Buzzkill Nintendo Slams Valve With DMCA Takedown Over Dolphin Wii Emulator

dolphain steam dmca
Dolphin Emulator is one of the most beloved pieces of software among retro-gaming enthusiasts. The emulator, which supports both the original "Dolphin" console (that's the Nintendo Gamecube for you kids out there) as well as the "Revolution", better known as the Wii. This is possible because the two systems share most of their hardware.

Back at the end of March, the emulator's dev team announced that their baby would be launching on Steam. The free version wasn't going anywhere—actually, it's not even clear that the Steam version would have cost money—but simply having it available on Steam would simplify distribution in a lot of ways. In particular, it would make it much easier to set up the application on SteamOS and thus the popular Steam Deck handheld.

dolphin emulator steam deck
Easy setup of Dolphin on Steam Deck is a dream too beautiful to live.

Well, none of that's happening now, apparently, or at least not anytime soon. In one of the least-surprising events imaginable, Nintendo has used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to send a cease-and-desist notice to Valve regarding Dolphin. The notice specifically says that, because Dolphin supposedly violates Nintendo's intellectual property rights, Valve is obligated to remove it from the store.

The Dolphin team has complied, for now, but this might not be the end of the story just yet. The developers have the option to file a "counter-notice" with Valve. If Valve accepts the counter-notice, then Nintendo has no real recourse but to sue, and there's a pretty short time limit of two weeks to file that lawsuit. If Nintendo doesn't, then Dolphin and Valve are in the free and clear.

Obviously, the expectation is that Nintendo would sue, but there are reasons that the famously-litigious game publisher might decide against it. Such a lawsuit would be a landmark precedent for emulators no matter how it came out, and if the case was judged against Nintendo, it could seriously damage the company's stranglehold that it currently enjoys on its intellectual property.

gotcha force dolphin
Emulation makes it possible to preserve esoteric exclusive games like Gotcha Force.

It's important to bring up at this point that it's a little hard to argue that the emulator itself actually violates Nintendo's IP. The app listing on Steam wouldn't include any of Nintendo's games, of course—you'd have to provide those disc images yourself, created from your own copies of the games, which you absolutely own and have the means to dump, right? Obviously.

Because the emulator wouldn't include any Nintendo games, the route that the company has to take for this DMCA request specifically revolves around the act's Anti-Circumvention provisions. Nintendo would have to prove that Dolphin violates the DMCA's measures against "circumventing technological measures that control access to a work protected under the Copyright Act."

Dolphin is so-appreciated because it not only has essentially-perfect compatibility with good performance across a wide range of hardware, but it also has an extremely intuitive user interface. The developers have slaved away on the application for more than a decade with little in the way of compensation for their time simply out of love for the Nintendo hardware and the games they play.