Nintendo has been notoriously strict in protecting their intellectual property in the past. One example was the infamous “lockout chip,” or NES10 chip, implemented in the hardware profile of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to prevent third party developers from making unauthorized software for the system back in the 1980s. Nintendo has now launched a new, massive lawsuit to protect the same, according to Nintendo Enthusiast.
Named in the large lawsuit are two ROM distribution websites, LOVEROM.com and LoveRetro.co. Both sites purveyed downloads of game files known as ROMs in the emulation community, files which could be loaded by free and widely available emulation software to play original Nintendo games on computers, mobile phones, tablets, and even hacked NES and SNES classic consoles.
Emerging into popularity in the mid-to-late 1990s with such software offerings as NESticle, NESA, and iNES, software emulation of original Nintendo Entertainment System titles was widespread amongst gamers familiar with the practice. The game files – ROMs ending with the noteworthy file extension.nes, a practice that continues to this day – were frequently traded via FTP, IRC, Usenet, and early web servers.
Later, the refinement of the technology and the proliferation of peer-to-peer file transfer services beginning with Napster, Kazaa, and Limewire, and currently with BitTorrent, meant that emulation became a de facto reality of retrogaming culture. Sites such as CoolRom.com continue to service this desire, though entire ROMsets, meaning the entire NES (and SNES, Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, and arcade cabinet) catalogue can be downloaded en masse with the click of a mouse button, and loaded almost immediately thereafter.
Advantages of ROMs over their original counterparts were many, most notably the feature of save state creation meaning that players could save their game at any particular point during play, and load it repeatedly ad infinitum until a goal was met – say, beating a particularly taxing boss or making a nigh-impossible jump.
Their legality, however, has always been in question. An urban myth propagated by many within the emulation community, and one that still stands today, suggests that it is in fact legal to own a digital ROM copy of a game if one possesses a legitimate copy of the game in physical form. According to Nintendo, however, this is clearly not the case from a legal perspective, as evidenced by a statement from their website. It may, however, be legal to create or “rip” a ROM from the base cartridge for personal use as long as the user is doing so themselves, though obtaining the ROM from a third-party provider is clearly illegal and constitutes piracy under the schema provided.
Nintendo specifically laid accusations at the feet of both LOVEROM.com and LoveRetro.co that they were hosting several infringing elements, ranging from BIOS files pertinent to Nintendo hardware – a means to achieve hacking of the consoles – as well as Super Mario Bros. visual art and elements ripped straight from the games in addition to the hosting of the ROM files.
As of the writing of this article, LOVEROM.com has been taken down and the domain has been listed for sale. LoveRetro.co remains operable, but the future for the heavily targeted ROM host is unclear. Few have the resources to tangle with the tech giant that is Nintendo in court, and ROM sites typically do not generate a substantial amount of revenue given that they are catering to a non-captive audience with multiple alternative options.
Nintendo is seeking statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement, according to Nintendo Life.