When The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Realm started leaking onlineNintendo initially struggled with standard removals of screenshots, video streams, and entire Discord servers linking to pirated versions of the game. Now it seems to be stepping up the offensive by attacking some of the emulation tools used to play early in the game.
Gaming Week: Return to Hyrule
Gaming Week: Return to Hyrule
“Nintendo just sent multiple DMCA takedown requests to GitHub, including Lockpick, a tool to dump keys from YOUR OWN Switch, which is absolutely ridiculous – pirates won’t be harvesting keys from their own consoles!” homebrew developer ItsSimonTime he tweeted on May 4 (By GBATemperature). “I’ll add information on other removed repositories as soon as I know what they are!”
This apparent new restriction began at the end of the week in which biggest Switch game of the year Tears of the Kingdombegn is spreading online after some physical copies were apparently sold out ahead of the May 12 release date. Some fans went into lockdown mode to avoid spoilers, while others lurked on Discord servers and subreddit asking players (some of whom had already finished the game) what they thought of the game. The breath of the wild sequel and reveal the various secrets they have already discovered.
This is exactly the vibe Nintendo is apparently trying to block some homebrew tools related to emulation generally. Twitter user responding to ItsSimonTime shared screenshots an email from Github’s trust and security team warning them that a notification had been received that one of their submissions had been removed. “They also sent a DMCA to people who hosted prod.keys on github,” wrote llIllIIIlII1. “Here’s mine, must have accidentally forked it [a] long ago.”
The Lockpick tool, which has been around for years, is an essential part of the Switch emulation process, allowing users to dump their console’s unique encryption keys onto a PC to play Switch game ROM dumps on emulators like Ryujinx or Yuzu. While emulation in general is often associated with piracy, some enthusiasts use it to simply play games they already own on higher spec machines or with mods and other gameplay hacks. Nintendo’s reported DMCA claims, if true, argue that tools like Lockpick continue to infringe on its intellectual property rights by helping players bypass game and hardware restrictions.
“Using Lockpick with a modded Nintendo Switch allows users to bypass Nintendo’s video game technology measures; in particular, Lockpick bypasses the console’s TPMs [Trusted Platform Modules] to allow unauthorized access, extraction and decryption of all cryptographic keys, including product keys, contained in the Nintendo Switch,” we read in the section a notice Twitter user llIllIIIlII1 received from Github. “The decrypted keys facilitate copyright infringement by allowing users to play pirated versions of Nintendo’s copyrighted game software on systems without Nintendo console TPMs or systems where Nintendo console TPMs have been disabled.”
However, as some defenders of emulation have argued, they need Lockpick to extract keys from their own Switch consoles to emulate the games they already own. “This is ridiculous. it’s literally the only legal way to emulate switch games, drop your OWN keys” tweeted independent developer and creator of games for Mario fans, MorsGames. “I’m now forced to obtain keys illegally to emulate my own games with Nintendo.”
It’s not yet clear if and when the Lockpick source code or other Switch-related emulation and homebrew tools will be removed from Github, as they are all still available at the moment. “GitHub generally does not comment on content removal decisions,” a spokesperson for the Microsoft-owned company said. “However, in the interest of transparency, we share everyone DMCA takedown request we are operating publicly. For 1201 such claims, we follow our workaround review process. You can read more about how it works in our DMCA Removal Policy“.
But the escalation of threats could have a broader chilling effect, and has already convinced at least one emulation team to halt their efforts. The duo behind Skyline Emulator, a Switch emulator for Android devices, has announced that they will end development.
“It is with great sadness that we share this news with you. Nintendo recently issued a DMCA takedown notice against Lockpick RCM which is likely to go into effect on Monday, Lockpick is a fundamental part of legally kicking keys off the Switch,” a pair wrote on their Discord server. “They claim that this bypasses their copy protection (TPM) and thus violates their copyright. We are in a situation where we are potentially infringing on their copyright by continuing to develop our project, Skyline, by throwing the keys out of our own switches.”
Nintendo, authors of Skyline, ItsSimonTime and llIIIlII1 did not immediately respond to requests for comment.