Nintendo targets popular ROM site with multimillion-dollar suit

The company's relentless pursuit of copyright violators continues.

Popular game pirating site RomUniverse is now engaged in a legal battle with Nintendo’s lawyers, according to a report from Polygon. A new lawsuit, filed by Nintendo of America on September 10, alleges a host of trademark and copyright infractions against the site, and seeks upwards of $2 million per infringement.

“The Website is among the most visited and notorious online hubs for pirated Nintendo video games,” the filing reads. “Through the Website, Defendants reproduce, distribute, monetize, and offer for download thousands of unauthorized copies of Nintendo’s video games. This includes games for nearly every video game system Nintendo has ever produced including hundreds of games for its recently released Nintendo Switch.”

According to the filing, nearly 300,000 Switch games and over 500,000 3DS games have been pirated through RomUniverse.

“There are many digital businesses that operate in a legal gray area,” Ethan Jacobs, commercial litigator at Holland Law LLP told GameDaily. “ROM sites are not one of them.”

Jacobs said that there’s not a lot RomUniverse can do at this point to defend itself, as the case is fairly straightforward. There’s no denying that the site has been offering pirated Nintendo games without permission, making this suit fairly cut-and-dry. 

As it stands, this suit, like most copyright infringement cases, is a civil suit, but it has the potential to drift into criminal litigation territory, Jacobs told us. If the courts find that RomUniverse earned excessive profits off of pirated Nintendo products, and has done so willfully, there could be grounds for a criminal trial.

That doesn’t appear to be Nintendo’s modus operandi, however, as the company continues its relentless protection of its properties. Nintendo has become somewhat notorious for filing suits against alleged copyright and trademark infringers in recent years, such as last year’s case against LoveRoms and LoveRetro. In that case, defendants were forced to cough up an enormous $12 million. 

In 2016, Nintendo shut down a beloved fan remake of Metroid 2 called Another Metroid 2 Remake among a bevy of other fan projects based on its properties. "Nintendo of America, Inc. has filed a takedown request under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)," DoctorM64, director of AM2R said at the time. “I received the request on my personal email, so I'm complying with their requests. There will be no more AM2R updates, and no more releases under any platform.” 

Nintendo may have a reputation for ruthlessly shutting down violators of its trademarks and copyrights, but it's in pursuit of protecting its long-held (and beloved) intellectual property. A lot of effort and, more importantly, dollars go into producing games, and Nintendo needs to ensure that as the IP owner, it sees the profit that it is legally entitled to.

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Sam has been freelancing since 2016, and has bylines at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, and Unwinnable. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at sdesatoff@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter.

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