In September 2019, gaming giant Nintendo filed a lawsuit against the game download portal RomUniverse.
The website facilitated massive online copyright infringement of many popular Nintendo titles, according to the complaint filed at a California district court.
Nintendo said that RomUniverse made things worse by profiting from these copyright infringements by selling paid premium accounts that allowed users to download as many games as they wanted.
RomUniverse Fought Back
The site’s operator, Los Angeles resident Matthew Storman, clearly disagreed with these allegations. Without an attorney, he decided to defend himself in court. In his view, the site wasn’t breaking any laws and he asked the court to dismiss the case.
The RomUniverse site also remained online initially but last summer, after discussions with Nintendo’s legal team, the operator agreed to shut it down. However, that didn’t end the case.
Nintendo Requests Summary Judgment
After investing a substantial amount in legal fees, the gaming giant moved for a summary judgment and $15 million in damages.
“This is a straightforward video game piracy case, and the material facts are undisputed,” Nintendo informed the court.
“For over a decade, defendant Matthew Storman owned and operated the website RomUniverse.com. He populated the website with pirated copies of thousands of different Nintendo games and distributed hundreds of thousands of copies of those pirated games.”
Storman, who continued in court without a lawyer, clearly disagreed. In his opposition brief, he denied that RomUniverse offered for download and distributed pirated ROMs of thousands of Nintendo games. Storman also argued that he never uploaded any games himself.
Earlier this week, US District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall ruled on the matter, largely siding with Nintendo.
Court Sides With Nintendo
According to the court, Nintendo provided sufficient evidence to show that Storman is liable for direct, contributory, and vicarious copyright infringement. In addition, trademark infringement claims were also accepted.
Storman’s denials failed to convince the court as he admitted to uploading content to the site in a previous deposition.
“Defendant filed a declaration in opposition to the Motion wherein he declares that he ‘denies and disputes that he uploaded any files to said website and at no time did he verify the content of said ROM file’, which is directly contradictory to his sworn deposition testimony wherein he testified that he uploaded the ROM files onto his website,” Judge Marshall notes.
“Furthermore, Defendant testified at his deposition that his website ‘indicated’ that copies of Nintendo’s copyrighted video games were available for download on the website.”
Storman also profited from the infringements of users by charging for premium access to the site. He testified that, during 2019, the site generated between $30,000-36,000 in revenue, which was his main source of income at the time.
Substantially Lower Damages
Nintendo requested more than $15 million in copyright and trademark infringement damages, but the court doesn’t want to go this far.
Judge Marshall believes that $35,000 statutory damages for each of the 49 copyrighted works is sufficient. This adds up to $1.7 million, which is substantially lower than the $90,000 per work requested by Nintendo.
“Considering Defendant’s willful infringement, the Court finds $35,000 statutory damages for each infringed copyright […] would compensate Plaintiff for its lost revenue and deter Defendant who is currently unemployed and has already shut down the website,” Judge Marshall writes.
The trademark damages are also much lower than requested. Nintendo’s original motion asks for $400,000 for each of the 29 trademarks, but the court awarded $400,000 for all combined, which could be an oversight.
“The Court finds the requested $400,000 in statutory damages, which equals approximately $14,286 in statutory damages for each of the 28 counterfeit marks, is appropriate,” the order reads.
Finally, Judge Marshall decided not to issue a permanent injunction against Storman. Nintendo failed to show that it suffered irreparable harm, and the fact that Storman already shut down the site shows that there’s no imminent threat of further infringements.
All in all, the court orders (pdf) the former RomUniverse operator to pay a total of $2,115,000 in damages.
“The Court Grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s copyright infringement, unfair competition and Lanham Act claims, and awards Plaintiff $1,715,000 in statutory damages under the Copyright Act and $400,000 in statutory damages under the Lanham Act for a total of $2,115,000 in statutory damages.”