Nintendo obliterates 8,535 Yuzu repos — Nintendo’s most effective DMCA takedown campaign in years

Nintendo continues its DMCA takedown rampage this week as it has taken down 8,535 Yuzu repos on Github, perhaps the most effective single takedown notice seen in recent years. The move to strike follows Nintendo’s attack on Garry’s Mod user-generated content last week, likely signaling a bolder Nintendo legal team than we’ve seen before.

Yuzu, a popular Nintendo Switch emulator, has been a target of Nintendo’s ire for some time now. Nintendo took Yuzu to court in February of this year, claiming that the emulator enabled “piracy at a colossal scale”. After a few short weeks, Yuzu’s developers settled the lawsuit for $2.4 million. Since this settlement, Nintendo has sent various DMCA takedown notices across the web to remove Yuzu distributions. Its most recent takedown stepped matters up several notches of intensity, triggering a chain reaction across a web of Github repo networks which eventually found 8,535 targets. Thanks to this breathtaking takedown, Yuzu files have been made exceedingly scarce. 

For context on game piracy, the software of the emulator itself is not necessarily illegal. Emulating the hardware of the Switch violates no rules, and the program requires Switch software keys and ROMs to function. The acquisition of said keys and ROMs is where piracy is likely to occur; while someone can download their keys directly from a Switch console and the ROM from a Switch game cartridge, most users acquire these software through illegal online distribution. While piracy is perhaps expected in connection with emulation, emulators have successfully defended their practices this way for years. 

Nintendo ignored this defense by taking its legal attack even further in its initial suit against Yuzu, claiming that even copying one’s own purchased game files violates the law. The company alleges in its lawsuit, “any copy […] not on an authorized cartridge or console is an unauthorized copy and therefore infringing.” The fact that Yuzu folded in court for the settlement so quickly means that no precedent could be set in court for this attack to hold in future cases, but it is not promising for the future of game emulation and preservation.

Nintendo is notorious for its litigious nature when it concerns its IPs, willing to sue children and coders alike. But recent events indicate a new strategy is emerging, where Nintendo is now aiming higher. This was first indicated by its takedown notice on Garry’s Mod, goading Facepunch Studios to clear through 20 years of user-generated content for potential copyright infringement of Nintendo imagery. Complying with this takedown is keeping devs busy to this day. The announcement of the takedown on Garry’s Mod Steam page includes the quote, “If you want to help us by deleting your Nintendo related uploads and never uploading them again, that would help us a lot.” 

The future of game preservation and emulation becomes increasingly at risk with Nintendo’s recent offensives against the scene. Emulation is seen by many as a crucial part of video game preservation, with 87% of video games released before 2010 determined “critically endangered” by a recent study by the Video Game History Foundation. While the video game lobby argues its companies do enough in their own commercial actions to preserve their classic games, historians and activists staunchly disagree, correctly noting that a supermajority of classic games are no longer commercially available. While copying Switch games today risks “hurting Nintendo’s bottom line”, it is likely based on industry trends that copying these ROMs will become a necessary part of game preservation in only a few short years.