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Published: July 3, 2023

Written by: Stoyan Todorov

  • Nintendo claims it’s simply protecting the work of its engineers and developers
  • The company accuses Dolphin of using “cryptographic keys without Nintendo’s authorization”
  • According to a lawyer, this is a warning shot should the emulator be released, it would violate the DMCA

In recent months, Nintendo has been doubling down on what it sees as leaks of its games and the popular emulator Dolphin is the latest one to receive blows from the company.

Nintendo Issues a Notice

Nintendo has been somewhat infamous for the ways it protects its intellectual rights and a recent interaction with Valve’s platform Steam seems to confirm that reputation. Steam removed the popular emulator Dolphin for the GameCube and Wii, from its listings after receiving a cease-and-desist from Nintendo, according to the program’s developers. Nintendo accused the emulator of illegally circumventing its protections, and justified its actions because it is merely protecting the “hard work and creativity of video game engineers and developers”. 

On May 27, Dolphin’s developers announced the Steam port would be “indefinitely postponed” after Steam removed the program from its listing. “It is with much disappointment that we have to announce that the Dolphin on Steam release has been indefinitely postponed,” an update on the Dolphin project blog reads

“We were notified by Valve that Nintendo has issued a cease-and-desist citing the DMCA against Dolphin’s Steam page, and have removed Dolphin from Steam until the matter is settled. We are currently investigating our options and will have a more in-depth response in the near future.” The developers gave no time frame for when fans could expect new updates on the matter but thanked their community for their patience in the meantime.

Why Did Nintendo Do This?

It’s somewhat strange that Nintendo decided to take action against the emulator now, considering it has been out for many years. Perhaps the fact that interest in emulators rose after the release of the Steam Deck, which contributed to more people using Dolphin, prompted Nintendo to issue the cease-and-desist. 

According to a legal notice, Nintendo accuses Dolphin of using “cryptographic keys without Nintendo’s authorization and decrypting the ROMs at or immediately before runtime”. Although the use of emulators is not illegal, providing users with ways to bypass protections on individual game ROMs could potentially violate Nintendo’s intellectual property rights. 

However, PCGamer reviewed the notice with a lawyer and noticed it is missing one of the key features of a DMCA takedown request—copyright infringement. The thing is, Dolphin is not yet available for download on Steam. Because of this, the lawyer says this is a warning shot and that if Dolphin is released on Steam, it would (in Nintendo’s view) violate the DMCA. 

“Here, there is no allegation that Valve is currently hosting anything that infringes Nintendo’s copyright or, more broadly, violates the DMCA,” attorney Kellen Voyer of Voyer Law said. “Rather, Nintendo is sending a clear notice to Valve that it considers Dolphin to violate the DMCA, and should it be released on Steam, Nintendo will likely take further action.”

So far, Valve has not commented on the matter and it is unclear if they will. The company will likely wait for the matter to be settled in court, should Dolphin’s devs decide to object to Nintendo’s ruling, but this could take many months, and the power balance would be anything but equal.

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