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Nintendo files suit against go-kart company MariCar

39 Comments

Popular game maker Nintendo has filed a lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court against a Tokyo go-kart rental company and is seeking damages of 10 million yen over copyright infringement of its popular racing game “Mario Kart.”

The software developing giant is suing both the Shinagawa-based company MariCar and its CEO, Yusuke Yamazaki. Nintendo claims that MariCar promoted its business (whose slogan promises renters “Real Life Mario Kart”) without obtaining permission to use the iconic video game characters and costumes for their go-kart tours around the metropolis.

The go-karts have become especially popular with foreigners visiting and living in Japan

But looking at the case through a legal lens, what laws did MariCar violate and what is the real aim behind Nintendo’s litigation?

First off, there is no contractual relationship tying the capital gains obtained by MariCar (whose name is supposedly an abbreviation of “Mario Kart”) with Nintendo. Nevertheless, riders utilizing the go-karts on public roads rented costumes depicting the “poster children” of Nintendo (Super Mario and Luigi, to name a few) and then these images were used for publicity and sales promotion without Nintendo's permission, the Kyoto-based company claims.

Nintendo reportedly warned MariCar prior to the lawsuit filed last Friday, claiming that their playoff of “Super Hero” racing with “Super Hero” costumes was both a copyright infringement and unfair competition. This lawsuit could mean “game over” for the equally popular go-kart rental company.

MariCar's website was not accessible on Monday morning.

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39 Comments
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so if I dress like Pikachu now they will sue me?

-8 ( +2 / -10 )

so if I dress like Pikachu now they will sue me?

No.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

I first heard about this company over a year ago. I would've assumed that they already had permission from Nintendo. I can totally understand the lawsuit as they're making money off the Mario Kart brand.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

The name is the most difficult point here, I think. Nintendo has no claim on anybody renting or using a cart. The costumes are bought and paid for and there are no regulations about what you can or cannot wear (decency aside). I'm curious to see how this plays out.

I think it's more likely Nintendo has a case of "why-didn't-I-think-of-that?"

-10 ( +1 / -11 )

I see similar type go-karts in Odaiba on the road and it looks like great fun. Interestingly this is one phenomena where I feel Japan is more open-minded than the US, as you cannot rent go-karts to drive on the roads; all vehicles must be plated and you must hold a drivers license.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I picked up a flyer for the Mt Fuji branch of it a few weeks ago. There were no Nintendo images or references on it. that said, their site seems to be down today.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Interestingly this is one phenomena where I feel Japan is more open-minded than the US, as you cannot rent go-karts to drive on the roads; all vehicles must be plated and you must hold a drivers license.

The gokarts they are using are insured and have license plates, and you need a driver's license to rent them.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

fair enough! Mario is owned by Nintendo and if you make fortunes out of it without the owner's permission? I think it's just right for Nintendo to shout foul over it. Wearing Mario costumes for parties etc. is a different story as you are not making money of it. This is the consequence that Maricar has to pay for their negligence especially in a country like Japan where everything is licensed.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

What's wrong with free publicity. Sad to see greedy fingers coming to Japan.

-11 ( +0 / -11 )

The MariCar is just cashing out money from people who likes to dress like Mario and friends. If it was for free or charitable, it would not be a lawsuit.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Charge an extra 500 yen to rent the "mario" package and then give that money to Nintendo... Seems like nintendo is going to go after cosplayers next.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Essentially, they are ripping off Nintendo. It all reeks of copyright infringement, although spellings of the company might be different. 10 mil for copyright infringing is not as bad as it could be.

I personally think those go-karts are annoying as heck. They're like the foreign offspring of those bosozoku motorcycle gangs.

Those costumes also look pretty ratty. I'd want to be disinfected after putting one of those things on.

And then there's being at eye-level with cars' exhaust pipes. How healthy can that be?

If you want excitement, set up a zip line from Sky Tree to Tokyo Tower.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

This was just a matter of time.

When it was just the odd group driving around Roppongi/Shibuya at Halloween, it seems Nintendo didn't know or weren't bothered, but running a full-on business making obvious use of Nintendo's property is clearly worthy of litigation.

The only thing I was wondering is what took them so long? The karts have been a reasonably common sight in Tokyo for at least a couple of years now. But I guess that with the Switch coming out, and a new Mario Kart game along with it, Nintendo wants to kill (and rightly so) this unlicensed 'competition'.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

What's wrong with free publicity.

What if a theme park operator offered the same 'free publicity?'

0 ( +1 / -1 )

What's wrong with free publicity.

It's copyright infringement (or at least, that's the charge).

It's up to the owner of the copyright on whether or not they want their copyright to be used in any manner. For example, some people on this thread have expressed annoyance over these go-karters. Nintendo may not want that annoyance associated with their brand.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Whoa!....So with little protection you mingle with trams, buses ,coaches in fact any motorized vehicle. I would essentially be shaking off this mortal coil togged up as Princess Peach anywhere between Shinagawa and Tokyo Tower. Okay where do I sign up.....

Seriously this is not for the faint hearted.........Curiously top right there is a caption stating business model patent pending

http://maricar.com/

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I seriously cannot believe you can drive a Go-Kart on the streets of Tokyo. Do anyone ever think about the safetys of the drivers of the Karts, the drivers of others vehicles and the pedestrians? They should only be allowed in circuits.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I seriously cannot believe you can drive a Go-Kart on the streets of Tokyo. Do anyone ever think about the safetys of the drivers of the Karts, the drivers of others vehicles and the pedestrians? They should only be allowed in circuits.

They are road-certified vehicles, that are licensed and have insurance. They aren't just simple go-karts.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I live not so far from the Tokyo Tower so see these things buzzing around often. I also have wondered about the safety of these things. I know they have the nice red flags sticking up and go in a group (line) but I would not feel safe on one of these buggers. The amount of the suit is quite low - I would imagine MariCar could work something out with Nintendo as it does in fact provide free PR. From a business point of view MariCar probably should have contacted Nintendo in advance....and replied to Nintendo's concerns if they were contacted. My guess is something could have been worked out.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

So with little protection you mingle with trams, buses ,coaches in fact any motorized vehicle.

Just like motorcycles. Or bicycles.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Maricar USP is Street Go-Karting Tour in Japan - Once in a lifetime experience... You get to play the harp the second time round.

You got to love Tokyo, imagine London you'll be decorating the front of a red Routemaster or kissing the side of a black cab before reaching Trafalgar Square.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Disco, "The only thing I was wondering is what took them so long?"

Nintendo says they have sent multiple cease and desist letters over some period of time without getting any satisfactory responses. I suppose it took them this long because they were origionalky willing to give Mari a fair chance to work out a mutually acceptable solution.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The amount of the suit is quite low - I would imagine MariCar could work something out with Nintendo as it does in fact provide free PR.

What's wrong with free publicity. Sad to see greedy fingers coming to Japan.

The 'free publicity' argument is not really appropriate in this case, or rather, it shouldn't be leveled at Nintendo since they are arguably the ones providing that publicity not benefiting from it. Mario Kart wasn't some dead franchise being propped up by a well-meaning fan. MariCar is extremely obviously feeding off of the brand and character recognition that Nintendo has built up over the past 25 years of Mario Kart (and even longer for the Mario franchise itself). It's from that 'free PR' that Yuseke Yamazaki built his business on and has obviously made a lot of money doing so without giving a single yen to Nintendo. In what way can anyone concretely say that Nintendo have actually benefited from the 'free PR' Yamazaki has been giving them in return?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Thats very true Strangerland, as soon as I had passed my motorcycle test, I brought an classic 750cc Norton, stylish and easy to park for a girl around London. It was also the quickest route into a hospital ward, no excuses it was my own fault.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Legally the situation is extremely clear-cut. You can't base a business like this entirely around exploiting the Trademarked property of another business without permission. I have seen these carts on the streets in Tokyo and was under the impression they were part of some officially licensed Nintendo promotion - its very clear they are violating Nintendo's rights..

That said, I hope that Nintendo and this company can work out some business agreement that allows this to keep on, those karts are a really cool part of the Tokyo scenery and it would be a shame to lose them.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

As for the legality of the carts themselves; they are perfectly legal road vehicles that come under the Minicar classification in Japan. Engine must be between 20-50cc, or 0.25-0.6kw, and limited to a top speed of 60km/h. They require a normal drivers license to operate, but strangely do not require a helmet, or seatbelts. They are governed to similar restrictions as the "gentsuki" 50cc scooters, in that there are some places where they cannot turn right, and not allowed on highways.

There is actually a full range of cars available to buy in that category, and road taxes/insurance is surprisingly low.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I'm actually surprised Maricar didn't ask for Nintendo's permission in the first place. They could have set up operations in Kyoto (NIntendo's corporate headquarters are located there) and turned it into a major attraction for that city.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Pikaaaa....sue!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

thought this would happen

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@afanofjapan: I own an ATV that uses the same plate, you are granted the exact same rules as a car except highways, you can turn right where a 50cc scooter could not. You can't double.

The worse thing about owning it is parking, they are not heavy enough for anything with a gate or pressure sensors and many "bike" parking places don't like them even though they are about the same width as a big scooter from in terms of floor space needed. If you try to park in a car space they will move them or other drivers will spit and burn holes in your seat because they "own a real car".... I'm very serious.

I had police pull me over and ask where was my helmet or that I was doing a 100 or something, I told them I don't need one and this engine is only 50cc so there is no way I was going 100.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I've seen these guys drive around Akihabara. I assumed they were fan made vehicles.

But now learning they are actually rented out by a company, I can see Nintendo's trademark violation.

so if I dress like Pikachu now they will sue me? No but if you start a business using Pikachu mascot then yes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

..top speed of 60km/h. They require a normal drivers license to operate, but strangely do not require a helmet, or seatbelts

Travelling at 60km/km without an helmet and seatbelts are just too dangerous.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

@yoshisan88 nothing to do with the story. They are perfectly legal.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I agree that MariCart is infringing on Nintendo's rights by advertising customers wearing the licensed costumes. However, begrudgingly, considering this is the same company that sent a cease and desist to a group of cosplayers for trying to have a little Pokemon party at a restaurant before a major convention. What got them, legally, was that they were charging for tickets. (which makes sense to do considering) But yeah, Nintendo can be on the greedy side.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Thunderbird, your stretching! As long as you are not doing it for financial gain, no they won't sue you. Common knowledge.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@gogogo i hadnt thought about the parking troubles. The ATVs look cool and i have to admit i have been tempted, but not being able to take my wife is a bit of a problem. Maybe if i lived in the countryside!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You see these karts every few hours every day in Shibuya. A lot of the people driving them are in Nintendo characters costumes. I'd say they have a valid case

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I suspect Nintendo is less worried about the money that Maricar is making and more worried about the possibility of a Mario-clad tourist bloodied, broken and spread all over Showa-dori. I personally think the karts are quite cool but I can entirely understand why Nintendo might not want their name associated with something that might one day be on the front page for the wrong reasons.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@ADK99

"... a Mario-clad tourist bloodied, broken and spread all over Showa-dori."

You been looking at my secret porn stash??

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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