Is Raspberry Pi Illegal? (computer, gaming & commercial use)


The Raspberry Pi is a popular computer, especially when people are only using it for simple word processing, basic programming, and other computing activities that this small computer can handle. But, at the same time, Raspberry Pi is also used for other activities such as emulating retro video game consoles. All that said, is Raspberry Pi illegal?

Raspberry Pi is legal because it is sold legally in the market and comes with components that are also purchased and used for the Raspberry Pi legally. Concerning retro consoles emulation, the emulators are themselves legal, but it might be a different story when it comes to the games.

So, there is no legal problem in owning a Raspberry Pi, but there are so many possible usages for this device, that we need to take a look at some of them. That’s what we’ll see in this article.

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Is It Legal to Use a Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi computer is actually legal in the sense that it is being sold legally under the law, and it complies with all the legal requirements for retailers to sell it.

In today’s modern world where computing tends to be looked at as something that requires powerful machines that are always at the lead of the pack, there still is more than enough room for simple and small computers that are actually very useful in many aspects of computing. This is where Raspberry Pi comes in as a mini-computer that is capable of doing different things that the bigger computers are capable of doing.

But it might be surprising to somehow simple and unique the Raspberry Pi computer is that they might begin to think that it might not be legal for you to use. So, to get that out of the way, we have to talk more about what Raspberry Pi is in brief before we actually talk about the legality of using a Raspberry Pi computer.

What is Raspberry Pi

We need to discuss what Raspberry Pi is in the briefest way possible so that it will be easier for us to understand whether or not this machine is actually legal. After all, you don’t want to end up running into trouble with the law simply because you used a small computer for some of your basic computing needs.

Basically, Raspberry Pi is a small single-board computer that comes integrated with all of the different components of a computer but at smaller sizes. You can use the Raspberry Pi to connect with other components such as a monitor and a keyboard to make it work as a full computer. In essence, it runs on a basic Linux or Windows operating system and can be used for simple computing such as word processing, basic programming, and older games (you can check my other post to get a better idea of all the things it can do). 

Raspberry Pi is open source, which means that those who own the machine and the necessary codes can basically do whatever they want with it such as developing their own apps and software using this small computer.

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Is it legal?

Now that you know more about what the Raspberry Pi is, let us go into the question of whether using this small computer is actually legal. After all, if you look at the way it is constructed, it seems like it is something that you can’t sell or use legally because it is merely one small board with small components attached to it to make it work. 

Raspberry is also open source, which might make people think that it is illegal because of how open-source development boards give people the freedom to do whatever they want to do with the computer.

However, the good news here is that Raspberry Pi is completely legal because it is sold legally as a computer with an operating system of its own (usually Linux, Android, Ubuntu, or even Windows). That means that the company making Raspberry Pi computers legally sells them and uses legally manufactured products to produce the computer. Moreover, they also comply with the laws regarding the legality of selling computer and electronic products. 

All that said, there is nothing illegal about Raspberry Pi. The question here, however, is if it is used illegally by people who own them. In that sense, it becomes similar to any other computer that can or cannot be used by a person for illegal purposes.

Let’s discuss this topic in this way. You know fully well that it is perfectly alright for gun manufacturers to sell their guns legally, but it is in how the guns are bought or used where the illegality rises. For example, if you need to secure a permit to buy a gun or carry firearms, then it is illegal for you to buy a gun. Similarly, the way you use a gun is also where the illegality can rise, as you may end up using it in an illegal manner.

So, using the same logic, Raspberry Pi is completely legal when sold or manufactured. However, the illegality now lies in how it is being used as there are some people who actually use their Raspberry Pi computers for illegal activities thanks to how powerful and compact this computer is.

But if you were to establish that, a Raspberry Pi can be illegal due to how it is used, then you can also establish the same with regular computers because these computers are also used by people all over the world for illegal activities as well.

It is how you use a Raspberry Pi that establishes the illegality of your actions. It is your actions and activities using a Raspberry Pi that are being judged as legal or not. As such, the computer itself is not going to be judged as illegal simply because you did something illegal with it.

Is retro gaming on Raspberry Pi illegal? 

In relation to the legality of the Raspberry Pi computer, the fact that it is open source means that people all over the world have been using this computer for developing different apps and software that may or may not be legal. A good example of that is an emulator, which is basically an app or software that can be used to emulate retro gaming consoles.

So, if you do indeed use Raspberry Pi to play retro games on emulators, is that something that is illegal? Well, to tell you frankly, this discussion does indeed have plenty of grey areas that will make it difficult to truly tell whether or not retro gaming on Raspberry Pi is illegal.

best n64 games on retropie

For one, the emulators that are made and developed on Raspberry Pi computers are completely legal. While they do indeed emulate games in the same way as retro video game consoles do, they do not violate any intellectual property laws because emulators are just software that don’t contain any proprietary code. In that sense, the programmers who made these emulators just found their own unique way of playing video games that retro consoles are capable of playing without even using any of the code of these consoles.

That said, making a videogame emulator on a Raspberry Pi or using an emulator on a Raspberry Pi is completely legal. However, it is now in relation to the games where the grey area comes in.

We know for certain that video game titles are the intellectual properties of those who develop and sell them. So, if you were to copy the ROMs of these retro games so that you can play them on emulators, that is where the illegality comes in. As such, the copying and selling of the ROMs of these video games are what is actually illegal, but the act of using an emulator to play these games might not be illegal.

Moreover, what makes things more complicated is that some of the Raspberry Pi developers who make these emulators and copy and distribute videogame ROMs usually do so in jurisdictions where intellectual property laws are a bit loose. That means that they can basically get away with it because of how different jurisdictions now make it more difficult to truly dictate whether or not the act is illegal.

Is it possible to use a Raspberry Pi in commercial products? 

What if you use Raspberry Pi for commercial products such as when you use the computer to develop your own commercial product that you are planning to sell? Is it possible for you to do that without getting into trouble with the law?

The good news here is that, yes, it is completely legal for you to use Raspberry Pi in commercial products because the people behind Raspberry Pi made it a point to make Raspberry Pi an open-source development board. And when you say that something is open source, you can basically use it for your own benefit by making use of Raspberry Pi to develop and create your own custom products and design. 

Can I use a Raspberry Pi in a commercial product?

This is a very common question, and the answer is yes! Once you have bought a Raspberry Pi, it’s yours to do with as you wish. Note, however, that a lot of the software in the Raspberry Pi OS distribution is GPL-licenced, which comes with certain requirements, most significantly that you must provide access to the source code if requested. This is usually pretty easy to do.

FAQ on the Raspberry Pi Foundation website

But the catch here is that whatever you develop using Raspberry Pi must also be classified as open-source and not as something that is proprietarily owned. That means that, while you may be able to benefit commercially by selling a product you developed using Raspberry Pi as your development board, you should also allow other people to use your design and code as well.

Also, another catch that you need to know is that, when selling your commercial product, you are not allowed to use the Raspberry Pi name to promote it without the consent of Raspberry Pi because the tradename is proprietarily owned. As such, you should only sell or make a profit out of the product you developed using its own proprietary name unless you were able to obtain the consent to use the Raspberry Pi tradename for product promotion.

As a whole, the Raspberry Pi can be used in commercial products but is not designed with this goal in mind, so manufacturers rarely choose it in their products. That’s why, Raspberry Pi kits are available for different usages, but the Raspberry Pi computer is not included.

It’s the case for example with Raspberry Pi robots (a few examples here). These are kits that are delivered without a Raspberry Pi, but you need one to make them work.

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Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

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