Copyright infringement? Or good business?

Good morning everyone,

This nice weather will continue for a while yet-we can expect mostly sunny skies and highs between 18C and 23C for the next few days. Too bad cherry blossoms didn't come out now...ha ha!

Nintendo is suing a go-kart and costume rental business for infringing on their Mario Kart copyright.

On 18 April, opening arguments were held in Tokyo District Court for the long awaited lawsuit of Mari Car by Nintendo. The Kyoto-based game-maker is seeking 10 million yen for what they claim is infringement of their copyright regarding the hit series of racing games Mario Kart.

Mari Car is a service that allows people to rent go-karts and costumes at the same time and lets them take a joyride around downtown Tokyo. Costumes include: Mario, Bowser, Luigi, and Yoshi.

In addition to allowing its customers to emulate the game in real life using the likenesses of Nintendo’s most famous characters, Mari Car’s name when written in Japanese katakana characters is exactly like the nickname to Mario Kart. In fact, if you type in “マリカー” into Google you’ll get the video game as a featured result. However, awkwardly, all of the preview images next to it are for the Mari Car rental service.

However, Mari Car denies responsibility, saying they are “working with another company to provide both costumes and go-karts. Our company only provides and maintains the go-karts, so cannot be a part of the lawsuit.” In other words, since Mari Car aren’t technically the ones selling the likenesses of Mario and the others, they cannot be sued for violating their copyrights.

The case has attracted a lot of interest in the media in the weeks leading up to the trial. The opening statement has triggered a lot of comments as well, such as:

“It’s time to start this fierce item battle!”
“I saw some of those people driving around today. I guess it’s okay as long as they drive safe.”
“If they get away with this you can expect a flood of other copyrights getting stepped on.”
“I’m more concerned with people driving around the streets in go-karts.”
“This company seems kind of scummy. Good luck Nintendo!”
“Sounds like a pachinko parlor.”

That last comment was referring to the system that allows the pinball-like game of pachinko to operate legally as a pseudo-gambling business.

For example, at a pachinko parlor people can win tiny balls which are then traded for prizes like, say, a mustache comb. Then, as luck would have it, there is a business just outside of the pachinko parlor that specializes in buying mustache combs from people for exorbitant amounts of money.

Since these are two separate entities, no actual gambling is technically taking place. Mari Car appears to be using the same logic. Since their company is simply renting the karts, they can’t be held responsible if their customers want to dress up like Mario using costumes from another company.

In fact, this may be the first recorded case of what could be described as “copyright laundering” in Japanese legal history. As some commenters pointed out, if Mari Car successfully evades the lawsuit, it could open the flood gates of shady businesses working in tandem to circumvent intellectual property rights.

While I'm all for entrepreneurs trying to start up new businesses, I'm  going to side with Sony on this one. Legally though, because of the way pachinko parlors are allowed to work in Japan, the go-kart business might get away with using the Mario Kart images...what do you think? 

Have a great day!

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