Nintendo Tracks Fan-Created Custom Steam “Icons” With DMCA Takedowns

Enlarge / An archived page showing some of the Steam custom images that have been removed by Nintendo’s DMCA requests.

Nintendo has filed a number of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requests against SteamGridDB (SGDB), a website that hosts custom fan-made icons and images used to represent games on Steam’s front-end interface be used.

As of 2015, SGDB’s collection has grown to hundreds of thousands of images representing tens of thousands of titles. This includes custom images for many standard Steam games and emulated game ROMs that can be added to Steam as “external games”.

To be clear, SteamGridDB doesn’t host the kind of ROM files that have gotten other websites into legal trouble with Nintendo, or even the emulators used to run those games. “We do not support piracy in any way,” one SGDB admin (who asked to remain anonymous) told Ars. “The site is just a free repository for people to share options for customizing their game launchers.”

But in a series of DMCA requests seen by Ars Technica on Oct. 27, Nintendo says some of the images on SGDB “feature Nintendo’s trademarks and other intellectual property (including characters), which is likely to cause consumer confusion.” becomes”. As a result, dozens of SGDB images were replaced with a blank image with the text “This content was removed in response to a DMCA takedown request” (You can see some of the specific images used in this April-January 1 Internet Archive snapshot). Compare it to the current listing).

It’s exactly what Nintendoes do

The SGDB administrator said they were “not at all surprised” by Nintendo’s DMCA requests, adding that they “have received a few from other publishers in the past and have complied accordingly.” At the click of a button, however, the admin could only think of a handful of other DMCA requests the site has received since its inception in 2015.

So far, Nintendo’s DMCA requests have focused on images for just five Switch games listed in SGDB: Pokemon scarlet & violet, turn 3, Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wildand Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Other Switch games listed on the site (some with the exact same characters) are unaffected, as are images for many older Nintendo titles.

The SGDB administrator told Ars they had “no solid idea” why Nintendo’s requests were so targeted. “I don’t know what’s going on in their legal department.”

A page from SteamGridDB showing what the DMCA images look like now (as well as a newly uploaded image with a cheeky transparent message above it).
Enlarge / A page from SteamGridDB showing what the DMCA images look like now (as well as a newly uploaded image with a cheeky transparent message above it).

Even for the Switch games in question, the DMCA requests focused on images that “used sprites and assets from [Nintendo’s] IP,” according to the SGDB administrator. Nintendo’s requests so far seem to have ignored “completely original creations” and “purely fan art,” even when that art includes drawings of Nintendo’s original characters.

It is unclear whether these types of images would fall under a different legal standard in this case. “If an IP owner asks to remove original creations, I’ll figure out the best way to handle it if it happens,” the administrator said. “The site is basically just fan art, we’re open to publishers reaching out to them and discussing any issues they might have. [The] The best way to find a good course of action is to discuss options.”

Nintendo’s SGDB takedowns come a few months after the company made similar requests against YouTube videos explaining how to install Switch emulators on the Steam Deck. Before that, the company used DMCA requests for everything from fan games to modern Game & Watch hacking videos to Mario themes Minecraft videos.

“In the realm of companies working ruthlessly to control their own narrative to the detriment of research and credentials, Nintendo ranks alongside Monsanto, coal companies, and the mob,” Internet Archive’s Jason Scott told Ars back in 2018. “They Expect emotions when people talk about old video games, but one of those shouldn’t be fear.”

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