straight out of the box - I didn't have to find a BIOS to use with it. It's a BlazeTab, I'm just wondering how on Earth they got around this tricky legal problem.

    So, that's the kind of thing I'm trying to clarify before going to far in terms of research and development of a product that might turn out not be saleable. Obviously, in keeping with the rules of this forum, I don't want to know about the known illegal ways of doing things as I've only just joined the forum and don't want to get banned!!! But I'd be keen to know exactly how far you can stretch the law to achieve this without the risk of being horribly sued!!!!

  2. #2
    16-bit Corpse | Moderator Agozer's Avatar
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    I'm certainly no expert, but...

    Concerning 1.), there's the existence of PSN and the whole deal of the PSOne Classic lineup. Now, think what you will about Sony willingness (or lack of it) to publish a hefty selection of these "classics" on PSN in every region (I know PAL territories get none oof this), but this is the claim Sony will likely use in any discussion regarding manufactured consoles.

    Concerning 2.) Yes, there are emulators that work with emulated/simulated BIOS routines. The way I see it, it's perfectly fine to emulate BIOS routines if you write said BIOS routines from scratch. Using the official BIOS would be legally questionable, since it is a piece of software designed, owned and sold (as part of the console) by Sony Computer Entertainment. You know, copyrights and all that.

    ElektroDragon: I hate dying over and over. I don't learn from my mistakes. I couldn't play Dark Souls because of this. I bought the Bloodborne Collector's Edition. Like I said, I don't learn from my mistakes!

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Agozer View Post
    I'm certainly no expert, but...

    Concerning 1.), there's the existence of PSN and the whole deal of the PSOne Classic lineup. Now, think what you will about Sony willingness (or lack of it) to publish a hefty selection of these "classics" on PSN in every region (I know PAL territories get none oof this), but this is the claim Sony will likely use in any discussion regarding manufactured consoles.

    Concerning 2.) Yes, there are emulators that work with emulated/simulated BIOS routines. The way I see it, it's perfectly fine to emulate BIOS routines if you write said BIOS routines from scratch. Using the official BIOS would be legally questionable, since it is a piece of software designed, owned and sold (as part of the console) by Sony Computer Entertainment. You know, copyrights and all that.
    Hi Agozer, thank you for your very measured reply.

    RE:1 - Good point about PSN, although I think you are correct - it certainly doesn't feel like Sony are pushing much weight behind it, but it's very existence may well be to stake legal claims that they have a current business model utilising PS1 classic games, should they ever need to take legal action to protect it as an IP of their own. However, as Sony aren't really pushing it, it's hard to argue that a PS1 Emulation console could be stealing profits - if they really wanted to exploit the retro market they could. I'm sure they don't want to be seen as jumping on the retro bandwagon after Nintendo? Maybe they just see themselves as forward looking organisation, concerned with contemporary and future matters, rather than aping their own past glories? I still feel nervous about incurring their legal wrath, though!

    RE:2 - Okay, are there some specific emulators that use emulated/simulated BIOS that you can recommend, or is it a case of getting any emulator and specifically using it with an emulated/simulated BIOS as opposed to using what is technically an illegal BIOS? And I've got to assume that there must be greater compatibility issues for simulated BIOS - I'm guessing fewer games work properly with it, otherwise you'd have to wonder why anyone would use an illegal BIOS? Is that the case?

  4. #4
    16-bit Corpse | Moderator Agozer's Avatar
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    Considering how massive Sony's second and third party line up is, I suppose there also the matter of creative- and copyrights outside of Sony itself. The likes of Square Enix in particular are very touchy about the use of their IP. You could claim that hey, Square also had games on the NES and SNES Mini, what gives? -- and I would answer that Nintendo has/had much more control over those older games. Undoubtedly, suits also had several meetings regarding the release of the Mini consoles and the games they would feature.

    From what I understand/am able to remember, at ePSXe and pSX have the option to use emulated BIOS routines, and yes, supposedly using them introduces compatibility issues and whatnot. This is largely why people that just want to play games hunt down those illegal BIOS files. The only way to do it legally (even that is more or less a gray area IIRC) is to dump the BIOS from the console you own and use that

    ElektroDragon: I hate dying over and over. I don't learn from my mistakes. I couldn't play Dark Souls because of this. I bought the Bloodborne Collector's Edition. Like I said, I don't learn from my mistakes!

  5. #5
    Moderator Cyberman's Avatar
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    Funny this reminds me of the bugs I found in PCSX bios emulation. I probably should sometime release fixes, namely certain games have trouble saving images (I think FF tactics is one).

    Anyhow bios routines in the PS1 are / were well documented as to what they do (but not necessarily how they work).

    Sony sued Bleem (and lost) because it emulated the bios instead of had a copy, for the PS1 "too well" however the owners of Bleem incurred enough debt from it that they were easier to buy out afterward.

    Often companies sue not because they are right (or have any truth in them) but merely as a method for business. Literally they will do anything for money lying and frivolous lawsuits inclusive.



    So yes you need to be wary of what you do and what you buy.
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