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In 1982 Nintendo was dominating the video game industry. After releasing Donkey Kong and several other titles, Nintendo was on top of the world. Donkey Kong was selling millions of copies, and was ported to several different platforms. It seemed like everything Nintendo touched turned to gold, and many people wanted a piece of the pie. That meant wether they could use ported versions of Nintendo’s properties, or if that had to sue Nintendo for allegedly stealing their property. Just like Universal did to Nintendo in the classic case of Universal City Studios v. Nintendo Co. Ltd, which entailed accusations from Universal that Donkey Kong infringed on the copyrights of King Kong.

 

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This situation started when Coleco(which had ported copies of Donkey Kong on its platform) was approached by MCA Universal under the false guise of wanting to make a business investment in Coleco. This of course was dropped to instead reveal that Universal would sue Coleco if shipped the Colecovision with Donkey Kong. Coleco quickly submitted to forking over 3% of profits to Universal from its sales (which amounted to about $5 million.) Eventually Nintendo was threatened by Universal, and almost made the same submission that Coleco did, until Nintendo realizing that there were substantial differences between King Kong,  knew they had a case against Universal.

 

As the case went on, Universal subsequently threatened to sue six different companies under the same pretense as their case with Nintendo. The tension began to diffuse after Nintendo hired a hotshot lawyer named Jack Kirby (who was the inspiration for the name of the game character Kirby.) Jack Kirby, after listening to Universal’s accusations in court of Nintendo stealing the likeness of King Kong, eventually sprung his trap, revealing that in 1975 Universal sued RKO (the creators of King Kong.)  Jack Kirby showed that in a case winning argument, Universal proved that King Kong was in the public domain, since the original film was made in 1933. So Universal knowingly sued companies for “stealing” the likeness of a character that they knew was in the public domain. How embarrassing. Consequently Jack Kirby asked for a summary dismissal of the suit which was granted. Eventually Universal was sued by every company it tried to sue. Eventually after a court case counter suing Universal, Nintendo recouped all court financial fees from Universal, and then some. Mega-win for Nintendo.

 

For more information neck out Jeff Ryan’s book; “How Nintendo Conquered America”

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