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‘Palworld’ Pokémon Modder Tests The Limits Of Nintendo’s Legal Reach

It’s a beautiful day in ToastedShoes’ version of Palworld, where the YouTuber is currently hunting creatures on “Legal Island.” He creeps through the grass and makes a delighted discovery: “Look at that!” he yells. “It’s my favorite legally distinct pocket-sized creature—Electric Yellow Rat.” Indeed, that is exactly what it is, and nothing more. Definitely not a beloved icon by the name of Pikachu.

The bit for this “completely legitimate, legal mod” is as good as a middle finger to Nintendo. Days prior, ToastedShoes became an internet favorite when he uploaded a video featuring Pokémon characters modded into Palworld. Nintendo, which publishes the Pokémon video games, requested the video be removed for copyright violations. The company didn’t stop there, according to the YouTuber, who posted a screenshot on X showing that several of his TikTok videos had also been hit with copyright claims.

The internet has hailed Palworld as “Pokémon with guns” since the game’s reveal in 2021, so it was only a matter of time before someone made the joke literal. ToastedShoes’ entire schtick is “I ruin people’s childhoods for a living.” He creates videos, with the help of a modding team, of beloved childhood characters fighting to the death in Mortal Kombat, creeping through the villages of Resident Evil 4, or wielding lightsabers in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. This is part of what modders do: add characters like Thomas the Tank Engine as boss fights in horror games, because it’s funny.

Legally, you can’t do this—but what corporations don’t know won’t hurt their imitators. (There are some exceptions. Case in point: the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse entered the public domain this year, leaving him to be promptly repurposed by all the darling sickos of the internet.) According to Stephen McArthur, a video game attorney who counsels clients on trademark and copyright, while videos with mods like ToastedShoes’ could be taken down, “they usually survive because they are under the radar and the copyright owner simply does not know about them.” The more popular something gets, the more likely it is to be hit with a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown request, as ToastedShoes was.

“It is up to the discretion of the copyright owner for whether or not they will allow it,” says McArthur. “Copyrights are not like trademark rights where if you fail to enforce it, you can lose your rights.”

Nintendo has a strong reputation for guarding its intellectual property, and Palworld is already so primed for comparisons to Pokémon that quick moves to differentiate the two is to be expected. Nexus Mods, the internet’s most popular modding site, won’t even allow Pokémon mods for fear of legal repercussions. (Nintendo declined to offer an on-record comment when contacted for this story.)

There are few ways to make a legal case in ToastedShoes’ favor, but his original video couldn’t even be considered for something like parody; it was just Pokémon in Palworld. But his cheeky return with Legal Island and creatures like “braided sheep” and “blue penguin,” though technically not the creatures they’re imitating, is still not bulletproof, in Palworld or the real world. The elements in the mod, save for a few, probably wouldn’t be recognized as parody by a court, McArthur says.