Special thanks to Vincent Tennant for his contributions to this post.
In a complaint filed in the Central District of California, video game publisher Ubisoft, Inc. (Ubisoft) claims Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violations, interference in contractual relations, and unfair competition against a Dutch 17-year-old and his mother. The complaint alleges that the defendants produced and distributed “cheat” software for Ubisoft’s online multiplayer game Rainbow Six: Siege. The lawsuit raises issues for copyright, contracts, and the growing esports industry.
The defendants are alleged to have sold a single product, titled “Budget Edition Rainbow Six: Siege Cheat” (Cheat). Rainbox Six: Siege is a “first person shooter” game with both casual and competitive online multiplayer matches. The Cheat altered the game to the Cheat user’s advantage by making enemies easier to detect and increasing the amount of damage Cheat users inflict. Ubisoft claims that fair gameplay is vital to the success of its game and that “thousands of hours” are spent to detect and thwart cheaters.
The defendants are alleged to have sold and distributed the software through the family’s web design business in the Netherlands.
Trafficking in circumvention devices
The audiovisual elements and the computer program that run a video game are copyrightable. Ubisoft alleges that defendants’ conduct is unlawful under a DMCA provision concerning bypassing technological safeguards to access a copyrighted work, 17 U.S.C.§ 1201(a)(2). Anyone found to be distributing a service or tool that is “primarily designed for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work” is liable under this provision. Ubisoft will argue that there are numerous technological safeguards in the code of the game to protect the copyrighted elements from being accessed and that the Cheat circumvents them.
Intentional interference with contractual relations
Finally, Ubisoft alleges unlawful conduct by defendants under California’s unfair competition laws. “Unfair” is not well defined under this law, allowing courts broad discretion in applying it to claims of fraud. Ubisoft will likely point to aspects of the Cheat that “trick” the game to avoid detection in order to satisfy its unfair competition claim.