Nintendo follows fan-customized Steam “icons” by DMCA removal

Zoom in / Archived page showing some custom Steam images removed by Nintendo’s DMCA requests.

Nintendo has issued a number of DMCA requests against SteamGridDB (SGDB), a site that hosts custom fan-made icons and images used to represent games on the Steam front-end.

Since 2015, the SGDB collection has grown to include hundreds of thousands of images representing tens of thousands of titles. This includes custom images for many standard Steam games and ROMs for emulated games, which can be added to Steam as “external games”.

To be clear, SteamGridDB doesn’t host the kind of ROM files that other sites have gotten into legal trouble with Nintendo, or even the emulators used to run these games. “We do not support piracy in any way,” a SGDB official (on condition of anonymity) told Ars. “The website is just a free repository where people can share options to customize their game players.”

But in a series of DMCA submissions seen by Ars Technica dated Oct. 27, Nintendo says some of the images on SGDB “display Nintendo’s trademarks and other intellectual property (including characters) that have the potential to lead to consumer confusion.” Thus, dozens of SGDB images have been replaced with a blank image displaying the text “This asset was removed in response to a DMCA takedown request” (you can see some specific images removed in this Internet Archive snapshot from April and compare them to what the list currently looks like).

That’s just what Nintendo is

The SGDB official said they were “not at all surprised” by Nintendo’s DMCA requests and added that they had “obtained some in the past from other publishers and have complied accordingly.” However, when pressed, the administrator can think of only a handful of the DMCA requests the site has received since its founding in 2015.

So far, Nintendo’s DMCA requests focus on images for only five of the Switch games listed in the SGDB: Scarlet Pokemon & VioletAnd the Splatoon 3And the Super Mario OdysseyAnd the The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildAnd the Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Other Switch games listed on the site (some with the exact same characters) are unaffected, as are images for several older Nintendo titles.

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

A page from SteamGridDB showing how DMCAed images now appear (plus one reloaded image with a transparent plate message overlaid on top).
Zoom in / A page from SteamGridDB showing how DMCAed images now appear (plus one reloaded image with a transparent plate message overlaid on top).

Even for the Switch games in question, the DMCA filings focused on images that “directly made use of sprites and assets from [Nintendo’s] IP,” according to the official SGDB. Nintendo’s requests to date appear to have ignored “completely original creations” and “pure fan art” even when such art includes graphics of original Nintendo characters.

It is unclear whether these types of images would fall under a different legal standard in this case. “If the IP holder asks for the original creations to be removed, I will figure out the best way to handle that when it happens,” said the official. The site is primarily fan art only, and we’re open for publishers to get in touch and discuss any issues they may have. [The] The best way to find a good course of action is to discuss the options.”

Nintendo’s SGDB takedowns come a few months after the company used similar requests against YouTube videos explaining how to install Switch emulators on the Steam Deck. Prior to that, the company had used DMCA requests for everything from fan games to recent hack and watch videos to Mario-themed videos. Maine Craft videos.

β€œIn a world of corporations that work ruthlessly to control their own narrative at the expense of research and reference, Nintendo ranks up there with Monsanto, the coal companies, and the mob,” Jason Scott of the Internet Archive told Ars in 2018. Feelings when people talk about old video games, but fear shouldn’t be for one.”

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