Retro Game Story: The first time Nintendo was called to Court

Il Gioco Donkey Kong di Nintendo su

In these years in which Nintendo threatens everyone for copyright infringement, it is fun to remember this story: The first time Nintendo was in court in America was just for copyright infringement … but not as plaintiff! It was in fact called by Universal, which held film rights on the movie King Kong, in relation to their game Donkey Kong, just released under license for Colecovision ( Nintendo did not yet have its own console ).

King Kong il film classico della Universal su

The legal battle is long and fun to read, with the two sides trying to show how much King Kong is equal to or different from Donkey Kong. The parties, in turn, increasingly raise the economic demands of mutual compensation, reaching stratospheric amount of money.

Who took the hard knocks was Coleco, that terrified by the two giants fighting each other, immediately surrendered to the requests of Universal (even if he had already paid the rights to Nintendo) by paying 3% of the earning of Donkey Kong game cartridge sales to the multinational. The game was in fact distributed bundled with the console, and was one of the strengths of its advertising campaign.

Nintendo, on the other hand, eventually won hands down thanks to a good army of lawyers, headed by one who was even named Kirby (!). Miyamoto himself was called into question, and candidly declared that he was the designer of the game and knew little about copyright: Donkey Kong or King Kong, in his eyes he was just a monkey.

In short, in the end it was Universal who had to pay Nintendo “for the trouble”. Not only that: Nintendo, in his thirst for blood and revenge (Universal had paid them so much by now), attacked the poor Tiger Electronics, guilty of having released a pocket game “with a little man who had to save a woman kidnapped by an ape ”. The proposal to change the character, the graphics and the design of the levels was of no use.

History has it that these victories greatly increased Nintendo’s self-esteem, which for the first time confronted a Western multinational company and emerged victorious. Since then Nintendo has become inexorable and intolerant of any violation of its products, also because it had understood that copyright lawsuits are easy money, especially if the other party does not have the economic possibility to go to court.

Legend has it that the lawyer Kirby received (in addition to the fee) a 30-meter boat named “Donkey Kong” with attached certificate that granted him the rights “for the lifetime use of the Donkey Kong name on any vehicle navigation” and above all a character with his name: Kirby!