Nintendo is known worldwide for iconic video game titles like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong.
But in tech circles, the Japanese game developer has acquired another reputation — Nintendo is famous for zealously guarding its intellectual property against copyright infringement.
The latest example is a lawsuit filed on July 19 in Arizona U.S. District Court. In the complaint, Nintendo of America says that an Arizona resident, Jacob Mathias, infringed on Nintendo's copyrights and trademarks by operating two websites that allowed anyone to play and download a huge library of Nintendo games for free.
Because Nintendo wants compensation for each alleged instance of infringement, damages could easily add up to tens of millions of dollars.
In a company statement to Phoenix New Times, Nintendo of America said that these websites featured "hundreds of pirated copies of Nintendo games for multiple Nintendo platforms."
"The most popular downloads on the website are Nintendo’s first-party titles that have reportedly been downloaded more than 60 million times," Nintendo said in the statement.
LoveROMs.com and LoveRETRO.co hosted hundreds of Nintendo games — from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo to Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The websites hosted ROMs, also known as emulators — retro games, usually classic titles from the 1990s, that are playable online. Playing these games would ordinarily require you to purchase the software or a separate console. (The ROM acronym refers to the "read-only memory" of a game cartridge.)
It appears to be game over for the two sites.
LoveROMs.com displays a simple message: "LoveROMs has been shut down." LoveRETRO.co has also been shut down "until further notice," according to the blank homepage.
Tech publications have characterized Nintendo's lawsuit against Mathias as a crackdown on a major hub for free ROMs, harsh even by the standards of a company known to aggressively defend its intellectual property.
Several gaming channels on YouTube reacted to the news of the lawsuit against the ROM hubs, with one YouTuber suggesting that Nintendo intends to make an example out of the Arizona sites.
In the complaint, Nintendo described LoveROMs.com and LoveRETRO.co as "among the most open and notorious online hubs for pirated video games."
"Defendants have conducted their online piracy business in willful disregard of Nintendo's rights," the lawsuit states. "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 lawsuit is especially tough in light of the damages sought by Nintendo.
The company claims that it is entitled to up to $150,000 for each copyright infringement of Nintendo property, and up to $2 million for each infringement of a Nintendo trademark. If Mathias was indeed running two websites that hosted hundreds of Nintendo games and trademarked images, start to do the math, and it doesn't bode well for Mathias.
Nintendo wants any money that Mathias allegedly made from the websites in an amount to be determined at trial. The lawsuit claims that the websites earned Mathias a profit through ad sales and donations.
The gaming company also takes issue with Mathias' LLC, naming Mathias Designs as an additional party to the lawsuit.
According to records from the Arizona Corporation Commission, Mathias formed the company under a Gilbert address in 2016.
Nintendo argues that Mathias "makes inconsistent use of the corporate form in an effort to shield himself from liability for his extensive and flagrant piracy of copyrighted works and infringing use of registered trademarks."
An amended complaint filed by Nintendo last week also names Mathias' wife, Cristian.
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When New Times asked for Jacob Mathias at the number listed for Mathias Web Design and Development in Gilbert, a man said that a reporter had the wrong number and hung up.
According to the complaint, Mathias posted a video on YouTube in 2010 that instructed viewers on how to play Nintendo games on his website for free: "If you need help getting the games to work or anything at all, please visit my site https://www.loveroms.com!" Mathias wrote in the video description.