Playing the video games of your youth isn’t always easy with the aging hardware from those days. Some games show up as official re-releases on new game systems, but you often have to dive into the murky world of ROMs and emulators to get a taste of the old days. Nintendo would prefer you didn’t do that, and it’s taking legal action to drive the point home. It has filed a copyright and trademark infringement suit against two of the most popular ROM sites.
The sites targeted by Nintendo’s lawsuit are LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co, both of which are owned Jacob Mathias via his company Mathias Designs LLC. The pages offer links to emulators and direct downloads of ROM files. Emulators that can run games from a system like the NES or Sega Genesis are (usually) not illegal, but you often need to load BIOS files that are contain copyrighted code. Nintendo’s lawsuit cites both BIOS files and game ROMs as infringing material on the sites.
The lawsuit, filed on July 19th in the US District Court for the District of Arizona, says that Mathias has willfully infringed on Nintendo’s intellectual property. It calls the sites an “online piracy business,” asking for up to $ 100 million in damages from the court. That number comes from 140 ROMS ($ 150,000 each) and 40 trademark violations ($ 2 million each). This huge amount of money is not a serious request from Nintendo — it knows it would never collect anything approaching that amount. It just wants to use the potential judgment as leverage to shutter the sites.
The aggressive tactics appear to be working, too. LoveROMs used to have a Super Mario Bros. theme and Nintendo content all over the place. Now, the theme has switched to a drab blue and gray. All Nintendo ROMs, emulators, and BIOS files have also vanished from that site. LoveRETRO, Mathias’ other ROM site, has shut down completely.
If there’s a silver lining for fans of retro titles, it’s that Nintendo seems to be drawing a distinction between these sites and smaller fan-run projects. It complains that LoveROMs and LoveRETRO are commercial operations that make money from Nintendo’s products and characters. “Defendants are not casual gamers but are instead sophisticated parties with extensive knowledge of Nintendo’s intellectual property,” Nintendo says in the suit.
It’s likely the remaining site will end up going offline as well. Hosting that content is plainly illegal, so Mathias won’t have any viable defense against the lawsuit. As soon as Nintendo offers a settlement, you’ll have to get your ROMs from some other source. Of course, you’ve been backing up games you own as ROM files, right?
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