The Wii and GameCube emulator Dolphin has had its Steam release ‘indefinitely postponed’ after the team received a cease and desist order from Nintendo.
The Dolphin Emulator Project team shared the update in a blog, stating it was notified by Valve that Nintendo issued a “cease and desist citing the DMCA against Dolphin’s Steam page.”
“It is with much disappointment that we have to announce that the Dolphin on Steam release has been indefinitely postponed,” The Dolphin Emulator Project wrote. “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. We appreciate your patience in the meantime.”
As reported by PC Gamer, the team launched Dolphin’s Steam page on March 28 and, on May 26, received a legal notice from Nintendo that was addressed to Valve’s legal department.
“Because the Dolphin emulator violates Nintendo’s intellectual property rights, including but not limited to its rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)’s Anti-Circumvention and AntiTrafficking provisions, 17 U.S.C. § 1201, we provide this notice to you of your obligation to remove the offering of the Dolphin emulator from the Steam store,” the document states.
For a bit more context, Dolphin’s ex-treasurer, Pierre Bourdon, took to Mastodon to explain their reading of the situation in greater detail and to explain why this isn’t a typical DMCA takedown notice.
“The DMCA is a broad set of laws that includes, a process for copyright owners to ask publishers to take down data,” Bourdon said. “This is defined in sect. 512(c) of the copyright act, and it comes with some requirements from the claimant side of things (here: Nintendo), and some liability on the publisher side of things (here: Valve). It also includes rights for the entity accused (here: the Stichting Dolphin Emulator) to counter claim, allowing the publisher to reinstate the content until the claimant sues.”
According to Bourdon, none of this process was followed and this falls in line more with “standard legal removals / [cease and desist] between two companies.” Instead of issuing a notice that Dolphin violated copyright, it was more that it violated the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions.
If this is in fact true, this means Dolphin itself isn’t technically a party in this and Valve has the right to simply remove this after Nintendo requested it to. This also means “there’s no counter claim process or anything like this.”
So, this could signify there isn’t much hope for Dolphin to ever make it to Steam, but it also indicates Dolphin itself has “no particular risk or liability.”
However, legal matters could always go either way and there is a chance Nintendo could sue Dolphin, especially as the emulator distributes the Wii AES-128 Common Key, “which is used to encrypt Wii game discs.”
There is, unfortunately, a lot of unknowns in this case. The one thing that is clear, however, is Dolphin’s future on Steam is very much in question. As it stands, Dolphin hasn’t received any notice from Nintendo or otherwise about other places the emulator is hosted.
For more, check out Xbox head Phil Spencer’s comments on supporting legal video game emulation and that one time Valve accidentally plugged a Nintendo Switch emulator in a Steam Deck promo.
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