Fan games have always been a grey area when it comes to copyright issues. In the eyes of those making the fan game, it is a labor of love that took countless hours, in order to produce an homage to a video game series that has had a definitive impact in the industry. In the gaming community, it is often viewed as one of the biggest ways a fan can show their love for a particular series, and their appreciation to the developers of a game that has made a significant impact in their lives.
However, for the original game developers / IP holders, they often overlook such sentimental motivations and treat the fan game not as a fair use of its IP, but as an attempt to profit off of the goodwill of the IP of that developer (even though fan games are usually free and no profits are made).
One major AAA video game developer who is notorious for hunting down and eliminating fan games is Nintendo, who has once again set its eyes on the removal of another fan game based on one of its popular franchises, and arguably one of the most popular video game franchises of all time, The Legend of Zelda.
Kaze Emanuar, a well-known modder within the modding community, released a Zelda fan game earlier this year called “The Missing Link” that was available on GitHub (a “modder” is a slang term for ‘modify’ or ‘modifier,’ and the term refers to individuals who make modifications to something, particularly computer software or hardware, and even motor vehicles). The fan game used the same gaming engine from Nintendo’s “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” (OoT), and the goal of the game was to bridge the gap in time between OoT and “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask,” which was a later Nintendo title also released for the Nintendo 64.
A quick Google search of the Zelda series would reveal that fans of the franchise are obsessed with the chronological order of all of the games in the series. So much so, that Nintendo ended up releasing the Zelda Timeline, officially known as the Hyrule Historia, in 2011, which ended up fueling the fanbase even more into doing commentary on the legitimacy of Nintendo’s Zelda timeline. There are dozens of Zelda related theories on what happens in the game’s world during and inbetween each Zelda game, so the fact that this franchise results in a lot of fan games that reflect a fan’s theory on plot points in the franchise should come as no surprise. As the fan game grew in popularity, of course it would come to the attention of Nintendo.
Nintendo however, never really seems to be impressed with the fan games made surrounding the series, and the company filed a copyright claim against Emanuar’s fan game, and had the game removed. Nintendo claims that “The Missing Link” violates Nintendo’s copyright in OoT and Majora’s Mask, and stated that they reviewed the work and found that it does not qualify as a ‘fair use’ of its “copyright-protected work.” Nintendo further went to request that the GitHub page for the fan game be removed completely, saying that the page “provides access to a software file that contains an unauthorized derivative work of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda video game franchise in violation of Nintendo’s exclusive rights.”
Nintendo has also allegedly filed copyright claims against youtube videos related to the fan game. Nintendo is known for its aggressive policy of shutting down any and every fan game that’s inspired by its IP-protected characters. Surprisingly though, Nintendo has not followed through with a copyright infringement lawsuit (as least, not yet), and has only asked for the removal of the fan game.