However, the big N did not receive the cash it originally requested.
In September 2019, Nintendo filed a lawsuit against RomUniverse, as it facilitated online copyright infringement of many popular Nintendo titles in ROM format (for instance, NES, SNES or N64 games), plus it was profiting from these copyright infringements by selling paid premium accounts (which, in short, removed limits on downloading).
Matthew Storman, a Los Angeles resident, was operating RomUniverse, and he didn’t agree with these allegations. However, he made himself look bad in court by not hiring an attorney, and in his self-defence, he claimed that the site didn’t break any laws, asking the court to dismiss the case… to no avail: the big N’s attorneys tore the case apart, and the court also sided with Nintendo. Shutting down RomUniverse last summer wasn’t enough: according to the ruling, Storman has to pay 2.1 million dollars in damages (which is way less than what Nintendo originally sought: fifteen million!).
„This is a straightforward video game piracy case, and the material facts are undisputed. For over a decade, defendant Matthew Storman owned and operated the website RomUniverse.com. He populated the website with pirated copies of thousands of different Nintendo games and distributed hundreds of thousands of copies of those pirated games,” Nintendo informed the court. Storman disagreed, and here’s what Judge Consuelo Marshall had to say about the ruling: „Defendant filed a declaration in opposition to the Motion wherein he declares that he ‘denies and disputes that he uploaded any files to said website and at no time did he verify the content of said ROM file’, which is directly contradictory to his sworn deposition testimony wherein he testified that he uploaded the ROM files onto his website. Furthermore, Defendant testified at his deposition that his website ‘indicated’ that copies of Nintendo’s copyrighted video games were available for download on the website.”
Storman has profited off the site, as in 2019, RomUniverse generated 30-36 thousand dollars in revenue, which was the main source of his income. „Considering Defendant’s willful infringement, the Court finds $35,000 statutory damages for each infringed copyright […] would compensate Plaintiff for its lost revenue and deter Defendant who is currently unemployed and has already shut down the website. The Court finds the requested $400,000 in statutory damages, which equals approximately $14,286 in statutory damages for each of the 28 counterfeit marks, is appropriate,” Judge Marshall writes. Nintendo requested 400 thousand dollars for each of the 29 trademarks!
Judge Marshall also decided not to issue a permanent injunction against Storman: „The Court Grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s copyright infringement, unfair competition and Lanham Act claims, and awards Plaintiff $1,715,000 in statutory damages under the Copyright Act and $400,000 in statutory damages under the Lanham Act for a total of $2,115,000 in statutory damages.”
But… only 49 games were mentioned. Notice how only the big N stepped up against the website. Imagine if we had an original character created by a studio and a publisher that wasn’t folded into a currently existing company. What if this game had no (!) digital release (Nintendo eShop/Virtual Console)? Who would suffer damages in this case if we downloaded a ROM of that?!