Nintendo Responds To RomUniverse’s Lame Argument That First Sale Doctrine Makes The Site Non-Infringing

You will recall that Nintendo, as part of its sweeping new war on ROM sites initiated a year or so ago, went particularly hard at RomUniverse and its site operator, Matthew Storman. Differentiating RomUniverse from other ROM sites is some combination of the fact that it’s run out of California as opposed to overseas, that the site is also a place to go get lots of other media that sure looks to be infringing on copyright, and Storman’s verbose attitude in making public comments that don’t paint him or his site in the best light. At the onset, as part of an attempt to crowdfund its legal battle with Nintendo, RomUniverse trotted out the claim that it was offering ROMs in an attempt to preserve video gaming history. It wasn’t a particularly believable argument given the rest of the site’s behavior and RomUniverse quickly opted for other legal arguments in court.

Storman appears to be defending himself in the matter and attempted to have the case dismissed on two grounds. The first is that Safe Harbor protections extend to RomUniverse, which Storman claims is simply a service provider and not participating or reaping commercial benefit from infringing material. Storman claims that Nintendo has acknowledged RomUniverse as a service provider by sending DMCA takedown requests to the admin for the site, at least some of which have been complied with. That, unfortunately, is not really how any of this works, as Nintendo details in its own response to Storman’s motion.

In 2009, Mr. Storman emailed members of his website that he would be adding new content including ROMs for various Nintendo game systems. In 2018, when Nintendo was successfully enforcing its intellectual property rights against other pirates, Mr. Storman bragged that he would continue to offer copies of Nintendo’s games.

Mr. Storman directly profits from this infringing activity by allowing users to sign up for “Premium Memberships.” While non-members are limited to one free download through the website, premium members pay $ 30 per year to Mr. Storman to download an unlimited number of pirated games, and at higher speeds than non-members.

That seems to be evidence of Storman and the site participating in the infringing activity and somewhat directly profiting from it. Whatever the DMCA safe harbors protect, that ain’t it. Nintendo goes on to argue that this sort of affirmative defense is not one to be made in preliminary motions, either, making one wonder if it isn’t time for Storman to get himself some actual professional legal counsel.

Storman’s latter claim doesn’t assuage that concern. In his petition for a dismissal, Storman claims that Nintendo actually has no standing to make the infringement claim, arguing that the uploads of the game content to the site were done by those that had legally purchased copies of these games. As such, Storman claims that First Sale Doctrine makes that game code the property of the purchaser of the game, who can resell it at will without it being infringing. As Nintendo again claims in its response, nah, dawg.

The first sale doctrine does not permit mass distribution of copyrighted works, copying of the copyrighted works or distribution of those copies, or the creation and sale of derivative works based on Nintendo’s copyrighted video games. See 17 U.S.C. § 109(a) (“the owner of a particular copy [of a copyrighted work]. . . lawfully made . . . is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy.”) (emphasis added). Indeed, Mr. Storman’s actions fall well outside of the first sale doctrine. The first sale doctrine only allows an owner of a lawful copy of the copyrighted work to dispose of that individual copy.

We have argued in the past that Nintendo, and other gaming companies, should really find better routes for mitigating or even making good use of the effects of piracy…but none of that makes the company’s rebuttal to Storman’s claims any less valid and correct. These are claims made at the improper time, that don’t seem to comport with the site’s behavior, and that represent a misreading of the law. That isn’t going to be good for Storman’s legal outcome prospects.

Again, to reiterate from our last post on this matter, it’s time for Storman to go into damage control mode. And for the love of god, get some professional legal assistance.

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