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Is Streaming Emulators Illegal? How About On Twitch?

Streaming retro games is a great way to grow your views due to its niche audience. However, streaming these games is nearly impossible without using an emulator, and unfortunately, the legality behind doing so is not so cut-and-dry.

Is Streaming Emulators Illegal?

Streaming emulators is illegal when you do not own a copy of the game on its original hardware. Furthermore, some game publishers consider emulated games a form of piracy whether you possess an original cartridge/disc or not.

Therefore, it is best to proceed with caution and do your research regarding a specific game that you want to stream before just going right ahead and streaming it.

Can You Stream Emulators On Twitch?

Streaming emulators is ok to do on Twitch as long as you own a copy of the game on its original hardware. However, some game publishers may consider an emulated game a form of piracy whether you possess an original cartridge/disc or not.

Twitch is pretty lenient as long as you own a copy on the game as well as the original hardware, but it is the game publisher who may take issue with your streams.

With that being said, pirated games or knock offs are never ok and could get you in trouble with both game developers and Twitch.

Read on to learn more about what emulators do and how they work. We’ll also cover where you can find the best emulators and break down what may happen if a publisher decides to file a DMCA claim against an emulated game stream.

Note: This is not a substitution for legal advice. For specific cases, please consult with a legal professional.

What Are Emulators?

Emulators are computer programs that can run software from other devices on your computer. All computer operating systems work differently, especially among various gaming consoles. However, emulators use your computer’s processing power to emulate the different devices.

So a gaming emulator for example would be a program on your PC that emulates a certain console such as N64 or PlayStation (two complete classics).

Although all the major consoles today (Switch, Xbox Series X/S, PS5) are capable of live streaming, they may not have the specific game that you want to stream, especially if that game is a retro or old school type of game.

I know that the Nintendo Switch and Xbox both have a pretty good selection of old school games in their libraries, but you may be hard pressed to find some of the more niche games in these libraries.

But if you really want to stream some of these more niche games, here is how you would go about getting an emulator.

Where Can You Get Emulators For Gaming?

You can get emulators through websites such as dolphin-emu.org; however, whichever website you choose to get your emulator from make sure to do your research before downloading anything as some of these websites are scams.

Also, it is important to note that some websites have emulators that are better for certain consoles than others. For example, one website may have a great emulator for GameCube and another may be better for the PS2.

When I was doing my research for the best gaming emulators I came across this super helpful list from PCMag.

Here is a summary of their list:

(List Source: PCMag: The Best Emulators for Playing Retro Games on Modern Devices)

When downloading an emulator, you may notice that some websites contain multiple versions of the same program. In this case, it is best to download the latest stable version to keep up with a modern computer. 

If you are interested, you can test the latest beta version if it is available. However, if you download a beta, remember that even if it resolves problems from the latest stable release, it may have unique performance issues.

And like I mentioned earlier, ALWAYS do your research before downloading anything. There are some knockoffs to some of these sites that will have you download malware which could really mess up your PC.

Drawbacks of Emulators

One of the most significant drawbacks of this kind of tech is that many emulators come at a cost. After all, these programs recreate the operating system of an entirely different device from your computer. Furthermore, this feat gets done without a dedicated power source or internal hardware. 

In turn, computers must work extra hard to make the emulation possible. This issue becomes more significant as you emulate more recent consoles since emulation requires a lot of CPU and GPU.

Emulating a console is already tricky for a mid-low range computer. Now, imagine your laptop capturing your gameplay and streaming it to the internet live. As you can imagine, that is going to need a lot of processing power. 

Therefore, we recommend investing in a decent gaming computer if you wish to emulate games from the last couple of console generations.

I always recommended the Legion 7 (click here to view it on Amazon). In my opinion it is the best balance between quality PC and affordability. I use it to game and to stream and it works great for me.

What Kind Of Trouble Can You Get In For Illegally Streaming Emulators?

You can get in trouble for copyright infringement for streaming emulators. In this case, you would need proof that the emulation was in fair use. For instance, if your stream a game you own, it may be justified. Still, this defense is contingent on the game publisher’s stance on emulation.

Streaming a game via an emulator sounds fantastic on paper; however, much of the legality of emulation sits in a grey area, and there is no legal precedent of cases on game emulation. In turn, the lack of precedent makes streaming emulated games inherently risky.

There are a couple of factors to consider when discussing the legality of emulation. First, the primary concern is not the emulation software itself but the ROMs, or games, played on the emulator.

Secondly, whether a publisher decides to pursue legal action or a copyright strike often has to do with their opinion of ROMs as a form of game piracy.

ROMs often get considered a violation of fair use because of the potential they have to decrease the copyrighted game’s market value. Considering retro games are often out of print, this concern seems arbitrary. 

However, some may argue that a company withholds production of retro games to generate market demand.

In turn, higher demand can generate sales if the game ever re-releases on a new console. However, this scenario is hypothetical and probably unlikely.

Furthermore, owning an original copy of the game before downloading or creating the ROM is said to have higher legal standing. However, according to the University of Arizona’s College of Law professor, Derek E. Bambeaur, ripping vs. downloading a ROM have few differences from a legal standpoint.

This opinion is because both methods create duplicate copies of the game. Either way, ROMs become indisputably illegal when they get widely distributed.

So, with all of this in mind, what should you expect if a publisher declares your emulated game stream unlawful?

In most cases, the publisher will file a DMCA notification with Twitch first, who will notify you of the accused violation. In response, you can either take down the VOD containing the copyrighted content or appeal the strike in a counter-notification.

However, multiple copyright infringements will result in disciplinary action, including content takedowns, temporary suspensions, or even permanent account suspension.

Another possibility is you may encounter legal trouble. Most copyright infringement suits are civil. However, broadscale copyright infringement can result in criminal charges punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In my opinion I would try my best to find the game you want to stream on one of the later versions of that console (GameCube games on Switch or PS2 games on PS5 for example).

If you can’t find the game on any of the consoles, then I suggest trying to find an emulator that supports the game you want from the list I have above.

But remember, always do your own research and make sure that the emulator you want to use is legit and that you are allowed to stream that game using an emulator.

As always, if you have any questions or just want to hang with me, stop by my Twitch channel here and say what’s up!

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👋 Hey There, I'm Eric!

Since 2018, I've been making streams come true.

I like gaming, streaming and watching other people stream. I created this website to help streamers and viewers of streams answer some of the questions they may have regarding live streaming. I am a Twitch affiliate and currently stream on Twitch 3 days a week. I hope you find my content helpful. Feel free to stop by one of my streams to say hi.