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Lawsuits That Changed the Games Industry 54

Posted by Zonk
from the case-of-mario-v.-kong dept.
Gamasutra has up a piece looking at litigation that changed the way the games industry works. Deep, interesting questions like "Is modding legal?", "Are games covered by the 1st amendment?", and "Are games protected by copyright laws?" have all been decided in legal cases within the last 20 years. The site explores these issues, and ponders issues that are likely to affect the business of the games hobby in the future. From the article: "A variety of laws have been put forth by state legislature to act toward censoring game content or controlling the sale of games. As a rule, be immediately suspicious of any legislation proposed in the name of 'security' or 'protecting our children.' The result is often a jumbo size bite taken out of artistic expression and individual liberty. To date, the ESA has fought and won nine out of nine cases on these issues, having the state laws declared unconstitutional. Furthermore, the ESA has sought and won more than $1.5 million dollars in attorneys fees."
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Lawsuits That Changed the Games Industry

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  • by ILuvRamen (1026668) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:31PM (#17317898)
    I know eventually someone's going to sue an MMOG for making them addicted. Probably someone related to those dumb fat people that sued McDonalds for "making" them fat. Ugh, some people. I think I should start a website where I take bets on how soon it'll happen lol. It'd at least be more entertaining than the "Protecting Our Children (from having fun)" bills.
    • by mr_neke (1001861)
      shh, you're giving them ideas!
    • by rhartness (993048)
      I'll place the first bet.

      I'll bet that in one week you will be sued for operating an illegal gambling site that also lures children to it because it's "video game" centric.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DingerX (847589)
      First, try not to get indignant at people who don't exist yet. That's what people in MMORPGs do.

      Second, I agree that a class-action suit against one of the really big MMORPGs (or all of them) is overdue. But when it happens, they'll have a stronger case than against McDonalds.

      But first McDonalds: McDonalds uses massive ad campaigns targeted at children, a group than any self-respecting state recognizes has an imperfect will: the kid wanting something is not a rational choice. And McDonalds purveys as food
      • by Pope (17780) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:04PM (#17318448)
        And that's why parents exist, to say "No!" to stupid requests from their kids. :)

        Eating the occasional fast food meal isn't necesarilly bad for you, eating them habitually most definitely is.
        • by MeanderingMind (884641) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:26PM (#17318798) Homepage Journal
          Agreed. I don't think a lawsuit is going to solve this problem. If this is really about the children who are not of age to make rational decisions, then we must wonder where the parents were and are.

          How many kids, who aren't within shooting distance of being "legally" rational, do you know are even able to get to a McDonalds without their parents? I can't say that before age 12 at the earliest would a kid find themselves able to say, "Mom, I'm going to bike down to the McDs for lunch." That's twelve years where the parents have to make the decision to take their children to the McDonalds.

          Similarly, how many people before high school get laptops? Unless you're in a very rich family you're probably stuck using the family computer for World of WarCraft, EverQuest, EvE or whichever poison you pick. Between parental controls and the fact that the computer rests rather immobile in a major room of the house I can't see how parents aren't willfully involved in letting their children be addicted to these games.

          In my opinion, while the children may not have the rational capacity to make a decision in these matters they aren't the ones ultimately deciding. The best they can do is put the MMOG on their christmas wish list, or beg their parents for McDonalds. The parent ultimately has to give in or choose to do these things.

          Now, if we're talking about rational adults becoming addicted to these games, that's a whole different story.
          • Similarly, how many people before high school get laptops? Unless you're in a very rich family you're probably stuck using the family computer for World of WarCraft, EverQuest, EvE or whichever poison you pick.



            A coworker of mine has a 2 year old kid, and he just bought him a laptop. When I was a kid, all I got was a BOX to play with. That's what my kids are getting for Christmas. A box. It encourages imaginative thinking.

        • It's not the kids that I would worry about, but the adults with families who get so hooked on WOW and other MMORPG's that they neglect their children, spouse, work, etc and wind up hurting a lot of innocent people just so that they can spent 22 hours in BWL getting yet another "EPIC" item, which is completely useless by the time the next upgrade for the game comes out. (Hey! I've got the Burning Crusade Beta and the GREENS are better than a lot of the EPICS so many have slaved for in the last year.)

          Games
      • by OldeTimeGeek (725417) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:17PM (#17318652)
        But first McDonalds: McDonalds uses massive ad campaigns targeted at children, a group than any self-respecting state recognizes has an imperfect will: the kid wanting something is not a rational choice. And McDonalds purveys as food substances that fool the senses into thinking they're receiving something extremely nutritive, when in fact, they're getting the obesity and diabetes express. So they're targeting a group not entirely capable of reason with a product that fools the senses. And they're intentionally doing that.

        Yes, its a horrible thing. The hordes four- and five-year-olds McDonalds has hypnotized. I've seen pictures of them, fives and tens clutched tightly in their tiny little hands, stumbling up to the counter in their jammies; ordering BigMacs and fries - just like they've seen on TV. The glassy stares. The trembling arms as they reach for the poisonous ooze. Oh, the humanity.

        Is there nothing that can restrain them? Nothing that can stop them? Something like, say, parents to steer them down the righteous path? No, the government must be called in! Only the military can stop this heinous crime!

        • That's funny (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rsilvergun (571051)
          My brother's having a really hard time getting my niece to eat healthy. He screwed up when she was really young, and let her drink lots of HFCS filled beverages and eat lots of processed and fast food. The trouble is, stuff like HFCS and meats seasoned with MSG and other chemicals have much stronger flavors than normal food, so now nothing tastes 'right' to her except that junk. Even well prepared food made by a good cook tastes 'off' to her if it's not loaded with that crap. Funny thing about kids, what th
          • by jpardey (569633)
            Even trying to find good food, without having eaten fast food in your childhood, is hard. Look at the sodium content in some food. After cutting out high sodium friends, a person I know has had far less headaches, and much better blood pressure. Seems to have more effect than most medications. I will probably get modded down for this, but it seems the free market fails on the food front. Why can't I get a healthy meal out of a fast food store? Why must I hear "betcha can't eat just one?"
            • I love vegetarian/vegan food (though I also eat meat occasionally) and many of the times I go to a restaurant it'll be an Indian/vegetarian place. I also cook at home, and one of my most valued cookbooks is an Australian vegetarian book. I get great enjoyment out of a perfectly healthy plate of organic food.

              That said... I know that one of the biggest and simplest tricks up any chef's sleeve is adding fat. Either a good chunk of butter (with meats, for instance) or cream (in sauces and the like) works wonder
          • by reub2000 (705806)
            Even well prepared food made by a good cook tastes 'off' to her if it's not loaded with that crap. Funny thing about kids, what they eat in their first few years is what they'll want to eat for their whole lives
            Young kids seem to have weird taste buds. I think they mostly grow out of that kind of food.
        • by jpardey (569633)
          Just like the government must be called in to prevent children from drinking! Smoking! Doing crack! My friend, you are more right than you could possibly imagine!
      • by Zancarius (414244) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:20PM (#17318700) Homepage Journal
        I suppose, then, that by implication, you cherish the notion of taking the "parent" out of "parenting." Fair enough, your argument didn't explicitly target children itself (save for the McDonald's commentary).

        The problem with shifting responsibility from individuals to the law is that it eliminates the freedom of choice. If someone wants to sit on their duff for hours on end, they are free to do so. While I am aware that the natural reply to such a notion is "It increases the costs of health care for all of us," I will remind you that health care in the US is already largely borked. Legislation against criminal activities is fine, but criminalizing legitimate activities that do not directly harm anyone, such as playing games or eating fattening food, is simply absurd. Suing, thus, accomplishes nothing than to appease those who, like yourself, clearly do not approve of free choice or the free market. I don't recall stories of Blizzard holding a gun to anyone's head, indicating that failure to play their game may result in unholy punishment (insert lame joke here, Anonymous Cowards).

        Ultimately, the "health legislation" movement in this country is counter-productive. While stating children shouldn't be sitting in front of the television, game console, computer, or eating fast food, they simultaneously declare that traditional children's games are violent and dangerous. I'm sorry, little Johnny, I don't want you playing video games, but you can't go outside and play tag, either! I don't think tree-hugging burns a great deal of calories--certainly not as many as cutting one down with a hand saw. And could you imagine the sort of ruckus that would be generated by the bleeding hearts if we armed our children with hand saws? On the other hand, it might not be so bad; imagine telling an angry child armed with a hand saw who was responsible for taking away tag or dodgeball...

        I apologize ahead of time for any angry children cutting down your front door, demanding to have their "fun" games back.
      • Why would MMORPG designers want to encourage addiction? The person who plays the game 400 hours a month pays the same fee as the person who plays the game 20 hours a month but uses twenty times the resources. From an entirely pragmatic standpoint, a company designing a MMORPG would not want the addicts because the addicts require more servers.
        • by DingerX (847589)
          server time and bandwidth are only part of the resources. The really expensive ones are customer service, QA, and tech support. A massive user of server time and bandwidth isn't massive in today's internet terms, and, used properly, actually reduces customer service, QA and tech support costs.
  • Missing a lawsuit... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by creimer (824291) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:35PM (#17317956) Homepage
    How about game companies recalling a product if they need to release a patch on the same day of the release? That should take care of the "ship it and patch it" mentality.
    • by westlake (615356)
      How about game companies recalling a product if they need to release a patch on the same day of the release?

      How about we don't bump up the price of games to cover the expenses of a pointless recall? How about we don't piss off the retailer willing to stock games that aren't as profitable as Grand Theft Auto?

      • by creimer (824291)
        I think you're missing the point. If the publisher put out a game that was ready to ship, the costs will be lower for everyone. Patching a game after it ships is more expensive to the publisher (but not as expensive as missing the ship date altogether). If the publisher knows there's a penalty for shipping an unfinished product, they may take more care on how they managed their projects (which is long overdue anyway). Besides, if prices are going up, it's just greed.
    • by Sigma 7 (266129)

      How about game companies recalling a product if they need to release a patch on the same day of the release? That should take care of the "ship it and patch it" mentality.

      Bugs can still find their way through rigerous testing. As an example, Chasm: The Rift immediatly crashes on startup - and this issue is 100% reproducable. The workaround is to run Windows 95, since it's memory protection system is more lax than standard Dos Protected mode drivers.

      There's also cases where testing is either infeasible or

  • These days there is alot of money in the gaming industry. Where there is money, there are lawyers. You know the rest.
  • by Thansal (999464) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:44PM (#17318106)
    Is modding legal?


    The article does not cover that question, the only thing related was the case of idiots that tried to gather up a bunch of user generated maps for Duke 3D and sell it as a product (with out permission from the mappers or from 3D realms).

    Now the interestign one is if there ARE any precidents on modding being legal/illegal. Obviously games where they give you the tools then it is legal (most FPS games these days, Warcraft, etc etc). But what about games that don't give you the tools? (GTA? Hot coffee?) or where it is actively fought (later versions of GTA). Or hardware type mods?
    • by CTD (615278)
      The precedent on modding (through company tools or not) is that it's illegal when a person begins to profit from it. Prior to that, as a 'hobby' it's fine. Think about the people who design clothing, furniture, skins, etc for the Sims(2). They aren't breaking a law because they don't profit from it.

      Which is why nobody can stop you from modding your PC game to put in stick figures instead of 3d avatars if you want (ok, my first thought was naked avatars, but that's dull eh?). It's only if you sell it that is
      • by Lehk228 (705449)
        selling your OWN mods is legal, unless the creation of the mod requires content from a source with a license forbidding commercial use, for example textures and models from a game level and model editor. if you build all the content yourself you can do whatever the hell you want with it and nobody can stop you.
  • Although the PS3 isn't selling that great, Sony removed rumble from the PS3 (although they cite some other reason) because they lost this case.
  • by graphicsguy (710710) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:01PM (#17318410)
    • I wouldn't say this lawsuit changed the game industry; perhaps it improved the working environment and wallets of the employees at EA though.
    • by Carnildo (712617)
      From a gaming point of view, there's nothing special about that lawsuit. It's a bog-standard labor-relations lawsuit, and ones like it have been filed on a regular basis for at least half a century.
  • Notably missing... (Score:4, Informative)

    by BluhDeBluh (805090) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:43PM (#17319054)
    There was the Nintendo vs. Galoob [wikipedia.org] (the Game Genie lawsuit), and the Sega vs. Accolade [digital-law-online.info] (meaning that, basically, other companies could make unofficial carts legally).
    • Isn't Sega vs. Accolade just a grandchild of Atari's attempt to file a restraining order against Activision releasing games for the Atari 2600 back in 1982?

      Can't find a good article on it...not that I'm looking *too* hard.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activision [wikipedia.org] hints to it.
      • by antime (739998)
        I believe the Atari vs. Activision lawsuit was regarding NDAs, while in the Sega vs. Accolade case Sega argued that getting games to run on the Megadrive was trademark infringement (I think you have to store the string "SEGA" at a specific memory location or something similar). The court's decision was that since this trademarked data was only in machine-readable form and essential to getting code running on the hardware it was OK to include it in the ROM of unlicensed cartridges.

        Another consequence of this

    • by antime (739998)
      Sega vs. Accolade had another, much bigger impact which is why it would be my pick for the top spot. The company that benefited the most from the lawsuit was not Accolade, but Electronic Arts.

      At the time EOA (as they were still known as) was looking to move away from home computers like the Amiga due to rampant piracy, but was also unwilling to pay the licensing fees and fighting over shelf space and cartridge allotments and all the other ways console developers were dicked around with. So to them the case

  • Foxed? (Score:2, Informative)

    No reference to the first modder that I recall who ran afoul of Fox Studios intellectual property - the Alien TC mod for Doom.

    http://doom.wikia.com/wiki/Aliens_TC [wikia.com]

    And no mention of it here ... am I on crack? I could have sworn he was served with cease-and-desist letters to completely halt his mod given his usage of images/logos/intellectual property.

    Oh, here's a reference. Yeah, it coined a phrase for that time period ... getting "Foxed".

    http://www.unfetteredblather.com/nucleus/index.php ?itemid=76 [unfetteredblather.com]
    • by kalayq (827594)
      I have heard about a number of mods getting cease and desist letters, although they all wished to emulate a game/move/tv franchise of some kind. That isn't very uncommon. For example, just about every star wars mod I have seen has received a C&D.
  • by Bloodmoon1 (604793) <be@hyperion.gmail@com> on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @09:41PM (#17320732) Homepage Journal
    A variety of laws have been put forth by state legislature to act toward censoring game content or controlling the sale of games. ... The result is often a jumbo size bite taken out of artistic expression and individual liberty.

    No, the result is often not a "jumbo size bite" taken out of anything artistic or liberty related. The result is often a "jumbo sized bite" taken out of:

    1. The time of the legislative branches of the states that approve these bills. Thanks to various politically aspiring politicians that write up, debate, and vote on these bills that they know will get overturned but make them look like they give a shit about your children, state legislators, who often don't work very much anyway, waste time that could be spent on anything else, maybe even stuff that would be constitutional.

    2. The time of both state and federal judiciaries. They have to take the time to issue injunctions against these laws and hear the cases that result in said laws being found unconstutional 100% of the time, further bogging down an already vastly overburdened court system.

    3. The tax payer's ass. From this earlier story's [slashdot.org] linked to article [next-gen.biz]:

    ... some states are now having to foot the legal bills of the parties who took them to court in the first place. The ESA is trying to extract the $500,000 that Illinois still owes it and this past week Michigan got a bill from the ESA for $180,000 in legal fees.

    And this story in particular:

    To date, the ESA has fought and won nine out of nine cases on these issues, having the state laws declared unconstitutional. Furthermore, the ESA has sought and won more than $1.5 million dollars in attorneys fees.

    And let's not forget it's not just the tax payers in the states in question that have to pay for fucktard legislation, though they do front the lion's share, everyone gets a little. When these cases come before Federal Courts on appeal, as is often the case, remember, someone pays the salaries of the Federal employees.

    Not to mention the loss of all credibility a state suffers when it passes one of these bills, as it has been shown that these get shot down every time and do nothing but cost time and money that could be spent on anything else.

    Score another point for dumbocracy and the retards that put these retards into power and keep them there.
  • by jonwil (467024) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @10:11PM (#17320958)
    Nintendo vs Tengen over who owned the rights to produce Tetris on the NES. Without this lawsuit in favor of nintendo, would we have had Tetris for the Game Boy? (and would Nintendo have become king of the handheld market?)

    Nintendo vs Bung over cart copying devices. I believe this was one of the first lawsuits filed under the newly implemented Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

    There is another Nintendo lawsuit involving the copy protection for the Nintendo Gameboy. Basicly the gameboy will not boot a cart unless it has the Nintendo logo data in the right place on the cart. There was a lawsuit over this (I dont know the particulars or who the other party was) where Nintendo argued that copying the nintendo logo was a copyright violation. I believe the court ruled that (like in the Sega vs Accolade case) it was OK to use the copyrighted nintendo logo for the specific purpose of making gameboy carts.

    I am surprised that Nintendo didnt use stronger protection on the Gameboy Advance (such as encrypting the cart data somehow and having decryption done on the fly by the GBA). It may not have stopped chinese pirates from decapping the GBA CPU or decryption ASIC and reading out the secret key. But it would have meant that anything to do with GBA en/decrption falls squarely under the DMCA.
  • Imagine store shelves and digital distribution filled with collections of user created content where the original publisher/developer has no creative control over the product or royalties on the sales.

    Isn't that exactly the kind of innovation that patent law is supposed to encourage and protect? Why would I not want to go to the store and have lots of choices? Isn't this a bit like GM saying no one can sell me dice to hang from my rear-view mirror because it take "create control" of their product away
    • I love when people use the car analogy when pointing out the silliness that is IP law. It easily puts things into perspective. We allow technical companies to get away with things that would we would NEVER stand for in our cars.
  • Not everything is black and white. Theres stuff that the IP owners will dislike. Stuff that some people will think is right, and others will think is wrong, and laws will say nothing or a unknowm thing.

    To avoid gray areas Free Software work with greats effors, and avoid to "tain the kernel" and other ideas to work on white area. Modders cant avoid "tainting the kernel", because his work mean redistributing stuff that is already owned by somehome. Most modding is wellcome by the ip owner, so you can contin

The bogosity meter just pegged.

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