Nintendo owns some of the most iconic intellectual property in games, and it’s taking a stand against ROM sites. After securing a win against two major ROM distributors, Nintendo has set its sights on another website called RomUniverse. Nintendo has filed a lawsuit against the owner of RomUniverse seeking millions of dollars in damages and demanding that the site shut down.
According to the legal filing, RomUniverse is one of the largest unauthorized distributors of Nintendo games. It also seems to be a particularly brazen enterprise, featuring a Nintendo-themed background and paid memberships (a one-time $30 fee) that allow users to download as much content as they want. Without the membership, you can only download three items per week. RomUniverse also hosts movies and ebooks, and these are direct downloads. At least torrent sites have the advantage of not storing infringing files on their servers.
Nintendo points to numerous examples of infringing content including ROMs for the current-gen Switch console and older systems like the 3DS, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo 64, and NES. Simply having ROM files isn’t illegal, but it’s something of a gray area. You’re probably in the clear if you make backups of games you already own. However, making those ROMs available for download is just asking for trouble, and Nintendo is famously strict about the use of its IP.
The company’s lawsuit seeks $2 million in damages for trademark infringement across the site plus $150,000 per infringing file. That’s where the damages would really stack up. There are thousands of Nintendo ROMs on the site. Just the selection of Switch titles would push the damages into the tens of millions. In addition to damages, Nintendo demands that the website operator shut down the site and transfer ownership to Nintendo.
It has been just over a year since Nintendo filed a lawsuit against LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co, both of which were owned Jacob Mathias. By late 2018, Mathias had agreed to a $12 million settlement with Nintendo. The sites temporarily went offline shortly after Nintendo filed suit, and later became apology pages. They are now completely offline. The fact that RomUniverse is still online and serving pirated games suggests the owner won’t be so quick to surrender. We could be looking at a more drawn-out case.