After All That, Nintendo Can't Even Get $50 A Month Out Of RomUniverse

from the time-and-money-well-spent dept

The saga of how RomUniverse, a site dedicated to offering ROMs for classic Nintendo games, came to its end is both frustrating and very dumb. Back in 2019, Nintendo launched a massive war on ROM sites, coinciding with the release of a mini version of Nintendo's NES console. Eventually, the company's sights turned to RomUniverse. Run solely by Matthew Storman, the site first tried and failed to crowdfund its legal expenses, made the lame argument that somehow the first sale doctrine meant that Storman could legally offer up digital versions of bought Nintendo games, only to see Storman represent himself in court and eventually lose. While Nintendo always had the law on its side, it was also true that sites like RomUniverse existed for a long, long time and Nintendo wasn't injured enough by any of this for it to be on the radar prior to the ROM War of 2019. In fact, I would argue that ROM sites for a long, long time kept up the interest in these classic games that created a market for Nintendo's classic console releases.

I would also argue that the whole thing was a giant waste of time and money, an assertion backed up by the fact that the victorious Nintendo reportedly can't even get $50 a month out of Storman, despite court orders.

You can’t get blood from a stone, and you can’t squeeze a relatively measly $50 payment out of a guy whose primary source of income was the video game rom site you sued into oblivion. Earlier this year Nintendo’s 2019 lawsuit against website RomUniverse concluded with the site being shut down and Nintendo awarded $2.1 million dollars in damages. That’s $35,000 for each of the 49 Nintendo games found on the site plus $400,000 in trademark damages. The chances of Matthew Storman, who defended himself in court and whose only source of income was the now-defunct rom site, being able to pay those damages are incredibly slim. In a recent court filing obtained by Torrentfreak, Nintendo complains that Storman hasn’t made his court mandated monthly payment of $50.

As a result, Nintendo is seeking a permanent injunction against Storman to keep him from ever re-launching RomUniverse. That, frankly, may be what the company was after this entire time.

But that doesn't make the futility of this whole legal enterprise any more sensical. Nintendo managed to legally pummel a single man who was, admittedly, infringing their copyrights. But one is free to wonder aloud if this legal route was really the only method Nintendo had for getting the site shut down. If Storman truly cannot manage a $50/month sanctions payment to Nintendo, there is no hope of them recovering the $2.1 million awarded in court, an amount that Storman also appears by all accounts to be unable to pay.

And so Nintendo has a legal victory without any monetary award, Storman's own actions have resulted in his fiscal life likely being in shambles, and we all go on our merry way. Again, this is really how this had to happen?

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Filed Under: classic video games, copyright, matthew storman, nes, old video games, roms, trademark, video games
Companies: nintendo, romuniverse


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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 7 Jul 2021 @ 8:26pm

    Again, this is really how this had to happen?

    Unfortunately, yes. Nintendo’s lawyers wanted a head on a pike as a warning to others. That they basically piked his entire body instead of just his head was ghoulish overkill⁠—but they made their point nonetheless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Jul 2021 @ 8:41pm

    And yet I am willing to bet that if I were so motivated, I could locate all the ROMs that ever were available (and then some) easily online still.

    One logically might assume that this might mean people running 'pirate' sites aren't in it for the money like we keep being told.

    Even Nintendo's law strike team can't find enough cash to get $50 a month from him.

    Of course these ROMs being out there really didn't hurt sales of games that haven't been available in decades (and the few made available, Nintendo pursues a modified Ferrari production method... Ferrari would make 1 car less than orders each year... Nintendo makes 1 million units less than demand).

    When you focus on protecting the IP to the point where you are actively abusing fans desires... perhaps there is the problem.
    You are in a business that will fail without consumers wanting your products, rather than meet consumer demand you try to bankrupt them.
    Eventually one of these little stunts will finally tip the scales & parents will stop passing down love of Nintendo to their kids & the cycle will be broken. With no one interested in your product anymore, there will be no one trying to get things from ROM sites (that you refuse to make available legally), and your product will be safe... in a warehouse... gathering dust... forgotten & ignored.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Pixelation, 7 Jul 2021 @ 9:24pm

    Re:

    And, once again, only the lawyers made any money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2021 @ 9:42pm

    Re:

    Even then, Nintendo would probably be the the type to sue whoever owned the warehouse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    PaulT (profile), 7 Jul 2021 @ 11:07pm

    Re:

    "And yet I am willing to bet that if I were so motivated, I could locate all the ROMs that ever were available (and then some) easily online still."

    Of course. The only question is whether Nintendo are offering the games now. There is almost certainly no action that they can take that ensures that there's zero pirated copies available, they can only control whether or not there's a legal alternative available.

    "One logically might assume that this might mean people running 'pirate' sites aren't in it for the money like we keep being told."

    Which, has always been clear since the first music mixtape was produced. While there was much more profit motive back in the physical media days, even then the types of piracy that occurred were as much due to fans helping each other out as they were due to profit. Most pirate operations don't have huge amounts of money, it's only the "one download = one lost sale and the pirate has that money" fallacy that tells them it happens, not reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Dave, 7 Jul 2021 @ 11:30pm

    If a big corporation cannot get blood from a stone...

    It will just pulverize the stone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Strawb (profile), 7 Jul 2021 @ 11:46pm

    To add to the stupidity...

    At $50/month, it would take Storman 42,000 months, or 3,500 years to pay off the damages. What is even the point of issuing a punishment like that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 12:30am

    Re: To add to the stupidity...

    "What is even the point of issuing a punishment like that?"

    You realize you're asking this about the copyright cult which has decisively proven, over the decades, that they are willing to cut off their own noses just to spite their faces.

    These are people of the same caliber who tried to sue grandmothers, laser printers and dead people out of existence just so an industry relying on its reputation among consumers, could portray itself as willing to sink to any depths to safeguard the stuff it didn't need from people making copies of that stuff.

    The punishment itself is the point. The fact that it changes nothing and isn't a deterrent to anyone isn't relevant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Sabroni, 8 Jul 2021 @ 1:24am

    He wanted to make money off other people's work. He chose to fuck with the most litigious of all the big games companies and they came down on him hard.
    Maybe he should've got a proper job instead of trying to get rich quick off other people's work?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    David, 8 Jul 2021 @ 1:50am

    Re:

    We are talking about old game ROMs here. Nintendo has no monetary interest in them any more: their marketing interest is over. Any sane copyright law for software would take into account the active sales period: copyright was supposed to be a tradeoff between public interest and a time-limited monopoly for creators enabling them to control the profit in the main marketing period.

    "Maybe he should've got a proper job instead of trying to get rich quick off other people's work?" glosses over the distinction that this is exactly the same what "Penguin Classics" does with works that are out of copyright.

    As long as he is not actually harming Nintendo's financial interests, painting this as a moral rather than a legal problem is disingenuous.

    This is a different situation than people selling unauthorised copies of games that are still on sale.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 4:11am

    Re: To add to the stupidity...

    What is even the point of issuing a punishment like that?

    To hold up as a threat to try and deter other people doing the same. That the approach isn't working just means they spend more money on lawyers trying to control people through the threats of legal violence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 4:32am

    Re:

    Maybe he should've got a proper job instead of trying to get rich quick off other people's work?

    What kind of money do you think piracy generates, especially given that a major component of piracy is to avoid payment? When your damages are purely deterrent in nature instead of seeking to make anyone whole, it's hard to believe your claims of severity.

    On another note, if getting rich off other people's work was actually outlawed and enforced against, most large companies would fucking collapse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 5:11am

    Re: Re:

    "The only question is whether Nintendo are offering the games now."

    Which is a complete failure of businesses to give a shit about consumers.
    Some people will always want the free, risks & all...
    But many of them have tried really really hard to find it in the legal way & the only response they get from Nintendo is silence.
    Offering legal roms (because honestly who needs another tiny toy console) at a reasonable price... (its a fing golf game for the first console its not a $60 title) and they would have this revenue stream that they don't actually have to do much to create & maintain.

    "Which, has always been clear since the first music mixtape was produced"

    But thats only in actual reality, not the imagined nightmares where music will become valueless!!!

    I mean pirates killed EMI & the corpse was picked up for a paltry 4 billion dollars.

    And we all know ISIS is selling bootleg DVD's and CD's on 'merican street corners & every buyer pays to murder another solider defending freedom (or oil)... because somehow they are winning competing with free with their quickly burned questionable format discs labelled in sharpie... o_O

    I miss that office that got facts for Congress & not just PR pieces from astroturf groups.
    I would love to see the real numbers of what piracy costs the economy vs how much Hollywood Accounting steals from the economy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 6:10am

    People are buying switches as soon as they are in a store,
    Nintendos extreme legal moves risks harming the next generation of fans, there's plenty of good games on Sony or Xbox consoles
    Nintendo s attitude towards YouTube play throughs is negative
    Every other game Dev and Microsoft understand YouTube game videos are made by fans and are free advertising
    How many games have sold suddenly millions because streamers started playing the game
    Among us, rust etc

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    john Katos (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 7:13am

    Payment

    Are there no prisons?
    Are there no workhouses?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Jono793 (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 7:27am

    TechDirt’s coverage of this case has been great. But I have to admit I’m confused by the sympathy Matthew Storman seems to be presented with. He’s made some very silly decisions during, and this mess is entirely of his own making!

    Some highlights of his behaviour throughout this saga:

    • As one of your own articles pointed out, RomUniverse wasn’t just hosting Nintendo’s abandonware. The site hosted and advertised ROMs and ISOs for brand new stuff on the Switch and 3DS! As well as various other contraband.

    • His defence (“defence”) consisted of a bunch of talking points justifying why Roms and emulators are totally cool! The kind you’d see re-hashed repeatedly on any gaming discussion forum when the topic comes up.

    • He asserted immunity under the DMCA, because all those ROMS were totally uploaded by users. He knew nothing, whatsoever, about them. Then, in his sworn deposition he testified that the ROMs were, er, actually all uploaded by him and his site admin. Making the DMCA totally irrelevant!

    • In a galaxy-brain, Chad-tier move, Storman decided to just keep the site online for almost a year, even after he’d been served with the lawsuit.

    • In another act of 4D chess,Alpha-strategy, Storman refused to cooperate with discovery, failed to furnish evidence, and the court found that he destroyed evidence that was adverse to him!

    Nintendo are asking the court to reconsider the injunction, not just because Storman can’t pay $50 per month. But (primarily) because Storman keeps putting his foot in it. He apparently told Nintendo’s lawyers that he's considering relaunching the site, despite his undertaking not to!

    “Defendant’s threat to continue to operate RomUniverse to distribute videogame ROMs, using the same website he used for the past several years to mass-infringe Nintendo’s copyright and trademark rights, necessitates the entry of an injunction,” Nintendo informs the court.

    What did he expect them to do after telling them that? The guy’s been lucky to avoid sanctions so far, but I imagine the judge’s patience for his shenanigans is wearing pretty thin.

    If he'd done the sensible thing, and gone gently into that goodnight, none of this would've happened. He’d be an anonymous figure behind a shuttered Rom site, and be able to move on with his life. (Maybe re-launching the site under a new name or domain).

    Instead he decided to put himself in the firing line. And to this extent he’s been completely successful!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Thad (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:13am

    Re: Re:

    The only question is whether Nintendo are offering the games now.

    Them and the other rightsholders.

    Nintendo can only offer the games they own the rights to. A lot of those games were by third parties, many were licensed, and of course some weren't for Nintendo consoles at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:14am

    Re:

    He set up a site to make roms available. Sounds like work to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:15am

    Re: Payment

    Debtors prisons are illegal now. For obvious reasons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:17am

    Re:

    His defense was idiotic, but in a sane world, he wouldn't need any legal defense. Copying is not theft.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:27am

    Re:

    "He chose to fuck with the most litigious of all the big games companies and they came down on him hard."

    That's not the point of the OP. That being that Nintendo must have waste more money on the lawsuit than even their harshest estimates of "loss of sale" concerning their long-discontinued product line. And will never recoup that loss. Nor will the expenditure keep similar losses from happening.

    I'm happy not to be a nintendo shareholder. I'd have to ask the CEO some pointed questions about tossing away money on a project with a negative roi.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:37am

    Re:

    I think we all have to concur that Storman made all the decisions expected of a man with a tenuous grasp on legal reality...
    ...but the real eye-opener here is not on him but on Nintendo.

    Consider the cost of running a lawsuit like this. Not just fiscally (although I can't imagine the legal bills coming cheap) but PR-wise. For what is essentially primarily a discontinued product line.

    The thing is, a corporation needs to make or retain money. This lawsuit serves neither purpose. It's essentially the company tossing shareholder money into the toilet and flushing twice for good measure.

    With no roi possible, the net outcome being bad press, and not even deterrence being on the table, what the heck is Nintendo thinking?

    If the board of trustees are OK with their company wasting out of spite then fine. It's their money to waste. But somehow I don't think that's even in the calculation here. It's just more "sue because holy copyright! Amen!".

    "If he'd done the sensible thing, and gone gently into that goodnight, none of this would've happened. He’d be an anonymous figure behind a shuttered Rom site, and be able to move on with his life. (Maybe re-launching the site under a new name or domain). "

    Hmmmyeah...he's not exactly TPB crew material or the sharpest hammer in the toolbox, I'll give you that...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    john Katos (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re: Payment

    Sorry I forget the /s. The quotes are from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:47am

    Re: Must be nice to kiss nintendo's ass😂.

    Ah, that's right. Be a good little fuckboy who strokes off billion dollar companies. Bootlicking fuck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Re:

    In the anglo-saxon legal tradition, copyright and patents are part of a social contract deal. The rights holders are given certain rights for a limited in exchange for the "IP" becoming public domain after that period. The justification for this deal is the enrichment and betterment of the general public.

    It really seems to me that the refusal to make that IP available is reneging on that deal on the part of the rights-holder. I really think the logical extension of the moral principle here would be for a rights-holder who refuses to sell the protected IP would be the automatic loss of that protection - i.e. the instant expiry of the patent/copyright. It's not going to happen, but I do think that in one of the (many) reforms to IP law needed to make it function as originally intended and be equitable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 2:18pm

    Re: Re:

    With no roi possible, the net outcome being bad press, and not even deterrence being on the table, what the heck is Nintendo thinking?

    I haven’t seen Nintendo getting a lot of bad press from this. I’ve mainly seen discourse about how to go about truly preserving old games for everybody and treating RomUniverse, with its content including recent Switch games, recent movies and also copies of books, and with a premium yearly subscription for better download speed/priority, as a shitty site that gives preservationists a bad name.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 2:42pm

    Re: Re: Payment

    We still have debtors prison. We just don't call it that. What happens when you can't pay bail or a court ordered fine? That's right, you go to jail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Payment

    One of the greatest novellas ever written.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Rekrul, 8 Jul 2021 @ 5:16pm

    Re:

    And yet I am willing to bet that if I were so motivated, I could locate all the ROMs that ever were available (and then some) easily online still.

    Yes, Nintendo "ROMs", dumped from game cartridges are pretty easy to find, especially for the older systems. ISO images of disc games are a little harder, since they tend to be larger and take up more space/bandwidth.

    Looking at various sites, there's really no one-stop-site that has everything, even within a given system's library. Site A may have most of the games, but not the one you're looking for. Site B may have the game you want, but be missing other, more common games. Site C might have one game out of a three-game franchise for a system. It's kind of weird, since it's not like the other games aren't out there.

    Also Japanese only and European versions of games are more rare than the US releases.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:06pm

    Re: Re:

    something something after the DVD release of WKRP when fans discovered they had been screwed, that whole licensing music is hyper expensive because we're assholes thing, there was someone(s) who ripped the entire thing, then painstakingly edited the audio to put the music that was there in the first place back in.

    They could claim piracy cost them sales, but it would be more truthful to state our fans did not like us doing bait & switch on a very expensive collection of a beloved show that we horrible mangled to save a couple bucks.

    But then its not like they still do thi.... oh whats that Lassie?
    Queer as Folk (US) on streaming services has an entirely different soundtrack because the licenses for the music ran out?! You mean I might end up pulled out of my enjoyment rewatching the show when what is in front of me doesn't match my memory!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    Phoenix84 (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 9:00am

    Re:

    > that you refuse to make available legally
    Well, not entirely true. They've tried before. The Wii had the "Virtual Console" where they made a selection of older games available. Though it was poorly implemented as it was locked to that specific console.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    ladyattis (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 9:25am

    A missed opportunity

    I think it's clear Nintendo would rather control their IP than profit from it. What I mean by that is there's a myriad of ROM sites and downloads you can go and get many old games, translated and native, which folks absolutely would pay to get access. Sure, they have their virtual console but IIRC their whole store presence is terrible and they really need to get with the times. Seriously, ROM sites exist because most of these games are effectively abandonware no different than the old Epic Games catalog and you don't see Epic or Id going out of their way to sue folks for their IPs. If anything they try to reuse, remaster, and republish their work so people who do want to buy that they can. Artificial scarcity and overlording doesn't get you more cash, it gets you less customers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Payment

    My English teacher rated it highly, but also said that it was padded out because Dickens was publishing in magazines and paid by the word. His personal copy had multiple strikethroughs of such padding.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Rekrul, 9 Jul 2021 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The DVD release of the show 21 Jump Street also had changed music and while that show doesn't rely on music as much as WKRP, some of the replaced music was very jarring. The volume was all wrong and sometimes made it hard to hear the dialog. They really botched the replacement.

    The show Parenthood had a different opening theme on the DVDs because apparently the studio was too cheap to license the same song for both broadcast and home release.

    Supposedly the entire DVD release of the show Werewolf was canceled because they couldn't clear the rights to two songs and the separate dialog and music tracks were no longer available. Personally, I wish they had released the series with those two scenes muted and subtitled. Fans could have then fixed it with audio from the TV copies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    PaulT (profile), 10 Jul 2021 @ 12:17am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There's all sorts of examples. Nobody who bought the XBox version of Crazy Taxi escaped disappointment as it lacked the iconic Offspring song that most people associate with the game.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2021 @ 8:48am

    Storman then launches "UniverseOfROM"....totally different entity.

    After all thats what Nintendo does with its shell corporations to avoid paying debts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Jul 2021 @ 8:06am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "In the anglo-saxon legal tradition, copyright and patents are part of a social contract deal."

    About as much as the Red Flag Act or the Catholic Church law on Heresy, perhaps. Yes, you could describe it as a social contract the same way you could describe a serial killer as a "hunter". That description begs elucidation.

    But much of IP was never designed as a social contract in the first place. Copyright was just a naked power grab by the british guild of stationers panicking over their lucrative business as the executive arm of a political-religious censorship law threatening to vanish into thin air.
    Patents made some more sense with local variants appearing on the books as early as the 14th century but implications existing since ancient greece. Mind you, early patents were by far more reasonable with durations varying from 1 to 7 years or so.

    "I really think the logical extension of the moral principle here would be for a rights-holder who refuses to sell the protected IP would be the automatic loss of that protection..."

    The old scam of renewing a still lucrative bit of copyrighted content by producing a low-effort, shoestring-budget "sequel" has been practiced to perfection by the copyright cult; They'll always find a way to, in effect extending copyrights on key parts of a told story indefinitely. Even if they haven't made money on it for ten years or more.

    There's a great deal of justification around trademark, and even patents have validity (medical patents excepted, where most of the research costs often comes from government grants - tax money)...but Copyright has little to no validity or principle behind it, even in theory, let alone practice.

    And what little it has does not match the staggering cost to the public or the stifled progress of the arts. This bit of legislative garbage can not be salvaged. It's telling that every time technology progresses, copyright maximalists are at the forefront trying to explain why freedoms of speech and communication are inimically hostile to a functional society simply because in a world where those exist, copyright can not be enforced...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Buma, 15 Aug 2021 @ 8:12pm

    I think Nintendo just buy a lawyer to "free-doing" stealing people money.
    Nintendog no more than money gluttony.
    I also will buying their product if they not doing like that.
    But now i change my mind completely.
    Don't let that company trying to extorting money people, make them bankruptcy completely!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. icon
    JohnnyBlazeon (profile), 17 Aug 2021 @ 4:04am

    Re: Re:

    I know your comment was a month old but had to correct it.

    We're definitely not talking about old ROMs here (Techdirt didn't get that right either as they just assumed it).

    The site was actively distributing Switch and 3DS ROMs (and featuring Switch ROMs on the homepage). The guy also charged for premium access to the site and made an easy $30+k annually sitting on his bum.

    The case notes that Nintendo specifically called out the Switch and 3DS ROMs on the site.

    Users were barely interested in the retro ROMs. The vast amount of Nintendo ROM downloads were for the DS and the Switch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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