After moving online due to safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's iteration of The Big House has been canceled entirely due to a cease & desist order from Nintendo. This order was made in response to the decision to run a Slippi netplay tournament for Melee as, per Nintendo's own official statement, they viewed this decision as endorsing piracy.
Nintendo's statement on the Big House event cancelation: pic.twitter.com/GCyHeeWpcy— Patrick Shanley (@pshanley88) November 19, 2020
The Big House organizer Rob "Juggleguy" Harn later corroborated in a statement to Kotaku that Nintendo originally requested that only the Melee tournament be canceled, only issuing the cease & desist letter demanding the cancellation of both brackets after Juggleguy refused their first request.
Shortly afterwards, many Smash community members started posting pleas for Nintendo to reconsider and allow the tournament to occur, using the #FreeMelee hashtag. This hashtag quickly became one of the top trending topics on Twitter.
This has also sparked a lot of discussion about the legality of emulation, as Smash players have noted that piracy isn't the only way to obtain a Melee game file for emulated netplay, as it's entirely possible for someone to rip a disc image from their own copy of Melee, and most people who play Melee netplay also own legitimate copies of the game, though legal matters are a bit more complicated than that.
In a 2018 interview with How-To Geek, University of Arizona internet and intellectual property law professor Derek E. Bambauer noted that emulation is in much more of a gray area. While emulator software itself is perfectly legal, things aren't so clear for the game ROMs (in the case of cartridge-based consoles like the SNES or Sega Genesis) or disc images (in the case of disc-based consoles like the GameCube) that emulators are used to run.
Distributing and downloading dumped game files for a game file is obviously illegal, though for cases where someone already owns a legal copy of the game they downloaded, or even ripping the game files from their own copy, things are a lot more murky. Bambauer notes that there is no real legal precedent for whether this is protected under fair use or still counts as software piracy.
While the music industry and several other entertainment industries have largely accepted legality of space shifting (the act of converting digital media from one format to another, e.g. ripping music files from a CD so you can listen to them on a smartphone or mp3 player) provided the person doing it owns a legitimate copy of the work they're doing it with, the same can't be said for video games. There aren't any landmark cases where this has been called into question for games specifically, and while there are certainly legal arguments in favor of the practice being fair use, there are also arguments to be made that this is still a form of software piracy, and Nintendo in particular has historically held the latter position.
It's also worth noting that this is just the most recent in a long string of Nintendo's attempts to hamstring competitive Smash. They have historically banned the use of game mods like Project M or the Universal Controller Fix at events they sponsor, with exceptions only being made for Smash 64, which requires the use of mods to enable the timer in stock matches. They were also responsible for the venue-wide ban on the Smashbox and similar all-button controllers at The Big House 7, though they have since dropped this policy for later sponsored tournaments.
Of course, there was also what may be the most infamous case of Nintendo's interference with the tournament scene, one that the cease & desist directed at The Big House has evoked comparisons to. Nintendo also issued a cease & desist letter to the organizers of Evo 2013 demanding they cancel their planned Melee tournament, claiming that streaming the event constituted unauthorized use of their IP. This came at a time when Nintendo had generally been cracking down hard on streams and videos that used gameplay footage of their titles. While they eventually backed down due to pressure from the community, it's unclear if the same will happen this time around.