Nintendo sues Switch emulator Yuzu for ‘facilitating piracy on a colossal scale’

If you’ve ever seen a Steam Deck play Legend of Zelda game, chances are you saw the Yuzu emulator at work. Now Nintendo has sued the developers of Yuzu in US federal court, aiming to destroy Yuzu for good.

In the lawsuit it was noted by Stephen TotiloNintendo claims that Yuzu violates the anti-circumvention and anti-trafficking provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and accuses its creators of copyright infringement. It is claimed that Yuzu is “primarily designed” to bypass several layers of Nintendo Switch encryption so that users can play copyrighted Nintendo games.

“…immediately transfer the domain name yuzu-emu.org to Nintendo’s control”

The company isn’t just asking the court to stop Yuzu with a permanent injunction. It also wants to take away its domain names, URLs, chat rooms and social media presence; transfer yuzu-emu.org to Nintendo; and even seize and destroy the hard drives to help destroy the emulator. Oh, and Nintendo also wants a lot of money in damages.

Aren’t emulators legal? Well… yes and no. While there is legal precedent suggesting that it’s okay to reverse engineer a console and develop an emulator that doesn’t use any of the company’s source code, these cases are about a quarter century old or older – it gets trickier when we’re talking about multiple layers of modern encryption and the copyrighted BIOSs that Yuzu and other modern emulators need to run.

The Dolphin Emulator for the Nintendo Wii and GameCube received enough criticism to abandon its plan to launch on Steam, when it was revealed that Dolphin comes with Nintendo’s Wii Common Key to help bypass copyright protection on Wii games . (Dolphin claims that recording that key is legal.)

However, Nintendo does not claim that Yuzu contains such keys. Yuzu takes a bring-your-own-BIOS approach and expects users to either get their own BIOS and keys from a hacked Nintendo Switch (using a loophole that Nintendo has eliminated in newer models), or more likely download a pirated copy.

So instead, Nintendo claims that Yuzu knowingly “enables piracy on a colossal scale.”

As you’ll see in the full complaint below, Nintendo suggests that Yuzu facilitates that piracy in numerous ways, including by providing “detailed instructions” on how to “get it working with illegal copies of Nintendo Switch games,” by testing thousands of official Nintendo Switch games. Switch between games to verify their compatibility and link to websites that help users “obtain and further distribute the prod.keys.” Nintendo also says that the developers have clearly extracted Nintendo Switch games themselves, bypassing the encryption, to test their own emulator.

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If Nintendo can prove that Yuzu is “primarily designed” to give people access to official Nintendo Switch games and has no other real use, Yuzu would indeed be in trouble. DMCA Section 1201(a)(2) prohibits products that are “designed or manufactured primarily for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access” to a copyrighted work. It’s the same provision that game archivists have been struggling with for years.

“The important thing is that Nintendo is filing the case as a DMCA circumvention claim,” said Richard Hoeg, a corporate attorney who is hosting the case. Virtual legality podcast. He tells me that while emulators are broadly legal if developed “properly,” the DMCA also has Nintendo focusing on whether the emulator is designed solely to break Nintendo’s control over its games.

“There is a real chance for them to win if the court ‘tests’ matters such as the effectiveness of the measure and the way in which the emulator was created,” says Hoeg.

Nintendo suggests in its complaint that Yuzu may have actually suffered damage and alleges so The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was illegally downloaded more than a million times in early May 2023, while Yuzu’s Patreon membership doubled during the same period.

Legal emulation or not, Yuzu may not want to risk finding out in court. Many small groups of developers have dropped their projects after being approached by Nintendo, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Yuzu settled. “I would say the claim here is enough to get any reasonable emulator company to cease, desist and settle the claims,” says Hoeg. “But remember that this is only one side of the story at this time.”

Yuzu did not immediately respond to requests for his side of the story on Discord and via email. The team released Yuzu for Android last May.

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