PlayStation 3 emulator RPCS3 has made enormous progress recently, garnering attention by showcasing games like Demon's Souls and Persona 5. The latter grabbed the attention of Atlus, known for being aggressive in enforcing copyright takedowns. Over the weekend, Atlus not only asked the developers behind RPCS3 to remove all references to Persona 5 on the emulator's website, but simultaneously tried shutting down RPCS3's crowdfunding page.
Here's what Atlus told Patreon and RPCS3, according to their post on reddit:
"The PS3 emulator itself is not infringing on our copyrights and trademarks; however, no version of the P5 game should be playable on this platform; and [the RPCS3] developers are infringing on our IP by making such games playable"
Atlus didn't contact Patreon or RPCS3 ahead of time. Instead, the company immediately went after the monthly payments that allow the emulator to exist.
From Atlus' perspective, even though the emulator itself can't infringe on their ownership of Persona 5, it allows other people to potentially infringe, which makes the developers complicit. In a surprising move, Patreon disagreed with this assertion, however, and pushed back on Atlus, arguing removal of the entire Patreon page wasn't necessary. References to Persona 5, fine. The emulator? No.
(You can see the emulator in action below.)
(The reason it's surprising is because of how copyright takedowns are normally handled by corporate entities. On YouTube, almost universal deference is shown to copyright holders, with creatives being tasked with mounting a defense that could easily backfire against them.)
Atlus responded to Patreon with the following:
"We kindly ask that you remove both for this reason – to make Persona 5 work on the emulator, the user has to circumvent our DRM protections. The following blog post provides specific instructions for "dumping the disc or PSN download" and discusses how Patreon finding [sic] contributed to this breakthrough: [link since removed]."
The developers argue that because it's legal to make personal copies of games where the core creators live, and because the emulator's website is hosted there, Atlus' logic doesn't apply. (The developers didn't specify where they're located and haven't responded to my request for comment.)
Crucially, though, they weren't advocating people pirate the game.
Patreon recommended the developers remove any and all references to Persona 5 from their website and the crowdfunding page, which appears to have, for now, appeased Atlus.
"Why Atlus would choose this time to target this project will probably never be known," said the developers in a statement. "We choose not to speculate about the reasons at this time and hope for there to be open communication with Atlus. We firmly believe we operate within a legal framework and will continue to work on RPCS3, undeterred."
On Atlus' website, the publisher confirmed the actions it took against RPCS3.
"We believe that our fans best experience our titles (like Persona 5) on the actual platforms for which they are developed. We don't want their first experiences to be framerate drops, or crashes, or other issues that can crop up in emulation that we have not personally overseen. We understand that many Persona fans would love to see a PC version. And while we don't have anything to announce today, we are listening! For now, the best way to experience Persona 5 is on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3.
We appreciate the awareness generated by the emulation community for Persona 5 and know that it is a fantastic example of how much people are loving our game. We want to keep bringing you titles like Persona 5. Unfortunately, when our content is illegally circumvented and potentially made available for free, in a format we do not think delivers the experience and quality we intend, it undermines our ability to do so by diverting potential support from new audiences."
It concluded with asking folks to "continue having a dialogue about where and how you would like to play our games." (I would love Persona 5 on Switch!)
The company told me it had no plans "at this moment" to take further action.
The developers of RPCS3, however, concluded with a reminder to be aware of region-specific laws when it comes to emulation; you're doing this at your own risk.
"RPCS3 is not designed to enable illegal activity," said the developers. "We do not promote piracy nor do we allow it under any circumstances. Please take the time to review copyright and video game software dumping laws and/or policies for your country before proceeding. By following our game dumping instructions, you will do so at your own discretion."