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Nintendo deals blow to emulated retro gaming with $12 million lawsuit against ROM sites

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May 17, 2021, 3:50 PM EDT (Updated)

The days may be severely numbered for U.S.-based websites that offer free online access to pirated old-school and early video games — games that, in many cases, no longer can be found elsewhere. 

A federal judge in Arizona has sided with Nintendo in the company’s $12 million trademark infringement lawsuit against the married-couple owners of and, two sites that, while now defunct, were immensely popular among online-savvy gamers on the hunt for old-school games. 

Guests could search through the sites’ massive archive of titles, an enormous list dominated, at the top, by Nintendo’s often-requested games. From there, players could download a pirated version, or play their game online via the site’s emulator.

Nintendo’s three-count complaint alleged the sites engaged in copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition — and, according to TorrentFreak, the court agreed. The owners reportedly shut down the sites immediately after the complaint was filed this summer, and have agreed to pay a court-ordered $12.2 million while admitting the sites violated Nintendo’s copyright and trademark rights. 

“But, as TorrentFreak points out, they likely don’t have that kind of money and won’t have to pay the full amount,” notes Variety, indicating Nintendo’s holding up the case as a cautionary example to similar sites. “It’s likely Nintendo will agree to a smaller settlement in private, while sending other ROM sites a warning.”

Although the star power of Nintendo’s classic titles unquestionably drew huge traffic, and other hosts also have represented the chief online archive for many older games that, thanks to defunct gaming systems, lapsed licenses, out-of-business publishers, and other factors, run the risk of being lost to history. In addition to emulating games for high-profile consoles like the Nintendo DS and Super NES, the original PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and PSP, the Atari 2600 and Atari Jaguar, also offered titles for everything from early MS-DOS operating systems to the Commodore 64 or the Sharp X68000.

Without overtly saying so, Nintendo hinted in its complaint that it’s aggrieved by large-traffic sites that systematically exploit its brand power and creative sweat equity; not fan sites that simply curate history. 

“Defendants are not casual gamers but are instead sophisticated parties with extensive knowledge of Nintendo’s intellectual property and the video game industry more generally,” the complaint reads. “…Defendants know or should know that they are trafficking in pirated copies and making unauthorized use of Nintendo’s video games, other copyrighted works, and registered trademarks.”

Will this case mean it’s game over for other third-party ROM sites, and the expansive archive of old-school games they host? We don’t know for sure — but  some of us are more relieved than ever that we’ve held onto our parents’ old Commodore 64s.