Last Updated on May 29, 2023
The latest installment in the saga of “what will Nintendo’s lawyers do next?” is currently unfolding, with news that the Dolphin emulator has been pulled from Steam. This follows the issuing of a DMCA takedown notice from the console giant.
Capable of running Nintendo GameCube and Wii games on PC and Steam Deck, Dolphin has been in development since 2003.
Usually, emulators aren’t subject to takedown notices as they’re engineered without copyrighted elements. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Dolphin, however. The emulator includes cryptographic keys, used without consent from Nintendo…
PC Gamer has apparently seen the DMCA letter, which includes the following passages:
“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 Dolphin emulator operates by incorporating these cryptographic keys without Nintendo’s authorisation and decrypting the ROMs at or immediately before runtime. Thus, use of the Dolphin emulator unlawfully ‘circumvent[s] a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under’ the Copyright Act.”
This is in fact doubly concerning. First, while Nintendo’s legal people are well-versed in issuing takedowns, this particulary software is relatively small-fry. In fact, as an emulator of Wii and GameCube, it’s arguably less significant than, say, a site full of ROMs.
And second? The use of the cryptographic keys (the discovery of which proves Nintendo’s legal team has some genuine experts going through the code) delivers a moral problem for users. The employ of an emulator may often involve the use of illegally acquired ROMs, but this is a choice; it’s just as simple to use genuine ROMs, derived from media you own.
In other words, legal emulation.
But you cannot emulate something legally if the emulator itself is breaking copyright. Hence the DMCA takedown notice.
What next for the Dolphin emulator?
Confirming news of the takedown, the Dolphin team has opted to postpone the expected 2023 release “indefinitely.”
It is with much disappointment that we have to announce that the Dolphin on Steam release has been indefinitely postponed. 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.
While Dolphin cannot be found on Steam any longer, you may still be able to download the Nintendo emulator from other resources.
Gaming since 1984, retro gaming since 2004. Contributes to Linux Format magazine, TechRadar.com, and other publications.