Dolphin backs off of Steam release after Nintendo’s lawyers step in

Dolphins have smooth skin, flippers, a dorsal fin and a long, slender snout with about 100 teeth. They are the top of the food chain and play an important role in ocean ecosystems. They are also popular with tourists. The dolphin (which includes porpoises) is a mammal that lives in the seas and freshwater rivers of North America, Asia, South Africa, Australia and Europe. Dolphins and their relatives feed on fish, squid, crustaceans and small mammals, including seals and penguins. They communicate using a variety of sounds, and are among the most intelligent animals on Earth.

The highly regarded GameCube and Wii emulator Dolphin has been removed from Valve’s popular PC gaming storefront after Nintendo’s lawyers stepped in. The team behind the emulator canceled plans for a Steam release after Nintendo’s legal department made it clear that they would fight any attempt to make the software available there.

Nintendo’s lawyers argued that Dolphin violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by incorporating the company’s “proprietary cryptographic keys” into its code and using them to decrypt ROMs of Wii and GameCube games. This is a reference to the Wii Common Key, which was burned into every Wii disc in order to pass security checks and was extracted by a separate group of developers more than a decade ago and included in Dolphin’s source code.

In a blog post, the Dolphin team explains that they have “very strong evidence” that the emulator is not “primary designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing protections,” and that only an “incredibly tiny portion” of its code is related to such purposes. They also note that the law in this area is murky, and they don’t want to risk a court case that could set a new legal precedent in the field of emulators.

It is possible that the infamously litigious Nintendo would have gone after Dolphin in a big way had it been released on Steam, but the fact that they’ve backed down shows that the company probably felt that the harm to its business from doing so outweighed the ramifications of the court case itself. Even so, it’s still a serious blow to the retro gaming community that one of its most important tools is now effectively illegal.

Valve hasn’t commented on the situation, but the decision to pull Dolphin from its store probably means that it has already decided to take a similar approach to other emulators that it hosts, such as DeCSS and Citra. That’s a shame, as it would have been great to see the Steam storefront help preserve GameCube and Wii titles for all to enjoy. As it is, the emulator will remain available on its website for those tech-savvy enough to access it. The upcoming features for the Steam version of Dolphin are still being worked on, but they will likely only be accessible by those who know where to find them. That will likely mean that the project will remain in a gray area of the legal world, and not become a part of the mainstream video game landscape.