Bottom line: For many, older NES titles are nostalgic time machines that take us back to our early days of gaming. Unfortunately their age doesn't mean we're entitled to take what we want, and doing so can lead to costly legal consequences. A California court has ordered the owner of the previously well-known website RomUniverse to destroy any copies of Nintendo games and other IP obtained and distributed illegally.
Matthew Storman, the owner and former operator of RomUniverse, was sued by Nintendo of America in 2019 for more than $150,000 per copyright infringement and $2 million per trademark infringement. In May 2021, a judge ruled in Nintendo's favor, awarding the company $2.1 million based on filed trademark infringement claims.
Following the decision, Nintendo sought a permanent injunction against Storman and RomUniverse. Storman had previously argued that Nintendo suffered no actual damages and questioned the timing of the company's original game copyrights.
The initial injunction request was denied by the court, stating that the company failed to show it suffered irreparable harm based on Storman's actions. However, a judge later revisited and issued the injunction, having determined Storman clearly demonstrated a continued threat of infringement. The injunction states that Storman (or any person working with Storman) are prohibited from any activities related to copying, distributing, selling, performing, displaying, playing, or otherwise using any Nintendo copyrighted work.
ROMs are copies of an original game that are transferred from game cartridges (or other media) and moved to a computer or other system. Once moved, the ROM can be accessed using specific emulation techniques and software to run the game as if it were being run on the original game system.
Without permission or consent, this misuse of a company's intellectual property can serve as grounds for lawsuits and other legal action. Sites such as RomUniverse provided users with access to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of illegally distributed ROMs.
RomUniverse.com was taken offline in late 2019 following Nintendo's lawsuit. But this was not the first time Nintendo has pursued a ROM distribution site for damages; in November 2018, the company was awarded $12 million in another settlement with former ROM sites LoveRoms.com and LoveRetro.co.