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N64 emulator vanishes after lawsuit threat

Nintendo may follow Sony and sue developers for encouraging software piracy

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Nintendo N64 emulator UltraHLE (Ultra High Level Emulator) finally made its appearance last Thursday, only to be removed from the developers' Web site hours, Emulators Unlimited, after its release. The site claimed the software had been pulled because of the huge level of demand, but it's noteworthy that on the same day, Sony announced its decision to take legal action against Connectix over the latter's Mac-based PlayStation emulator, Virtual GameStation (VGS). Indeed, a Nintendo spokeswoman said this week the company was considering filing a lawsuit against UltraHLE's developers. The Sony action was prompted as much over concern about the extent to which VGS might encourage piracy, as over alleged patent and copyright infringement (see Sony to sue Connectix over PlayStation emulator and PlayStation emulator developer to fight Sony lawsuit). Connectix denies both charges, and claims to have equipped its emulator with code to help prevent illegal copies of PlayStation game CDs from running. With UltraHLE, however, there is no such excuse: the only way to use it is exclusively with pirated titles since N64 titles ship on ROM cartridge, not CDs. At least Connectix can argue it's encouraging the sale of legitimate PlayStation software. Most emulators available on the Internet allow PCs and Macs to act as long defunct consoles and home computers, such as the Sinclair Spectrum, Dragon 32, Commodore 64 and Nintendo Entertainment System. While all the games played on these emulators are still under copyright protection, few of the copyright owners have made a fuss about emulators because their titles are no longer on sale. With modern systems, the case is far less clear cut because the boundary between the emulator world and those users who are simply interested in pirating software is very hazy indeed. Nintendo sees no distinction: emulators are "illegal" since they can only operate with illegitimate software. The company has been closing down Web sites trading in data and programs downloaded from ROM cartridges for some time. Such sites can be used by gamers to transfer games to a PC and then to a CD-R -- many games magazines contain ads for devices that hook a CD player up to an N64, said one console owner who did not wish to be named. ®

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