Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Nintendo is using its army of lawyers and chests of money to go after people who appear to be some of the biggest fans of its games and franchises. Yeah, you probably have, huh? This time, Nintendo is going after people who create and host custom artwork for icons used in Steam libraries. Evidently, this is a good use of its time and resources…
Nintendo and its lawyers have practically become a meme at this point, with people quick to point out that any fan game or mod using Nintendo characters is likely only a few days away from being legally smacked down by the big Japanese publisher. We’ve asked Nintendo to chill, but what do you expect from a company that works with the feds to send people to jail for years over ROMs? And now Nintendo is coming after folks who create and share custom artwork for Steam because some of it features its characters.
As reported by Ars Technica yesterday, Nintendo has sent some Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requests to SteamGridDB (SGDB). This is a community site that hosts custom user-created images that are used by some players on Steam in place of official artwork. It’s also used by players who have non-Steam games integrated into their Steam library, allowing them to create a nice-looking, single-stop digital depository of all their various games. The trouble Nintendo has with SGDB is that some of the thousands of images on the site are for various Nintendo games that people can emulate, and which those users may integrate into their Steam libraries, using SGDB to provide nice icons for them.
Now, to be clear: SteamGridDB doesn’t host or share or link to any emulation software or ROMs. These are just nice-looking pictures and icons that players can freely download and share. Ars Technica even talked to some of the people behind the SGDB website and they told the outlet that they “don’t support piracy.” But because there’s a Link or Mario in some of them, Nintendo’s lawyers have arrived and sent the site DMCA takedowns, which Ars Technica has seen and verified.
In the DMCA takedowns, which were dated October 27, Nintendo’s legal team claims that some images displaying Nintendo characters or intellectual property could “likely lead to consumer confusion.” Not wishing to fight Nintendo in court, the admins of SGDB have complied with the takedown orders and now dozens of SGDB images have been swapped out and replaced with blank pictures featuring text that explains the original asset was removed due to a DMCA takedown request. Oddly, Nintendo is only targeting some art and images, mainly ones using actual sprites or official artwork, but allowing other fan art to remain up, for now.
When this stuff happens with Nintendo, there will typically be some who will point out that legally Nintendo is in the right. Or that they have to do this or they could lose their legal claim to their own characters. (This isn’t actually how this works, by the way, and is confusing trademark laws with copyright laws, all of which are more complicated and nuanced than random internet folks will have you believe.)
But the reality is that Nintendo doesn’t have to do this. Time and time again, we’ve seen other publishers and companies not go nuclear on players over fan games or emulators, or custom art. Meanwhile, earlier this year, Nintendo went after a person who scanned and uploaded an old, out-of-print Super Mario 64 strategy guide. The company could have let that remain online, letting their biggest fans enjoy a cool piece of Mario history. Nope! It, like some of these cool pieces of custom art on SGDB, are all gone now.
Nintendo should probably spend less time using its lawyers and money to go after dedicated fans and archivists and instead start treating its own employees better and quit union busting, too.