Nintendo is easily one of the most strict companies in the entire gaming industry when it comes to protecting its IP (intellectual property). Look no further than its policies on YouTube which involve channels getting hit with copyright strikes due them featuring gameplay and audio from Nintendo titles. Now, Nintendo is flexing its legal muscles yet again, and in a very big way. The company has filed a massive lawsuit, targetting two sites: LoveROM.com and LoveRETRO.co.
The reason behind these lawsuits is that these sites host uploads of ROM files for a wide variety of systems, many of which are Nintendo’s copyrighted games. On top of that, the sites also host emulators and BIOS files (which is a big issue), and many of the visual elements that both websites use are assets ripped straight out of Super Mario titles. Nintendo has listed all of these under the complaints of its lawsuit, sighting that these violate the company’s copyright and trademarks, along with both sites effectively being hubs for software piracy. Due to all the content that Nintendo has listed as being eligible for violating these policies, the lawsuit comes in at a massive $100 million dollars. On top of that, Nintendo wants to seize control of both domain names from the creator and also wants the creator to reveal the sources for the ROM files.
As of the time of writing, the “LoveROM” website is currently offline and its domain is up for sale:
LoveROMS.com before Nintendo’s lawsuit vs. after.
On the other hand, the “LoveRETRO” website is currently still active, but it’s unclear if it will remain online for much longer. The creator of each of the websites has not yet commented publically but is clearly doing what they can to try and get shelter.
This isn’t the first time that Nintendo has gone after ROM-hosting websites, and most certainly will not be the last. But this lawsuit, in particular, will likely set the bar very high for future cases. There’s a chance that Nintendo hit the “Love” sites with such a huge fine in order to scare similar websites and prick them to remove all material that violates copyright and trademark law.
Nintendo is not shy about sharing its feelings towards the game emulation scene. It has an entire page on its official website dedicated to describing the legal meaning behind terms such as “copyright” and ‘trademark”, as well as its stance ROMs and emulators.
In short, Nintendo considers emulators to be troublesome since it allows people to play “illegally-obtained” software on “unauthorized hardware”, thus “promoting piracy”. The company goes so far as to say that emulation “represents the greatest threat to date to the intellectual property rights of video game developers.”
This legal FAQ also provides answers to common arguments made to defend emulation, such as the fact that many of these retro titles are old and not being sold anymore. As far as Nintendo is concerned, that doesn’t matter and says, quite frankly, that using emulators to play ROMs still “is illegal”. The company provides the reasoning behind its strong stance, pointing to U.S. copyright laws having an expiration date of 75 years from the first publication; video games have been around for only roughly 30 years at this time. The only factor related to ROMs that Nintendo kind of agrees with is that consumers are legally able to have copies of software they rightfully own, but only if they themselves are making the copies. So, downloading a ROM even if you own a game is supporting piracy. Nintendo likely isn’t going to slam individual consumers with lawsuits like this, but this case does serve as a reminder that companies are paying attention to what folks are doing with their IP and will act if they feel like it.