Last week, video gaming giant Nintendo filed a lawsuit against yet another website offering ROM downloads, RomUniverse.
A ROM image, also called just a ROM in this context, is a computer file consisting of data copied from a read-only memory chip; one application of ROM imaging is copying video game media from cartridges. A computing device can then use a software-based emulator to imitate a compatible video game console, read the ROM image, and allow a user to play on their computer a copy of the video game from the cartridge.
The applications of technology for copying the data from a video game cartridge into a computer file naturally would include everything from salvaging a game one already owns off of unusable media, to archiving old classics for future generations of game developers to study, to bootlegging counterfeits of the very latest craze and selling them far and wide — all of which applications are, technically, equally illegal. Many video game fans in the tech community are disgusted by this state of affairs, and criticize attempts by large video game companies like Nintendo to blanket-ban all video game ROMs and emulation software, even for classic old games they own but aren’t selling, as petty tightfistedness. However, in this instance the case against RomUniverse is clear: they offer copies of newer games, such as those for Nintendo Switch and 3DS, and they also charge money.
Nintendo unequivocally condemns all ROM imaging of video game media as nothing but piracy, regardless of context or intent, and has gained a reputation for aggressive IP litigation. Last year, Nintendo’s lawsuit against ROM websites LoveROMs and LoveRetro resulted in a $12 million settlement in Nintendo’s favor. Against RomUniverse, which offers over 60,000 ROMs for download, Nintendo is seeking $150,000 in damages for each infringed copyright and $2 million for each infringed trademark.