The ethics of game emulation is a tricky subject. While it makes perfect sense that a developer wouldn’t want to see its games made available for free download on PC or mobile phones, there is an argument for game preservation. Especially when it comes to older titles. Different people have different ideas on the morality of game ROMs. Nintendo‘s line is simple, however. Nintendo doesn’t like console and game emulation. Indeed, Nintendo has filed a lawsuit against two well-known ROM websites today.
Both LoveROMs and LoveRETRO have been on the receiving end of a copyright lawsuit. The 27-page filing, handily uploaded by TorrentFreak, offers a damning verdict on the two websites. The lawsuit isn’t just asking for the shut down of both websites, however. No. Nintendo is asking for statutory damages of $150,000 for each Nintendo game hosted on either site and up to $2,000,000 for every trademark infringement. But wait, there’s more. On top of the hefty fines, Nintendo is asking for a handover of the two domain names and the sources of all of their ROMs. This is serious business, folks.
There are thousands of ROM websites out there, so why has Nintendo picked on LoveROMs and LoveRETRO in particular? The answer is simple enough. Nintendo argues that the high traffic of both websites has generated the owners a lot of money out of the illegal distribution of other people’s work and intellectual property:
“The LoveROMs website alone receives 17 million visitors each month. Such visitors are drawn to the website by the widespread availability of free, unauthorized copies of Nintendo’s video games and other highly valuable intellectual property. The resulting popularity of Defendants’ LoveROMs and LoveRETRO websites has allowed Defendants to reap substantial ill-gotten gains, including through donations and the sale of advertising on the LoveROMs and LoveRETRO websites.”
The fact that Nintendo has filed a lawsuit against two of “the most open and notorious online hubs for pirated video games” is not unheard of. The amount of $100 million’s worth of damages being touted is unheard of. Nintendo could be onto a big win, here. LoveRETRO is already gone. If Nintendo does earn $100 million from the lawsuit, this could mean only bad things for the emulation market.
Emulation is an ethical minefield, but what of games that have been lost to time? As long as nobody (aside from the original developer) makes money, emulation of lost, old games isn’t hurting anybody.