Games Law Round-Up: January 2012

There’s so much going on these days in games law, I don’t have time to write about everything sadly. So, I thought that every month or so I’d do a round-up of the notable developments.  Here’s the first one – let me know what you think…

It has been a BUSY start to the year in the world of games law.  Here’s the highlights from January, in no particular order:

I’ve been writing about this lawsuit since way back in September 2009 (latest post here) and now it is finally over.  The essence of the lawsuit was that Interplay used to own the rights to the Fallout series of games, sold them to Bethesda but kept the rights to make a Fallout MMO under certain conditions, which Bethesda claimed Interplay had failed to comply with – and therefore the rights reverted to Bethesda.  Now, after a fairly bruising and long-running lawsuit involving a number of skirmishes, it seems that the parties have settled on terms favourable to Bethesda.  Specifically, Interplay has given up any rights to the Fallout MMO and in return  Bethesda agreed to pay USD 2m to Interplay- it’s not clearly exactly what for (anyone know? legal costs maybe?)  Overall, I think this is a real victory for Bethesda and a monument to its tenacity in litigation despite preliminary setbacks.  Fingers crossed this does no longterm harm for the Fallout series (or Interplay).


UK developer Monumental went into administration early in the year – a sad start to the year.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the only developer collapse we’re going to see this year either.  For those who are interested are affected by this, here’s some more information about administration.


A UK games programmer has taken legal action against his former employer, UK publisher Codemasters, over a series of allegations regarding crunch and overtime. UPDATE: @gamecounsel has pointed out that actually it’s not a lawsuit he’s pursuing, but rather a complaint to “the relevant government bodies


Two of my legal brothers wrote this article on Edge about the impact of US patent law reform on the games industry.  Personally, I’m unconvinced: patents are important to the games industry but I don’t think these particular laws are going to do a great deal of note as far as the games industry is concerned (apart from maybe making life a bit harder for patent trolls).  Anyway, check it out if you’re interested.

(5) SOPA

You all know what I’m talking about.  Here’s what I thought about it.


The USA is going medieval on Megaupload’s ass it seems.  US federal prosecutors have charged its founders with a number of criminal offences, are seeking to extradite to the USA and have taken Megaupload itself offline.  Clearly, it’s all about allegations that Megaupload is involved in facilitating content piracy.  This has the strong potential of becoming another Pirate Bay lawsuit.  It’s also unlikely to be particularly helpful to those calling for stronger anti-piracy laws, given that the Megaupload operation took place just days after the latest setback for SOPA (arguably demonstrating that stronger laws aren’t needed).  Personally I don’t think it’s as simple as “Megaupload = no stronger laws needed”, because I’d imagine the action being taken here is very complex and expensive, and therefore not easily done many times a year.  


Popcap decided to close down its poorly performing social game Baking Life and made it clear to their ~750,000 monthly average users that they wouldn’t have any further access to the game after 30 days, including to any virtual goods/currency they’d bought.  It reminds me Zynga’s decision to close down Street Racing (another social game featuring virtual goods which was shut down), which my friend Nicholas Lovell wrote about here.  The closure of both Baking Life and Street Racing raised questions about the legal ramifications of shutting down users’ access to virtual goods.


NCsoft are suing Bluehole, the developer of MMO Tera (and made up of former NCsoft employees), alleging that Tera is made up of trade secrets and proprietary material taken from NCsoft without authorisation.  Sounds like a fairly straightforward commercial dispute, albeit one that would dictate whether Tera is released or not – I’ll keep an eye on it for you.  Aren’t I nice?


Here’s the basic details and here’s some thoughts from Kevin Dent on the case.  So Spry Fox made Triple Town, LOLApps entered NDA’d discussions with them regarding publishing it, then LOLApps broke the discussions off and released its own cloned version of Triple Town, Yeti Town.  Spry Fox decided they weren’t going to take that lying down and commenced proceedings against them.  I await the outcome of this case with great interest.  If it was to progress all the way to trial, it would bring two very important legal issues before a judge: (1) whether copyright law permits game clones; and (2) the extent to which a NDA in general terms protects disclosure of information regarding a game, particularly when that information is then misused to create a competing game.  I’m going to be writing more about game clones soon so I shan’t say more on that subject right now.  What I will say though is that, right now, the position doesn’t seem great for LOLApps.  Still, it’s early day: we’ll know more ofc if/when LOLApps’ legal defence is published – until then, we only have Spry Fox’s version of events.


Google has done something really quite interesting: they’ve unified all of their 60+ historic privacy policies into a single document, which attempts to set out in one place how Google will treat the privacy of its users.  As fellow games/media/tech lawyers will know, how large companies approach data protection and privacy is an increasingly important and complex subject, given both the increasing use of data as well as the lack of common standards across the key global markets (even the EU is pretty fragmented although that is changing).  Some companies go for a country by country approach, but that’s really very cumbersome for more than a few countries.  Others try a regional approach, e.g. USA and then EMEA etc.  But Google is one of the first to try a single policy for all its products.  Not everyone like it – Microsoft seems unhappy, for example.  I suspect pretty much everyone interested in privacy, including the world’s privacy regulators, will be looking at it closely too.  I’m sure we’ll have more on this during the year.

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