Don’t start a business that makes money off of another company’s intellectual property rights — even if the property is old and you don’t think the company is going to do anything with it.
That may be the primary lesson behind a lawsuit between gaming giant Nintendo and an Arizona couple who hosted pirated read-only versions of the company’s old games and provided users with the emulator tools to play their favorites from decades ago. Many of the games, including favorites like Mario Kart 65 and Pokemon Yellow, are no longer accessible through ordinary means.
The worse part of the multi-million dollar judgment may be that the couple seemed to be completely aware that they were in violation of copyright and trademark infringement law. It’s hard to imagine that they weren’t. However, they may have convinced themselves that their actions were tolerable since it helped with the “preservation” of the (by digital standards) ancient games.
Nintendo’s decision to press the super-sized lawsuit against the couple is largely seen as a move to deter others from doing something similar. Nintendo is thought to be protecting its interests as interest in retro-style gaming consoles grows.
While not all gamers are happy with Nintendo over the lawsuit, the reality is that every company is eager to protect its intellectual property these days — including digital property. Even if something has acquired a near cult-status in popular culture — like many of the Nintendo games — it still doesn’t pass out of the control of its creators or owners.
No matter what type of business model you run, you need to take copyright laws seriously. The theft of intellectual property could leave you — and your business — financially exposed otherwise. If you’re unsure what your rights are regarding the use of copyrighted material or how to protect your own intellectual property, talk to a business lawyer who is experienced with such matters.