The heat is officially on for anyone who’s been running one of the many sites that, for years now, have distributed free versions of Nintendo’s games to anyone who wanted them.

A judgement released today has gone Nintendo’s way, and is holding the owners of long-standing websites LoveROMS and LoveRETRO responsible for a whopping total of $12 million USD of damages to the Japanese video game giant.

As Torrentfreak reports, Jacob and Cristian Mathias were sued in July for the infringement of Nintendo’s intellectual property rights, having hosted thousands of ROM files – basically, digital copies of almost every Nintendo game ever released – for years, all available for free download.

Piracy has been a widespread issue facing the games industry for decades, with a third of PC gamers admitting they’ve pirated at least one game in their lifetime. But the illegal download of older games was considered by a segment of the gaming community to be an acceptable transgression, as most of the games were otherwise unavailable to play outside of owning the original cartridges.

Without ROM sites, most gamers won’t ever get to experience undisputed classics like ‘Knife Edge: Nose Gunner’…

With Nintendo now focusing on re-releasing its older games with its retro systems, however, the famously-litigious company has redoubled its efforts to stamp the practice out, and this lawsuit has served as a strong warning to the many other sites that host ROM files.

Many of them have already purged their sites of Nintendo’s IP in an effort to avoid its wrath, but it was too late for the Mathias couple, who accepted the charge and settled with Nintendo for the $12.3 million figure.

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As Torrentfreak notes, that figure may be inflated to deter other pirates, with the company having most likely negotiated a smaller penalty behind the scenes –  making a public example of the couple, rather than bankrupting them.

Either way, it’s a result that’ll have other site owners sweating into their pillows as they rush to scrub the internet of their misdeeds.

Gaming historians and conservationists, too, will be left feeling even more concerned about preserving gaming history than they already were. Despite the illegal nature of these sites, they were for many the only avenue for exploring a long list of titles that, were it not for piracy, would fade into obscurity.

As Ars Technica reports, companies are sprouting up that offer solutions to this problem that tiptoe through loopholes in IP law, and aren’t afraid of staring Nintendo down in the face of cease-and-desists.

Time will tell if any of these options will ever be able to give us the fully-legal library of gaming’s past that we’d all love to see.

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