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The Russian Connection: Cheating Like a Thief in Law

The video game industry continually grapples with the widespread issue of cheating software distribution. This problem, of global scale, frequently traces back to Russia – with many infringing torrent indexes either operating from, or utilizing Russian reverse proxies.

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A symbolic representation of the article 'The Russian Connection: Cheating and the Law' with an esports theme, featuring the word 'Copyleft' prominently displayed. The image includes a large scale, one side holding a stack of legal books and the other side showcasing various elements of esports, like a gaming mouse, keyboard, and a headset. A faint outline of the Russian flag is in the background, subtly indicating the Russian connection. The word 'Copyleft' is boldly written across the bottom. The overall tone is serious, focusing on themes of legality and ethics in the esports industry.

Introduction and Definition

Cheating, in essence, is when a player gains an unfair advantage. From legal and technical viewpoints, cheats are specific software codes crafted to modify a game’s standard rules and mechanics, thus providing players with an unfair edge. Initially, developers introduced cheat codes for game testing or as hidden features (Easter eggs such as the Konami Code – ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA). Depending on their nature, cheats can range from benign to severely detrimental, threatening the integrity of the interactive entertainment sector. This variance in impact is leading an increasing number of countries to recognize cheating not just as unethical, but also as illegal.

In Russia, however, the issue of copyright infringement remains deeply rooted. Although there have been gradual improvements in intellectual property protection laws, Russia still harbors a significant market for illegal resources, adversely affecting legitimate media consumption, and gaming. Its pervasive piracy environment has led to Russia’s consistent presence on notorious market lists, including being placed on the priority watch list in the US Government’s latest Special 301 Report,1 highlighting a significant shortfall in robust copyright enforcement. It shall also be noted that Russian esports teams are prone to match-fixing as revealed by Morf.

The landscape is alarming: a substantial chunk of illegal torrent sites distributing pirated video games, hacking tools, unauthorized modifications, and digital items predominantly operate from Russia or utilize Russian reverse proxies. This was highlighted in the 2022 Notorious Market List, where at least 7 out of 39 identified online resources were reportedly Russian-hosted.

Video game rightsholders are increasingly taking action against these rogue sites. Major search engines, under pressure from these rightsholders through the Anti-Piracy Delisting Memorandum, are beginning to eliminate links to pirated content, primarily affecting the film industry at present. However, the deeper issue – identifying and prosecuting the actual individuals behind these piracy platforms – remains largely unexplored. Those running well-known torrent sites, developing cheat codes (see our article on AimJunkies), and the companies providing affiliate and offshore hosting services that promote piracy have yet to face significant legal repercussions in Russia. This contributes to a widespread and ongoing global copyright challenge, as users worldwide continue to access major pirating resources based in Russia.

Given the limited effectiveness of standard takedown notices, questions arise about the efficacy of Russian copyright laws against cheat code developers. How developed is the legal framework surrounding cheating software? Do Russian courts still overlook the importance of enforcing video game rights? Is there a need for amendments in the current copyright laws to address this issue more effectively, or should rightsholders instead focus on establishing more legal precedents?

These questions guide our exploration into the legal strategies that could be employed under Russian law to combat the issue of software cheating, highlighting the need for a more robust international legal approach.

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The Evolution of Game Modifications and Cheating: From Game Genie to Modern Bots

In the gaming world, cheats include but are not limited to Aimbots, Wallhacks, Burstfire, and Maphacks. Those are the main cheats in FPS. These cheats, particularly in multiplayer environments, can disrupt game mechanics, especially when real money is involved in acquiring digital goods.

The introduction of software hacks has posed significant challenges to the video game industry. These hacks enable the loading of pirated games on popular consoles, breaking through technical barriers. Devices designed for hacking can compromise game protections, facilitating the unauthorized use of pirated content.

A notable example from the 1990s involved the Game Genie, a “game enhancer” developed by Codemasters in the UK and distributed by Galoob Toys in the US. This device allowed players to tweak classic Nintendo games by enabling features like “god mode,” unlimited ammo, or level skipping without permanently altering the game’s code. In a landmark legal case, Nintendo accused Game Genie of copyright infringement, claiming it created derivative works. However, the court ruled that the changes made by Game Genie were temporary and constituted fair use, negating claims of financial harm to Nintendo.2 Over time, with advancements in laws like the DMCA, courts began to view cheats and hacks as illegal.

Bots represent another facet of gaming cheats. These automated programs can accumulate virtual money and experience on behalf of players, often bypassing anti-piracy and anti-cheating measures. Initially designed for convenience, many bots now focus on monetization, negatively impacting the gaming industry. The World of Warcraft case involving the Glider bot exemplifies this. Glider, designed to automate low-level tasks in the game, did not modify WoW’s source code and was independent of the game, leading to a legal debate over its status.3

In a contemporary twist reminiscent of past gaming controversies, the case of Sony and Action Replay PSP has reignited debates on the boundaries of copyright in the gaming world. “Action Replay PSP,” a software designed to alter the gaming experience on Sony’s PlayStation Portable, enabled players to manipulate “Motorstorm Arctic Edge” by introducing cheats such as unlimited “Turbo Booster” or early access to additional drivers. These changes, achieved by connecting the PSP to a PC, transferring the cheat code to the console’s memory, and then activating the cheats via an “Action Replay” menu, did not permanently modify the game’s original code.

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This scenario has stirred up a legal maelstrom, with two distinct interpretations of copyright law at its center. On one side, the argument is that any form of game manipulation, even those limited to temporary memory changes, breaches copyright protection, aiming to safeguard the original creative work of the developers. Contrasting this view is the opinion that only significant alterations to a game’s source code should be regarded as copyright violations. Echoing the dilemmas of the Game Genie era, the German Federal Court of Justice has escalated the issue to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for a critical ruling. The outcome of this case is eagerly anticipated, promising to set a new benchmark in the legal narrative of cheat software in video games, with potential widespread implications for the gaming industry in Germany and across the European Union.

These developments in the realm of unauthorized game modifications, bots, cheat codes, and hacks raise critical questions about the adequacy and agility of current Russian laws in addressing these evolving challenges in online video gaming.

Under the legal framework of the Civil Code of Russia, copyright protection encompasses a broad spectrum of works. This includes both published and non-published original works, irrespective of their nature, fixed in any tangible medium. The law extends its protective arm over derivative and complex works, bestowing upon copyright owners a slew of exclusive rights. These rights, enumerated in Article 1270 of the Civil Code, range from reproduction and public dissemination to the creation of derivative works, distribution, sale, exhibition, importation, translation, and modification. The scope of protection is comprehensive, covering areas such as audiovisual works, software, databases, music, literature, and design.

Video Games: A Unique Intellectual Property

Notably, Russian copyright law does not carve out a distinct regime for video games. Instead, the judiciary has often categorized them under the umbrella of computer software, applying the relevant copyright rules laid down in the Civil Code. Specifically, Article 1261 endorses copyright protection for all computer software varieties, encompassing operating systems, program systems, and other forms presented in various languages, forms, or codes, including source codes.

However, the academic realm posits a different stance, advocating for video games to be treated under a “complex work” regime as per Article 1240 of the Civil Code. This approach acknowledges video games as an amalgamation of multiple IP-protected works, such as audiovisual content, multimedia products, databases, software, etc., and emphasizes the ownership rights of those who orchestrate the creation of such works, subject to permissions from all contributing authors. This perspective has found some resonance in court rulings in particular in 2020, with several judgments classifying video games under the multimedia object regime, albeit without extensive reasoning.4

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The Multifaceted Nature of Video Games

Beyond mere code, video games are a tapestry of music, scripts, sceneries, interactive elements, characters, plots, maps, and entire alternate universes. Patents and trademarks also constitute an integral part of video game intellectual property. For instance, Wargaming holds an exclusive patent for a display screen with a graphical user interface and dynamic battle session matchmaking in multiplayer games. This intricate structure of video games underscores their standing as complex creations warranting nuanced legal consideration.

Video Games: A Software/Code Perspective

Primarily, Russian courts tend to consider video game copyright infringement from the angle of software or code protection under Article 1262 of the Civil Code. This perspective is in line with the unique form of expression that video games embody. However, there is a legal ambiguity as some Russian courts categorize video games under gambling regulation, as per Article 1062 of the Civil Code, thereby potentially excluding them from legal protection. This leads to the critical question: can cheat codes, hacks, mods, and bots be adequately protected under current Russian copyright laws, and is this protection sufficient?

Combatting Cheating in Video Games

For video game right holders, the first line of defense against computer bots and cheat codes is often the End User License Agreement (EULA). Breaches of these agreements can be actioned against cheating players. Furthermore, many video game developers integrate anti-cheating technologies into their games, like Valve’s Anti-Cheat system, which detects and blocks cheaters. Account and server blocking are also common practices, exemplified by technologies like Microsoft’s TruePlay system, designed to combat common cheating methods and monitor player behavior. Most right holders include provisions in their EULAs against cheating, bots, and unauthorized modifications, especially for commercial purposes. Under Russian law, such agreements are enforceable, and any breach may be legally pursued.

There have been several Russian legal disputes related to EULA breaches, often initiated by gamers against video game right publishers for account blocking under Consumer Law.5 In these cases, the courts upheld the breach of contract liability for gamers’ cheating and account hacking actions in online Free-to-play and MMORPG games, affirming the violation of EULAs between publishers and gamers.

Criminal Proceedings Against Cheaters

Beyond civil cases, Russia has seen precedential criminal cases against video game cheaters. For instance, in 2014, an individual was sentenced to probation for hacking an online game and selling virtual items to other players. More recently, in September 2021, a police investigation was launched against the creators of cheat codes and bots for the game “Worlds of Warships” and “World of Tanks.”6 These cases underscore the evolving legal landscape surrounding video game rights and the enforcement of intellectual property law in the digital gaming domain.

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Targeting Cheat Code Developers: A Global Effort

Video game right holders worldwide are intensifying their efforts against cheat code developers. A notable instance occurred in 2019 when Niantic, the developer of “Pokemon Go,” initiated a copyright infringement lawsuit against Global++. This lawsuit resulted in Global++ being mandated to pay USD 5 million in damages and being barred from developing, selling, or distributing their cheat software.7

Similarly, in January 2021, Riot Games and Bungie filed lawsuits against GatorCheats for creating cheats for “Valorant” and “Destiny 2.”8 The plaintiffs cited copyright infringement and violations of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions. The defendant, in this case, acquiesced to a USD 2 million damages payment and accepted a permanent injunction against creating, selling, or distributing cheating software.9

EU and US Jurisdictions: Pursuing Cheat Code Creators

In the EU and US, legal actions are increasingly being directed at individuals and companies creating cheat codes. For instance, Epic Games successfully obtained injunctions against individuals for developing and using cheating software in “Fortnite.”10 Blizzard Entertainment also triumphed in a copyright lawsuit against a German creator of software bots and cheats used in “World of Warcraft” and “Overwatch.” The court ruled that the development and promotion of Bossland’s cheat codes not only violated the EULA with Blizzard but also induced players to breach their license terms with the company.11

Administrative and Criminal Measures in Asia

Asian countries are also taking serious measures. In 2017, South Korea implemented a law that criminalizes the development of cheat software, with penalties including prison sentences of up to 5 years or fines up to USD 49,000. Esports Legal News reported that Chinese authorities dismantled a major VALORANT cheat operation.

Russian Law on Cheating Programs

In Russia, the legality of cheat codes, bots, and mods is more ambiguous. Russian law, particularly Article 1270 of the Civil Code, requires software modifications to be authorized by the right holder. The courts broadly interpret what constitutes a modification, with the right holder needing to demonstrate actual software modification. However, under Article 1280, certain exceptions allow for lawful utilization, reproduction, or testing of the program for non-commercial purposes.

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Russian Doctrines and Case Law

Several doctrines, like the “idea-expression dichotomy” and the “merger doctrine,” are applied by Russian courts, distinguishing between protectable expressions and non-protectable ideas. For instance, game mechanics, such as the battle royale concept used in “Fortnite” and “PUBG,” are not copyright-protected. Russian case law also reflects these doctrines.12 Under Russian law, cheat codes affecting the source code through methods like reverse engineering can be considered infringing manipulations.

Russian Site Blocking Law and Its Implications

Russia’s site blocking law allows for the enforcement of content-removal injunctions against non-compliant resources. This law enables right holders to seek preliminary injunctions from the Moscow City Court, leading to administrative actions like website blocking and app removals from stores. The law applies to various online platforms and has been expanded to include mobile apps since 2020.

The Challenge for Russian Case Law Against Cheaters

Despite the existing legal mechanisms, there is a need for more robust and specific legal measures in Russia to address the issue of cheating in video games. The current regulations, encompassing anti-piracy laws, rules against illegal modifications and adaptations, contractual law provisions, and even criminal prosecution, require more consistent and comprehensive application. By fortifying the legal framework and its enforcement, right holders can more effectively tackle the challenges posed by cheat codes and other forms of unauthorized game manipulation, thereby safeguarding the integrity and financial viability of the video game industry.

Image source: Dall-E3

  1. 2022 Special 301 Report, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/IssueAreas/IP/2022%20Special%20301%20Report.pdf. ↩︎
  2. Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. v. Nintendo of America, Inc., United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 964 F. 2d 965 (9th Cir. 1992). ↩︎
  3. MDY Industries, LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc and Vivendi Games, Inc., 629 F.3d 928 (9th Cir. 2010). ↩︎
  4. Judgement of the IP Court dated 2 November 2020, Case No. 32-56176/2019; Judgement of the 17th Arbitrazh Court of Appeal dated 22 September 2020, Case No. 17AP-8930/2020-GKu; Judgement of the 15th Arbitrazh Court of Appeal dated 26 June 2020, Case No. A32-56176/2019. ↩︎
  5. Judgement of the Lefortovo district court of Moscow dated 9 June 2015, Case No. 2-1619/2015;
    Judgement of the Leninskiy Appeal Court of Kemerovo city dated 26 April 2013, Case No. 11-59/2013; and Judgement of the Basmanny district court of Moscow dated 1 June 2011, Case No. 11-43/11. ↩︎
  6. Baza: МВД расследует дела против сайтов-продавцов чит-программ для игр, https://habr.com/ru/news/576970/ ↩︎
  7. ‘Pokémon GO’ developer wins settlement from hack creators, https://www.nme.com/news/gaming-news/pokemon-go-developer-wins-settlement-hack-creators-2856707. ↩︎
  8. Riot Games and Bungie file joint lawsuit against cheatmakers, https://www.gamesindustry.biz/riot-games-and-bungie-file-joint-lawsuit-against-cheatmakers. ↩︎
  9. Valorant & Destiny 2 Cheat Maker Agrees To Pay $2m Copyright Settlement, https://torrentfreak.com/valorant-destiny-2-cheat-maker-agrees-to-pay-2m-copyright-settlement-210401/. ↩︎
  10. Epic Games, Inc. v. Charles Vraspir, 5:17-cv-00512. ↩︎
  11. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. v. Bossland GmbH et al., Case No. 8:16-cv-01236. ↩︎
  12. Resolution of the IP Court of Russia dated March 28, 2017, Case No. A56-73596/2015; Resolution of the 9th Court of Appeal dated June 24, 2019, Case No. A40-60319/2018. ↩︎

Author

  • Leonid Shmatenko

    Leonid Shmatenko is part of Eversheds Sutherlands’ data protection and technology law team. He has vast experience in regulatory and general issues in the areas of eSports and Blockchain. He advises eSports associations and clubs on all legal issues, advises and supports crypto startups in all matters from planning, preparation to execution of private and public token offerings (so-called Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs). Furthermore, Leonid Shmatenko specializes in international arbitration and has participated in several arbitration proceedings (SAC, ICC, DIS, UNCITRAL, ICSID, ad hoc) as a party representative and secretary of the tribunal. Leonid Shmatenko studied at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and is currently pursuing a PhD in international law. After his successful first state examination (2011), he completed his legal clerkship, inter alia, at the German Embassy in Lima and within international law firms in Düsseldorf and Paris. He passed the second state examination in 2015. He is an external lecturer at the National Law University of Ukraine “Yaroslav Mudryi”, where he teaches International Investment Law. He is admitted to the Bar in Switzerland and Germany. Before joining Eversheds Sutherland, Leonid Shmatenko worked as an attorney at leading law firms in Geneva, Munich and Paris.

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Moonton and Riot Games Reach Historic Settlement in Copyright Dispute

Moonton and Riot Games, two titans of the esports and gaming industry, have concluded their prolonged copyright dispute through a mutual settlement, marking a significant chapter in the evolution of intellectual property rights within the digital entertainment sector. This resolution concludes a series of legal challenges that had not only captivated the attention of the gaming community but also set a critical precedent for copyright law’s application in the fast-paced world of video gaming.

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Settlement Montoon and Riot Games

The Genesis of the Dispute between Moonton and Riot Games

The legal battle began when Riot Games, the maker of League of Legends, accused Moonton, the creator of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. Riot Games claimed that Moonton copied essential elements like character designs, game modes, and overall style from League of Legends, leading Riot to take legal action to safeguard its creative assets and copyright.

Riot Games first took legal action in the United States but eventually had to to pursue the claims in China due to complex international copyright laws and challenges with jurisdiction, as both companies are heavily present there. This action highlights the challenges of dealing with copyright conflicts in a worldwide digital market, where intellectual property moves across borders easily and legal systems differ greatly in different regions.

Ever since starting in 2017, the legal dispute between Riot Games and MOONTON has evolved into a convoluted narrative, highlighting the fierce competition and legal complexities in the gaming sector. The main reason for this extended conflict revolves around the top games of each company: League of Legends (LoL) from Riot Games, a giant in the esports industry, and Mobile Legends from MOONTON, a rising competitor gaining fast popularity, particularly in the Southeast Asian mobile gaming sector.

The legal battle began when Riot Games accused MOONTON of copying key gameplay elements, character designs, and abilities from League of Legends for their mobile game Mobile Legends. The first legal case in the United States sparked a series of legal battles, as Riot Games claimed that Mobile Legends: 5v5 MOBA was not just inspired by but copied LoL.

Despite the US court deferring jurisdiction to China, MOONTON was still required to reach a USD 2.9 million settlement with Riot Games for copyright infringement, which also resulted in Mobile Legends being temporarily removed from app stores. However, MOONTON decided to make adjustments and relaunch the game as “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang,” in an attempt to address the controversial copyright problems.

Even with these changes and the significant agreement, the conflict was still ongoing. In May 2022, Riot Games launched another legal attack on MOONTON, accusing them of copying intellectual property from their mobile game, League of Legends: Wild Rift, including its unique promotional tactics.

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The ongoing legal disputes between Riot Games and MOONTON have sparked extensive debates within the gaming community and among industry experts. Some believe MOONTON intentionally copied League of Legends to benefit from its popularity, while others argue that similarities in MOBA games are common and shouldn’t lead to legal action. These disagreements emphasize the fine line between finding inspiration and blatant copying, showcasing the continual difficulties in protecting intellectual property in the highly competitive gaming sector.

The Settlement

Yet, the parties decided to settle the dispute. The legal communication from Montoon reads:

“After several rounds of communication, the two parties recently officially signed a settlement agreement, and Riot Games has decided to formally withdraw the corresponding lawsuits.”

The settlement not only ends a period of legal confusion but also sets the stage for a gaming sector that, with any luck, prioritizes cooperation, respect for intellectual property, and legal honesty. It acts as a powerful symbol of the fragile equilibrium between encouraging creativity and honoring the legal protections for that creativity. As the gaming industry keeps developing, the knowledge gained from this conflict will probably have a significant impact on determining its future, particularly in terms of intellectual property rights.

Industry stakeholders and legal experts are closely monitoring the agreement between Moonton and Riot Games, as they are interested in deciphering its impact on upcoming copyright disputes in the esports industry. It catalyzes game developers and publishers to align their creative aspirations with the need to uphold intellectual property rights, guaranteeing a dynamic industry future rooted in innovation, respect, and legal integrity.

Final thoughts

The settlement between Moonton and Riot Games demonstrates the importance of negotiation and highlights the value of intellectual property rights in today’s digital era. It indicates a shift toward a future where businesses participate in ethical actions, protecting the ever-changing environment of esports and gaming by being innovative, respectful, and following legal guidelines. As we move ahead, the gaming industry is at a critical point, with the resolution of this disagreement paving the way for a cooperative, respectful, and legally sound future.

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Case Overview

Plaintiff: Riot Games, Inc.

Defendant: Shanghai Moonton Technology Co., Ltd.

Court: United States District Court for the Central District of California

Case Number: 2:22-cv-3107

Counsel for Plaintiff – Riot Games, Inc.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP

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  • Dale M. Cendali
  • Joshua L. Simmons
  • Miranda D. Means
  • Yungmoon Chang

Counsel for Defendant – Shanghai Moonton Technology Co., Ltd.

Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP

  • Ajay S Krishnan
  • Christopher S Sun
  • Edward Andrew Bayley
  • Michelle S Ybarra
  • Travis Scott Silva

Author

  • Leonid Shmatenko

    Leonid Shmatenko is part of Eversheds Sutherlands’ data protection and technology law team. He has vast experience in regulatory and general issues in the areas of eSports and Blockchain. He advises eSports associations and clubs on all legal issues, advises and supports crypto startups in all matters from planning, preparation to execution of private and public token offerings (so-called Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs). Furthermore, Leonid Shmatenko specializes in international arbitration and has participated in several arbitration proceedings (SAC, ICC, DIS, UNCITRAL, ICSID, ad hoc) as a party representative and secretary of the tribunal. Leonid Shmatenko studied at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and is currently pursuing a PhD in international law. After his successful first state examination (2011), he completed his legal clerkship, inter alia, at the German Embassy in Lima and within international law firms in Düsseldorf and Paris. He passed the second state examination in 2015. He is an external lecturer at the National Law University of Ukraine “Yaroslav Mudryi”, where he teaches International Investment Law. He is admitted to the Bar in Switzerland and Germany. Before joining Eversheds Sutherland, Leonid Shmatenko worked as an attorney at leading law firms in Geneva, Munich and Paris.

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Steamboat Willie entered into the Public Domain 95 years after its release: What is the Impact on the Gaming Industry?

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Steamboat Willie - The Walt Disney Company

The copyright on Disney’s 1928 short film Steamboat Willie expired in the US on January 1, 2024, 95 years after it was released. It means the early versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse featured in the film – their first screen release – can be used without incurring a cost. The termination of US copyright protection for Steamboat Willie, has triggered a surge of creative projects featuring the iconic character. Shortly after this milestone, two horror films and a video game starring Mickey Mouse were swiftly announced.

Mickey Mouse – Inspired Game: Infestation: Origins

The game, named Infestation: Origins, was revealed via IGN just hours after the character’s earliest renditions entered the public domain in the US. Infestation: Origins offers players a cooperative horror experience, pitting them against sinister versions of classic characters and urban legends, with Mickey Mouse taking centre stage as the primary antagonist.

Originally introduced as “Infestation 88,” the game underwent a name change following concerns raised on social media regarding the connotations of the number “88.” The developer, Nightmare Forge Games, promptly addressed the issue, expressing regret over their oversight and swiftly rectifying the situation. Nightmare Forge Games appears unyielding, emphasising in both the game’s Steam store and trailer that it draws inspiration from works now in the public domain and has not been officially endorsed by the original creators or copyright holders.

This game is inspired by works that are now in the public domain. This independent creation has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise endorsed by any original authors of said works. All content in this game is used under appropriate public domain guidelines, and is not affiliated with, related to, or endorsed by any existing intellectual property or trademark holders.

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Copyright Protection and Expiration

The evolution of Mickey Mouse’s copyright protection has been a subject of contention over the years. Initially set to expire in 1984, Disney successfully advocated for legislative changes, extending protection until 2003. Subsequent lobbying efforts, including the infamous Mickey Mouse Protection Act, further prolonged copyright terms, safeguarding Steamboat Willie until the conclusion of 2023. However, with the expiration of copyright in the US, creative opportunities have flourished, although the landscape remains complex due to varying international copyright laws.

Does this extend worldwide?

While individuals in the US have the liberty to utilise the 1928 short for crafting new narratives and artistic creations featuring Steamboat Willie, the global applicability of this freedom varies. In certain jurisdictions, where copyright protections extend for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author or creator, Steamboat Willie will retain protection until at least 2042. This is particularly pertinent considering that Steamboat Willie’s co-creator, Ub Iwerks, passed away in 1971.

However, in some countries, Steamboat Willie may only benefit from the copyright protection afforded by the nation in which it was originally created. Consequently, it may enter the public domain in those jurisdictions as well. For those interested in utilising Steamboat Willie in their creative endeavours, it is imperative to conduct thorough research into the copyright laws of their respective countries.

The Fine Line: Utilising Public Domain while Respecting Trademarks

While the public domain status of Steamboat Willie in the US allows for new interpretations, it’s essential to recognise that Mickey Mouse’s distinct characteristics (as we know him) and trademarks remain under Disney’s ownership. Thus, creators must tread carefully to avoid infringing on copyrighted and trademarked elements while exploring the possibilities offered by the public domain.

Author

  • Dr Despoina Farmaki

    Despoina, a pivotal member of Esports Legal News, seamlessly blends her fervour for Intellectual Property and Internet law with a specialised focus on the vibrant Video Game industry. In her current role as the Programme Element Leader for Pre-Masters and Lecturer at Brunel University London Pathway College, she navigates the realms of academia and legal practice, with a particular emphasis on the digital domain. Despoina’s commitment to advancing the legal understanding of the video game industry is evident in her Ph.D thesis, titled “The Interpretation of Copyright Protection in Video Game Streaming in Europe” which delved into the intricate relationship between copyright protection and the emerging phenomenon of video game streaming in the European context. Her dedication to this field ensures that she remains at the forefront of legal developments. With a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in International Commercial Law from Brunel University London, Despoina has solidified her expertise in the legal facets of the global business environment, providing a sturdy foundation to navigate the legal challenges within the esports and video game industry. At Esports Legal News, Despoina not only brings her academic rigor and legal expertise but also plays a crucial role in the coordination of a major ELN project, which, while still confidential, promises to be a significant contribution to the esports industry. She ensures that the intersection of Intellectual Property, Internet law, and the video game industry is navigated with precision, depth, and foresight, contributing to the ethical and legal progression of the esports industry.

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Palworld vs. Pokémon Company – We have 111 Problems, but Plagiarism ain’t one?

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Palworld Pokemon

The remarkable success of Palworld has sparked discussions online, drawing comparisons between the game and Pokémon. Speculations have arisen regarding potential legal implications due to their similarities. Palworld offers an immersive open-world multiplayer experience, focusing on survival and exploration. Players embark on a journey where they hunt and strive to survive, encountering and capturing charming creatures known as Pals along the way. While Palworld shares similarities with the Pokémon series in terms of creature capturing mechanics, it’s important to note that it is not a Pokémon game. Instead, it introduces a unique blend of gameplay elements from various genres, including open-world RPGs and survival games.

While games resembling Pokémon have surfaced before, Palworld’s unprecedented triumph has intensified scrutiny. This scrutiny has manifested in side-by-side comparisons, online discussions, the emergence of an unofficial mod (later taken down), and a public statement from The Pokémon Company addressing the matter for the first time.

Pocketpair, the small development team behind Palworld, faces challenges related to server issues and ongoing bug fixes amid the game’s rising popularity. The recent attention drawn to comparisons with Pokémon adds another layer of complexity to their workload.

Recent Developments

As developments unfold, here’s what we currently know about the parallels between Palworld and The Pokémon Company, including the latter’s official response regarding an “investigation into another company’s game”.

Palworld was released into early access for Xbox Series X/S and PC on January 19, 2024. Since its launch, numerous individuals have noted resemblances between Palworld and the Pokémon franchise.

On January 25, the Pokémon Company issued a statement, indirectly addressing Palworld. Although not explicitly naming the game, the statement expresses concern about the unauthorised use of Pokémon intellectual property and assets in a game released in January 2024. The statement emphasises the company’s commitment to investigating and addressing any infringement on Pokémon-related intellectual property rights. Prior to this, Pocketpair CEO Takuro Mizobe confirmed that Palworld underwent legal reviews and emphasised the team’s commitment to respecting other companies’ intellectual property.

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Comparison between Palworld and Pokémon

The primary point of comparison revolves around creature designs, highlighted in various online videos. While similarities exist, it’s important to note that other games, such as Digimon and Temtem, have featured similar designs without legal repercussions. Certain naming conventions, like Palworld’s Paldeck (similar to the Pokédex) and Pal Sphere (resembling the Poké Ball), have also drawn attention. However, Palworld differs significantly from Pokémon in its gameplay mechanics, focusing more on survival and base building elements.

Side by Side Comparison

Palworld’s Future

The Pokémon Company’s statement signals its intent to investigate potential copyright claims in other games but has not initiated legal action against Pocketpair or any other developers. While speculations abound regarding potential legal outcomes, the situation remains uncertain. Some anticipate a takedown, while others argue that Palworld merely imitates rather than directly copies Pokémon, potentially mitigating the risk of a lawsuit. For a similar discussion on the idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law, please see a previous post on Alan Wake 2.

As we await further developments, Palworld remains available in early access on Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC.

Author

  • Dr Despoina Farmaki

    Despoina, a pivotal member of Esports Legal News, seamlessly blends her fervour for Intellectual Property and Internet law with a specialised focus on the vibrant Video Game industry. In her current role as the Programme Element Leader for Pre-Masters and Lecturer at Brunel University London Pathway College, she navigates the realms of academia and legal practice, with a particular emphasis on the digital domain. Despoina’s commitment to advancing the legal understanding of the video game industry is evident in her Ph.D thesis, titled “The Interpretation of Copyright Protection in Video Game Streaming in Europe” which delved into the intricate relationship between copyright protection and the emerging phenomenon of video game streaming in the European context. Her dedication to this field ensures that she remains at the forefront of legal developments. With a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in International Commercial Law from Brunel University London, Despoina has solidified her expertise in the legal facets of the global business environment, providing a sturdy foundation to navigate the legal challenges within the esports and video game industry. At Esports Legal News, Despoina not only brings her academic rigor and legal expertise but also plays a crucial role in the coordination of a major ELN project, which, while still confidential, promises to be a significant contribution to the esports industry. She ensures that the intersection of Intellectual Property, Internet law, and the video game industry is navigated with precision, depth, and foresight, contributing to the ethical and legal progression of the esports industry.

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