Ever see a Pokemon tribute video, a Zelda fan film, or a Super Mario Bros. gaming mod and wonder how the people who made it got away with it? Don't Nintendo's lawyers know how to use the phone?
This is how a Nintendo shareholder asked the question in late June:
In connection with Nintendo's basic strategy of "gaming population expansion", I would like to ask about the handling of fan activities and intellectual properties. Recently, there are many fan magazines, original short movies, music bands, cosplay activities, websites, orchestras and so on, based on Nintendo's titles. If these activities threaten Nintendo's intellectual properties or licenses, will Nintendo crack down on them aggressively, or just view them as fan activities? If Nintendo has any policies, please let us know.
This is how the man the shareholder addressed the question to, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, answered [emphasis added by Kotaku]:
As the principle, please understand that the question is regarding a rather delicate issue to which no one can perhaps identify a clear-cut criterion. Of course, we cannot say that we can give tacit approval to any and all the activities which threaten our intellectual properties. But on the other hand, it would not be appropriate if we treated people who did something based on affection for Nintendo, as criminals. It is true that some expressions are detrimental enough to diminish the dignity of our intellectual properties, and others destroy our intellectual properties' world-views by connecting them with something not based on fact. We think one of the criteria for deciding how to respond is whether the expression in question socially diminishes the dignity or value of our intellectual properties or not. Of course, it is very hard to have a blanket standard as this problem involves many complex elements that are very difficult to judge.
In these meanings, we cannot say OK to any and all such activities and, at the same time, it is not feasible for us to immediately respond to each small issue of this nature every time. However, these days an individual can easily transmit information through the Internet. Hearing your question today, as we cannot find these problems only by ourselves, we feel that a kind of contact window should be set up so that people can somehow report to us any inappropriate uses of Nintendo's intellectual properties which diminish their dignities or values, so that we can respond appropriately.
Got that Nintendo fans? Seems like you can get away with being playful about Nintendo's characters. Just don't diminish the dignity of that intellectual property.
(Photo is of an official Mario costume-wearer at the Nintendo World Store in New York City. This person's a pro.)