I think emulation is pretty inevitable, for the preservation of games for the future. There was an episode of Extra Credits that talked about this--basically, filmmakers have the ability to view old films from the late 1800s and early 1900s to learn about the beginnings of film. Visual artists can look at paintings and sculptures and pottery from ancient times. Writers can read translations of the oldest stories we have documented on paper. Backwards compatibility isn't an issue with any of those things. Regardless of how old they are, there are always ways to continue to view them, and copyright is never an issue (except in the case of some films).
But with games? Our history is essentially getting rolled up with every console generation. If an Atari or NES game isn't ported to a newer console, if you can't get ahold of that specific hardware to run that ROM that was made at that specific time, it's gone. Once all the copies of the games and working models of the console die, the game is dead with it. Legally, anyway.
So that's where emulations step in. They preserve the games and allow future generations to play them and see what game design was about back in ye olden days. Just as people who go to film school study the earliest films, it's important that people who study to be game designers play these games. And it's also important for just anybody interested in old games and films to be able to have access to that history and experience it for themselves. Video games aren't going away anytime soon, and they are constantly exploring new possibilities and whether or not people like it are inevitably becoming established as a form of art.
Personally, I think it does a greater disservice to the people who made the game to let it die out and never be played again, than to put it on the Internet as an emulation so that people can continue to play it. I think it's safe to say people who were making Commodore 64 and Atari games weren't expecting to still be making money from those games in 2013. But for people to still have the opportunity to play them and experience their works so far into the future? I don't think even they could have predicted that would become possible.