Nintendo has issued a number of DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) requests against SteamGridDB (SGDB), a site that hosts custom fan-made icons and images used to represent games on the Steam front end.
Since 2015, SGDB’s collection has grown to include hundreds of thousands of images representing tens of thousands of titles. This includes custom images for many standard Steam games and emulated game ROMs, which can be added to Steam as “external games”.
To be clear, SteamGridDB does not host the type of ROM files that have caused other sites legal issues with Nintendo, or even the emulators used to run these games. “We do not support piracy in any way,” an SGDB administrator (who asked to remain anonymous) told Ars. “The website is just a free repository where people can share options to customize their game launchers.”
But in a series of DMCA requests viewed by Ars Technica, dated October 27, Nintendo says some of the images on SGDB “display Nintendo’s trademarks and other intellectual property (including characters) that may cause confusion. among consumers”. So dozens of SGDB images were replaced with a blank image containing the text “this asset has been removed in response to a DMCA takedown request” (you can see some of the specific images that were removed in this Internet Archive snapshot of April and compare it to the current appearance of the list).
That’s just what Nintendoes
The SGDB admin said he was “not at all surprised” by Nintendo’s DMCA requests and added that he had “obtained some in the past from other publishers and complied with them. Consequently”. When pressed, however, the admin can only think of a handful of other DMCA requests the site has received since its inception in 2015.
Nintendo’s DMCA requests so far focus on images for just five Switch games listed on SGDB: Pokemon Scarlet & Purple, Splaton 3, Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wildand Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Other Switch games listed on the site (some featuring the exact same characters) are unaffected, as are images of many older Nintendo titles.
The SGDB admin told Ars he had “no clear idea” why Nintendo’s requests were so targeted. “I don’t know what’s going on in their legal department.”
Even for the Switch games in question, DMCA requests have focused on images that “directly use sprites and assets from [Nintendo’s] IP,” according to the SGDB admin. So far, Nintendo’s requests seem to have ignored “completely original designs” and “pure fan art,” even when that art involves designs of Nintendo’s original characters.
It is unclear whether these types of images would fall under a different legal standard in this case. “If an intellectual property owner asks to take down original creations, I will find the best way to handle it when it happens,” said the administrator. “The site is basically just fan art, we are open to editors reaching out and discussing any issues they may have. [The] The best way to come up with a good course of action is to discuss the options.”
Nintendo’s SGDB withdrawals come months after the company used similar demands against YouTube videos explaining how to install Switch emulators on the Steam Deck. Prior to this, the company used DMCA requests on everything from fan games to modern Game & Watch hack videos to Mario. Minecraft videos.
“In the realm of corporations working ruthlessly to control their own narrative at the expense of search and reference, Nintendo ranks up there with Monsanto, the coal companies, and the crowd,” Internet Archive’s Jason Scott told Ars in 2018. “You expect emotions when people talk about old video games, but one of them shouldn’t be fear.”
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