Nintendo vs. Universal City Studios case

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Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd. was a lawsuit case that took place in 1984 over an alleged copyright infringement over Nintendo's Donkey Kong game and Universal Studio's King Kong movie.


In 1980s, Nintendo was a small toy company that recently arrived in U.S.A. which just released the arcade game "Donkey Kong". The game was a big success, there were cartoons, toys, board games, cereals, etc. However, Universal City Studios' president Sid Sheinberg saw the game as an opportunity to make easy money and enter the video game market.

Sheinberg sued every company that had any product related to Donkey Kong claiming that the character was violating their copyright over their King Kong movie and that they had to pay Universal royalties for every sale of their respective products. Being a giant well known company with an army of lawyers, most didn't risk fighting the complaints and caved over Sheinberg's demands... except Nintendo.

Nintendo's Lawyer Howard Lincoln believed that something fishy was going on with Universal's actions and did some research. Soon he discovered that Universal was NOT the owner of King Kong, the character was in public domain, and they had even recently won a case to prove that. Essentially, Universal was committing a felony by claiming copyright ownership on an IP they didn't own. With the help of the Lawyer John Kirby, Nintendo decided to go to court.

Soon enough the case took place. John Kirby proved there were many other uses of King Kong that required no copyright claims, and that Universal didn't even have the right to make such claims. He also proved Sheinberg's previous threats to other companies as well as their previous case they had won in that proved King Kong was public domain in order to make the movie in the first place.

Judge Robert W. Sweet ruled in Nintendo's favour. Sweet concluded that this lawsuit had zero validity, and that it's sole purpose was for Universal to make a quick buck by bullying smaller companies. Not only that, even if Universal did own the rights of King Kong, the game Donkey Kong had absolutely nothing to do with the movie, and Nintendo pointed out that "King Kong" is a generic term in Japan for "Menacing Ape".


This case was a huge victory for Nintendo. Nintendo was firmly established as a legitimate company in U.S.A., and were awarded 1.8 Million dollars. After the case every company that had been paying Sheinberg undeserved royalties sued Universal as well. Some believe that Nintendo's character Kirby was named after the Lawyer that helped defeat Sheinberg. Soon after, the NES was released, which revived the video game market after the Crash of '83.

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