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How does 8-bit computers emulator work on modern days computer if the 8-bit computers software is proprietary?

I mean, that e.g. ZX Spectrum has a copyright on the stuff how it works etc. so how it is possible that there are legal emulators on the internet?

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That's not really related to gamedev, is it? –  bummzack Mar 1 '13 at 7:48
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Why not, I want to create one, so I am asking if I can or I cannot. –  Derfder Mar 1 '13 at 7:57
    
@Derfder that's more something software engineering related though. You could also emulate an x86. it doens't have to be for games. But I take that you need to understand the CPU architecture and the instruction sets that go with it and translate them to your current cpu . –  Sidar Mar 1 '13 at 8:08
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Creating an emulator isn't creating a game. This should be migrated to stackoverflow. –  bummzack Mar 1 '13 at 8:19
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On this page: voices.yahoo.com/… I found this Essentially, emulators are completely legal for creation, distribution, and use in the United States. There is no further interest from the United States Court System to hear any further cases on them. What do you think about it? –  Derfder Mar 1 '13 at 9:06
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closed as off topic by bummzack, Jimmy Shelter, Nicol Bolas, Byte56, Sean Middleditch Mar 3 '13 at 2:14

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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Reverse engineering a particular system's hardware architecture and emulating it is apparently legal in most (if not all) jurisdictions. Otherwise you wouldn't find emulators for game consoles so easily. See the link provided by Derfder in comment for details on how this is considered by the US courts. This is for the hardware side of things.

But as you said yourself, the software running on those systems is most of the time proprietary. It's thus perfectly illegal to distribute ROMs for emulators without the owner's consent. If the owner doesn't care, then it's abandonware and you're in a grey area. Probably most of the ZX Spectrum games can be considered abandonware today, but I wouldn't be too confident either. That's why most emulators creators never ever distribute ROMs.

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Also note that the original IBM PC's BIOS was reverse-engineered to create "IBM compatible" PCs back in the 80s, which sets a clear precedent. –  Jimmy Shelter Mar 1 '13 at 11:46
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