In an (un?)surprising development in the gaming world, Dolphin, the popular GameCube and Wii emulator, has scrapped plans to release on the Steam platform, following a dispute concerning the Wii Common Key. The controversy has ignited the emulation and broader gaming communities, leading to a series of clarifications from Dolphin in relation to the legal situation surrounding this issue.
The Dolphin Emulator Abandons Plans to Release on Steam After Wii Common Key Controversy.
The controversy began when Valve's legal department contacted Nintendo to inquire about Dolphin's planned release on Steam. Nintendo's lawyers replied, requesting that Valve prevent the release, citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) as justification. Nintendo did not, however, send a DMCA takedown notice, nor has it taken any legal action against Dolphin or Valve.
Despite this, Dolphin has opted to halt the planned Steam release due to the potential legal implications. In a statement from the Dolphin team, they explained: "Valve ultimately runs the store and can set any condition they wish for software to appear on it. But given Nintendo's long-held stance on emulation, we find Valve's requirement for us to get approval from Nintendo for a Steam release to be impossible."
The crux of the issue revolves around the inclusion of the Wii Common Key in Dolphin's code. The Wii Common Key is used by the Wii console to decrypt game discs, and was extracted more than 15 years ago by Team Twiizers, now known as fail0verflow. Nintendo's letter to Valve cited the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA, given that Dolphin needs to decrypt Wii games.
However, Dolphin's legal counsel, Kellen Voyer (of Voyer Law), has provided a compelling argument stating that Dolphin is not primarily designed for circumvention, but rather to emulate GameCube and Wii hardware. The software also enables user interaction with the emulated environment and supports homebrew games and game mods. In fact, the exemption for reverse engineering in the DMCA (17 U.S.C. § 1201(f)) offers significant legal protection for emulators.
...a person may develop and employ technological means to circumvent a technological measure, or to circumvent protection afforded by a technological measure, in order to enable the identification and analysis under paragraph (1), or for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, if such means are necessary to achieve such interoperability, to the extent that doing so does not constitute infringement under this title.
17 U.S.C. § 1201(f)(2)
After the controversy erupted, there were many calls for Dolphin to remove the Wii keys from their codebase. Nevertheless, the Dolphin team maintains that doing so would not alter the legal interpretation of whether the exemption applies to them. They are confident that their decryption of Wii game discs is protected by the reverse engineering exemption.
The Dolphin team would also like to clarify that including the Wii Common Key does not infringe on U.S. copyright law, as a string of randomly generated letters and numbers is not copyrightable. Furthermore, offloading decryption tasks to a third-party application could potentially exacerbate the situation, so the keys will remain in their current state.
Despite the Steam release being shelved, Dolphin assures its community that the emulator is not in legal danger and will continue to develop features that were originally meant for the Steam release. Some of these include a "Big Picture" GUI for controller use and quality of life improvements.
The Dolphin team has extended their thanks to the developers who worked on the Steam integration, especially OatmealDome, delroth, and MayImilae. They're eager to continue their work, assuring users that this situation does not change their stance or dedication towards emulation and the gaming community. They're all set to continue riding the waves, albeit outside of the Steam ecosystem.
The cancellation of the Dolphin emulator on Steam may have caused some frustration in the gaming community, but it ultimately stands as a minor annoyance in the grand scope of emulation. Despite the setbacks, the continued support and relentless dedication from the Dolphin team ensures that their passion project remains alive and vibrant. Users can still easily download the Dolphin emulator from the internet and use it to their heart's content, experiencing the nostalgia and enjoyment of beloved Wii and GameCube games on their PC. The internet, in its infinite expanse, continues to be a bastion of opportunities, offering the means to extend the lifespan of classic games beyond the limitations of their native consoles. At the end of the day, the spirit of emulation remains unscathed, and the Dolphin emulator continues to swim freely in the vast ocean of the world wide web.