After writing a topic about whether ROM dumping is legal or not, I also think about BIOS files, which are necessary for an emulator to run retro games. So, is downloading BIOS file legal? Perhaps if you finished reading my previous post, you have an answer for this question yourself, but if you don’t, let’s check this article out.
What is a BIOS file?
A BIOS(Basic Input Output System) file is a copy of the operating system of the system you are trying to emulate. Some emulators require the BIOS files of the original systems to be able to run games. BIOS files contain copyprotection, exactly the same as your video games.
Again, the question is easy to answer, and I just copy the same answer from other forums or Reddit. Let’s move on to the next question.
Is downloading BIOS file legal?
Because BIOS files are made with many copyright protections, you can’t download BIOS files legally. No question.
But can you dump BIOS files from your own system?
Unlike game piracy, it seems there is no way a company can know for sure whether an user touch and modify their own gaming console or not. Of course, by trying to repair one console (for example the PlayStation 5 or Nintendo Switch), it can void your warranty. That’s all, and if you’re going to buy second hand gaming consoles, it’s not likely to have warranty. So really, there is no way others can tell what you do with a device.
Moreover, the action of dumping BIOS files (or other computer software) is acceptable by U.S Copyright Office:
Can I backup my computer software?
Yes, under certain conditions as provided by section 117 of the Copyright Act. Although the precise term used under section 117 is “archival” copy, not “backup” copy, these terms today are used interchangeably. This privilege extends only to computer programs and not to other types of works. Under section 117, you or someone you authorize may make a copy of an original computer program if the new copy is being made for archival (i.e., backup) purposes only; you are the legal owner of the copy; and any copy made for archival purposes is either destroyed, or transferred with the original copy, once the original copy is sold, given away, or otherwise transferred.
You are not permitted under section 117 to make a backup copy of other material on a computer’s hard drive, such as other copyrighted works that have been downloaded (e.g., music, films).
So, as far as I know, there is no clear decline for dumping BIOS files as a mean of archiving. Most companies will not encourage you to do that, but it seems they concern about that as much as game piracy.
If you’re using a retro handheld emulator, you will need BIOS files for most arcade games, as well as games from Game Boy Advance (for boot logo in most cases), Nintendo DS, PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2. Make sure you get the right region of your BIOS files.
Most importantly, I’m not a lawyer.