Nintendo chose to go head-to-head with emulators this time

According to multiple foreign media reports, Nintendo sued the developer of the famous Switch emulator Yuzu on the 28th of this month. The reason was not the act of developing the Switch emulator itself, but the game piracy problem caused by the Yuzu emulator. .

Game File gaming reporter Stephen Totilo points out that Nintendo claims Yuzu violates the anti-circumvention and anti-trafficking provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and accuses the developer of infringing on game copyrights – Yuzu can be used to circumvent the Nintendo Switch's multiple layers Encryption allows emulator users to play copyrighted Nintendo games.

From Famicom to Gameboy, from NDS to 3DS, almost every Nintendo handheld console has a privately developed emulator. However, the targets of Nintendo's legal department have always been pirated game ROM providers, and rarely the emulator itself.

But this time, Nintendo chose to "go to war" with the emulator itself.

▲ Yuzu official website

A simulator wandering in the gray area

The reason why Nintendo has not sued emulators and their development teams is not that they are unaware of the existence of these emulators, but that it is difficult to determine whether there is any illegal activity in these emulators themselves.

Sega and Sony have both tried to use legal means to block the development of emulators for their consoles over the last century, but have mostly failed. Among them, Sony's lawsuit against the PlayStation emulator Bleem even directly ruled that the emulator itself was legal.

The Bleem simulator uses a development technique called "clean room", where one person looks at the source code and describes what the code does, and another person writes the code based on the description, thus avoiding the risks of using the source code. This is also the usual approach for most simulator development.

Most of these cases are codified in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Because of the existence of the DMCA and these acts, as long as the source code of the emulator is different from the underlying code of the game console itself, it is difficult to find it illegal.

Almost every Nintendo game console has a corresponding emulator, but Nintendo is basically unable to use legal actions to curb the development of emulators. Therefore, Nintendo has shifted its target to ROM websites that provide game file cracking resources.

Nintendo vs. Yuzu

Nintendo chose to go to war directly with Yuzu this time, and it was indeed "prepared." Nintendo alleges that Yuzu is designed to help its users bypass Nintendo's encryption so that they can play Nintendo's encrypted games, violating the anti-circumvention and anti-trafficking provisions of the DMCA.

Nintendo's accusation is very strong. The Verge pointed out that if Nintendo can prove that Yuzu's development intention is to allow people to play Switch for free and for no other purpose, it will violate Section 1201(a)(2) of the DMCA, which prohibits "primarily for Products designed or produced to circumvent technical measures for access control.

Nintendo also continues to cite examples to prove that Yuzu indeed promotes piracy. Nintendo pointed out that Yuzu officials provided instructions on "how to run illegal Switch game files" and also provided users with a method to obtain Switch encryption keys. Yuzu officials must have bypassed encryption and extracted Switch games on their own for emulator testing.

▲ Nintendo pointed out in the lawsuit that Yuzu promoted compatibility with its copyright-protected games (Source: Nintendo lawsuit)

Nintendo's attitude towards Yuzu is very simple and resolute, that is, "disappear". Nintendo applied to the court for a permanent injunction to prevent the continued development of Yuzu, and wanted to confiscate its URL, chat room and social media accounts, and also demanded compensation from Yuzu.

Nintendo's "deep hatred" of Yuzu is also because Yuzu is indeed related to the large-scale distribution of pirated copies of its games. Nintendo pointed out in the lawsuit that its game "The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom" was illegally downloaded more than 1 million times in early May 2023, at the same time that Yuzu's Patreon subscribers doubled.

The outcome of the lawsuit is unclear

Although Nintendo is suing emulator manufacturers for "spreading piracy" this time, the outcome is still unclear.

Litigation against emulators is rarely successful because the development of emulators is not illegal. If Yuzu can prove that it was not developed to spread piracy, then Nintendo is likely to lose the case.

However, because emulator development teams are mostly small studios, game companies can wear down development teams through long-term lawsuits. As mentioned above, Bleem, the simulator team that won the lawsuit against Sony, ended up disbanding due to long-term litigation and high legal fees and was merged into Sony.

Business lawyer Richard Hoeg believes that Yuzu may avoid going to court with Nintendo and reach an out-of-court settlement.

▲ Yuzu’s official screen showing the emulator running Nintendo games

Regardless of the outcome, Nintendo's lawsuit is already having an impact. The Verge reports that several small development teams have axed their projects following Nintendo's lawsuit.

Players have different attitudes towards Nintendo's behavior. Some netizens believe that this is a necessary measure to combat piracy. Some players also believe that the ban on emulators is not conducive to saving and playing old games.

So far, Yuzu has not issued any response to the lawsuit.

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