Crimson Fire was set to release Firestorm today, an application that would allow the Tapwave Zodiac to play all Gameboy Advance, Gameboy Color, and original Gameboy games. Nintendo is attempting to block this release by sending Crimson Fire a “Cease and Desist” order.
Though reverse-engineering a gaming platform is legal, that isn’t the basis under which Nintendo is trying to prevent the release of Firestorm. Instead, it has obtained a patent on emulating any type of gaming platform with software.
Update: In a comment posted in his company’s forums, Crimson Fire’s Kyle Poole said, “We believe that the US Patent No 6,672,963 does not apply to Firestorm gbaZ. But because Nintendo obviously does not want to see a competing handheld system being able to play their games, they will no doubt try to sue Crimson Fire regardless if they can win or not, hoping that increasing legal costs will force us to shut down anyway.”
However, this doesn’t mean that Crimson Fire is giving up. It has decided to release Firestorm as a free open source project, covered by the GPL license. “This will provide us further legal protection, as we will not be profiting from it,” explained Mr. Poole.
A Look at the Patent
Nintendo’s patent describes a way of allowing “a seat-back display for airline or train use, a personal digital assistant, a cell phone…to play interactive games written for a handheld video game platform different from said computer system.”
Of course, there are questions about whether Nintendo should have been given this patent. Emulators of portable games have been around for many years, so there’s a chance this patent won’t stand up in court. However, the makers of Gameboy emulators are generally small companies like Crimson Fire and, as Mr. Poole pointed out, Nintendo may be hoping they don’t have the money to fight a protracted legal battle.
A Firestorm of Controversy
The Gameboy platform is ideal for emulation because the hardware requirements are so low that even a moderately powerful handheld computer can run games as well as the original equipment.
Though Nintendo could be planning to release its own Gameboy emulator, it’s much more likely it has obtained this patent as a basis to stop other companies, like Crimson Fire, from making them.
Though most developers of these applications emphasize that their customers should only play games that they have bought, there is a thriving community that exchanges pirated Gameboy games. This practice cuts into Nintendo’s and game developer’s sales.
In addition, in its cease and desist order to Crimson Fire, Nintendo attacked the commonly-held believe that it is legal to play games one owns on whatever platform one chooses.
The very limited archival copy exception to copyright laws is set forth in 17 U.S.C. ?117(a)(2), which specifies that the owner of a computer program can make a copy “for archival purposes only.” Even if it were otherwise permitted, which it is not, playing a copy of a Nintendo game on the Zodiac system is not “archiving”. Moreover, ?117(a)(2) does not allow the owner of a game to make a copy of a game ROM that someone else possesses, or to post a copy on the Internet for distribution. Therefore, whether you have an authentic game or not, it is illegal to copy a Nintendo game from a cartridge or to download and play a Nintendo ROM from the Internet.
Crimson Fire’s Firestorm is only one of many Gameboy emulators; there are several available for Pocket PC. It is not yet know when, or if, Nintendo will attempt to stop the developers of these applications from distributing them.