Nintendo believes it can use its intellectual property claims to prevent you from monetizing any footage you make of its video games. Restrictions like this are generally only presented in the end user license agreement (EULA) after you’ve purchased the game. But what happens when the restriction is implemented retroactively?
Today it’s understood that when you purchase a software package, you will be presented with pages and pages of legalese when you first attempt to use it. That wasn’t always the case. When you purchased old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) or Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) games, the boxes didn’t include contracts that you had to sign and send off to Nintendo before receiving an actual copy of the game nor did the games themselves present you with a EULA to which you had to agree before playing.
Nintendo is a notoriously litigious company and a few years ago was using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to have footage of things like altered Super Mario World levels removed from YouTube. Because of the conditions I mentioned above, nobody who purchased a copy of Super Mario World for the SNES agreed to not alter the contents of the cartridge. They didn’t agree to any restrictions whatsoever. But through the magical process of intellectual property, namely the copyrights granted to Nintendo by the government over the characters that appear in Super Mario World as well as the software itself, Nintendo is able to change the rules way after the sales occurred.
This absurdity is compounded by the fact that copyrights can remain valid for the life of the creator plus 70, 95, or 120 years after their death [PDF] depending on the type of work. Compounding the absurdity even more is the fact that copyright terms that were already ridiculously long were extended whenever the copyright for Micky Mouse was about to expire (hence why it is often called the Mickey Mouse Law). If we go by precedent, the stupidly long terms we’re currently suffering under will likely be extended again and again. That means Nintendo could continue adding new restrictions to old NES and SNES games for decades to come.
Imagine if this characteristic of copyright law was applied to physical property. Let’s say you purchased a Ford F-150 today. Now let’s fast forward two decades. You still own the F-150 and have had to resort to having new parts custom fabricated because all of the major replacement parts manufacturers stopped producing new parts. One day you receive a letter in the mail from Ford, which is a cease and desist order for installing custom fabricated parts in the truck. Ford decided to pull a John Deere by claiming its copyrights to the software on the truck grant it the right to restrict you from maintaining your 20-year-old truck. It sounds pretty absurd, doesn’t it? But that’s the reality people are facing with NES and SNES games that they purchased two decades ago.