(This post was contributed by Alan Conklin. Alan is an intern for Roger Quiles, Esq. and a recent graduate of the Villanova School of Law)
On October 10, Epic Games filed complaints against Charles Vraspir and Brandon Broom (the “Players”) alleging the Players made and used software that allowed users to cheat in Fortnite, a co-op survival action video game developed by Epic Games.
The Players were alleged associates of the website Addicted Cheats, where users pay a monthly subscription of $5 to $15 for botting services that aim and kill enemies in PvP games. In order to create the cheats used to enable this service, the Players allegedly reverse-engineered and modified the game’s source code.
Cheating in video games is an important issue for game developers, as cheating typically makes games more difficult for other users to play and alters how the gameplay experience from what the developers intended., often causing those users to play the games less. For games that have only been around for a short period of time, this user exodus can be devastating.
Fortnite: Battle Royal, which was released to the public on September 26, 2017, has impressively passed the seven million-player mark in the short amount of time, but the game’s developer took swift action in response to the discovery of the cheating service. In a statement made to Polygon last week, Epic stated,
“When cheaters use aimbots or other cheat technologies to gain an unfair advantage, they ruin games for people who are playing fairly. We take cheating seriously, and we’ll pursue all available options to make sure our games are fun, fair, and competitive for players."
One of the available options was apparently taking legal action against Vraspir and Broom, who had already been banned from Fortnite at least nine times.
In two separate complaints, Epic makes four similar arguments against each individual:
First, Epic argues that the Players violated the Copyright Act by creating an unauthorized derivative work of Epic’s copyrighted Fortnite code. Epic alleges the Players used computer software to inject code into Fortnite’s code, which materially modified and changed the code. This created work was never authorized by Epic. Accordingly, Epic believes the Players infringed on Epic’s copyrights and are liable for direct and willful infringement.
For this violation, Epic seeks: (1) an injunction prohibiting the Players from using the service; (2) actual damages, including lost sales and profits as a result of the Players’ contributory infringement; (3) any additional profits made by the Players; (4) alternatively, statutory damages up to $150,000 for the Players’ willful infringement; and (5) attorneys’ fees and costs.
Contributory Copyright Infringement
In the second claim, Epic alleges the Players contributed to the direct and willful infringement of Epic’s copyrights while working in their capacity for Addicted Cheats. Epic states the Players touted the cheats to other users in online forums, actively encouraging the other users to purchase the cheats. Additionally, Epic believes the Players helped users in their use of the cheats by “providing help and support to cheaters and would-be cheaters who ask for support using the cheats.”
As a result of this violation, Epic seeks: (1) an injunction prohibiting the Players from using the service; (2) actual damages, including lost sales and profits as a result of the Players’ contributory infringement; (3) any additional profits made by the Players; (4) alternatively, statutory damages up to $150,000 for the Players’ willful infringement; and (5) attorneys’ fees and costs.
Breach of Contract (North Carolina law)
The third claim against the Players is a breach of contract claim asserting that the Players violated Epic’s Terms of Service and Fortnite’s End User License Agreement (the “EULA”).
In order to create an account with Epic, use its services, and download Fortnite, all users, including the Players, must agree to both the Terms of Services and the EULA.
Epic’s Terms of Service expressly prohibit users from ““copy[ing], modify[ing], creat[ing] derivative works of, publicly display[ing], publicly perform[ing], republish[ing] or transmit[ting] any of the material obtained through [Epic’s] services.”
Fortnite’s EULA prohibits players from ““reverse engineer[ing], deriv[ing] source code from, modify[ing], adapt[ing], translat[ing], decompil[ing,] or disassembl[ing Fortnite] or mak[ing] derivative works based on [Fortnite]” and “creat[ing], develop[ing], distribut[ing], or us[ing] any unauthorized software programs to gain advantage in any online or other game modes.”
By reversing engineering Fortnite’s source code and materially altering it to make a cheating service, the Players created an unauthorized derivate work, thus violating their agreements with Epic and Fortnite.
For this violation, the Epic seeks: (1) an injunction prohibiting the players from continuing to the use the work; (2) compensatory damages; and (3) attorneys’ fees and other costs.
Intentional Interference with Contractual Relations (North Carolina law)
The last claim against both Players also involves the Terms of Services and EULA. In this claim, Epic argues that the Players intentionally interfered with contractual relations by encouraging and inducing Fortnite users to purchase and use the Players’ cheats, despite having knowledge of the Terms and EULA between Epic and its registered users, which prohibit the use of cheats in Fortnite.
For this violation, Epic seeks: (1) an injunction to restrain and enjoin the players from continuing to use the service; (2) damages for loss of goodwill among users of Epic’s services, decreased profits, and lost profits from users whose accounts were terminated for violations of the Terms and the Fortnite EULA; and (3) the proceeds the Players received from the sales of the cheats (unjust enrichment).
Circumvention of Technological Measures in Violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Broom only)
In addition to those claims, Epic asserted another claim Broom individually. This claim alleges that Broom violated the DMCA, by using a cheat that was primarily designed for the purpose of circumnavigating Epic’s security measures used to prevent unauthorized access to Fortnite’s copyrighted work. In continuance of this claim, Epic argues that Broom, as a moderator and support person for AddictedCheats.net, materially contributed to the sale, distribution, and use of the Fortnite cheats while actively assisting other cheaters in their pursuit to circumnavigate Epic’s technological security measures.
For Broom’s suspected actions, Epic seeks injunctive relief, actual damages and Broom’s profits attributable to this violation, maximum statutory damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.
Copyright infringement suits have become one of the most common remedies for game developers in the fight against cheating services like Addicted Cheats. In March 2017, Blizzard Entertainment successfully sued the German company Bossland GmbH, famous for creating bots known as “Honorbuddy” and “Hearthbuddy”. In that suit, Blizzard was awarded $8.6 million in damages for approximately 43,000 instances of copyright infringement.
While there is no doubt game developers will continue to use legal remedies against cheating services, it is important for cheaters to recognize that in this case, Epic took action against the Players individually. Instead of suing Addicted Cheats, the service that used the Fortnite cheats, Epic decided to come after Vraspir and Broom, in hopes of holding them individually liable for any damages it may receive.
Although this may not become a trend going forward, since individuals usually do not have as much money as the companies providing the cheating services, game developers may still use this strategy as another way to deter future cheaters and maintain the integrity of their games.
A copy of Epic’s complaints can be read below:
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