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DRM The Courts Games

Judge Grudgingly Awards $3.6 Million In DRM Circumvention Case 227

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-hate-to-do-this dept.
Fluffeh writes "The case involves an online game, MapleStory, and some people who set up an alternate server, UMaple, allowing users to play the game with the official game client, but without logging into the official MapleStory servers. In this case, the people behind UMaple apparently ignored the lawsuit, leading to a default judgment. Although annoyed with MapleStory (The Judge knocked down a request for $68,764.23 — in profits made by UMaple — down to just $398.98), the law states a minimum of $200 per infringement. Multiply that by 17,938 users of UMaple... and you get $3.6 million. In fact, it sounds like the court would very much like to decrease the amount, but notes that 'nevertheless, the court is powerless to deviate from the DMCA's statutory minimum.' Eric Goldman also has some further op-ed and information regarding the case and judgement."
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Judge Grudgingly Awards $3.6 Million In DRM Circumvention Case

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  • by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @08:14AM (#39732677)

    UMaple users can play MapleStory (using the MapleStory client software) without ever touching MapleStory's servers. UMaple then solicits "donations" that lead to enhanced privileges in the UMaple environment.

    In this case some penalty does seem justified
    UMaple was after all making money from software written by MapleStory, without their permission

    • I want to hear the followup: is any portion of the default judgement ever collected, or does the judgement just amount to a Cease and Desist?

      • If it were collectible, it would be quite noteworthy as one of the biggest anti-circumvention awards of all time. But, it's not collectible.

        The linked op-ed doesn't say why.

        • by TheCRAIGGERS (909877) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @08:58AM (#39732907)

          If it were collectible, it would be quite noteworthy as one of the biggest anti-circumvention awards of all time. But, it's not collectible.

          The linked op-ed doesn't say why.

          This is pure conjecture on my part, but my assumption is that the creators and the servers it runs on live outside the US, which is also the reason they ignored the lawsuit. Just like TPB happily ignoring (and proudly displaying) all the various nastygrams sent from US lawyers over the years.

          • by Rogerborg (306625)

            Plaintiff is registered in Delaware, judgement is in California - it's a fair bet the defendants live there.

            Of course, getting a judgement and collecting on it aren't the same thing.

    • I agree, but not to the tune of 3.6 million dollars either, and I think the Judge understands that.

      I hope UMaple appeals the ruling to try to reduce costs down.

    • You're kidding, right? There is absolutely no reason to believe that the money people donated to UMaple would have otherwise been spent with MapleStory. MapleStory probably made money as a result of UMaple existing as it drew people into the community. When the judge making the finding is incredulous at the awards he is being forced to hand down, you know things have gotten out of hand.
      • by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @08:29AM (#39732757)

        There is absolutely no reason to believe that the money people donated to UMaple would have otherwise been spent with MapleStory.

        I'm not talking about a potential loss of revenue for MapleStory, I'm talking about the gain in revenue for UMaple
        Kind of like the difference between downloading a movie off TPB and selling copies of the movie for a profit
        And, yeah, the penalty does seem excessive.As I said, "partly" justified

        • Grr. This is a pet peeve of mine.

          I'm not talking about a potential loss of revenue for MapleStory, I'm talking about the gain in revenue for UMaple
          Kind of like the difference between downloading a movie off TPB and selling copies of the movie for a profit

          Copyright law is supposed to protect the artist, not stop people from making a profit. The problem is that the people who have the artistic talent are not seeing results for their hard work, not that someone else is making money. You have to remember that t

          • Grr. This is a pet peeve of mine.

            I'm not talking about a potential loss of revenue for MapleStory, I'm talking about the gain in revenue for UMaple Kind of like the difference between downloading a movie off TPB and selling copies of the movie for a profit

            Copyright law is supposed to protect the artist, not stop people from making a profit. The problem is that the people who have the artistic talent are not seeing results for their hard work, not that someone else is making money. You have to remember that the wrongdoing is against the artist. What harm does the money do to the artist, over giving it away for free? About the only difference I can see is that the giving away for free simply saturates the market more with the illegitimate goods, since more people would take it. But for some reason (latent jealousy is about the only reason I can come up with), making money is frowned upon, and even though we don't prosecute it, it somehow makes every crime worse.

            That's definitely a problem, but not the one at issue here. I'd say that problem has to do with the contracts artists enter into with big companies to sell their work for them. In this case the artist (or developer) was already paid the pittance they agreed to write the software for I'm quite sure.

          • by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday April 19, 2012 @11:04AM (#39734073) Homepage Journal

            Copyright law is supposed to protect the artist, not stop people from making a profit.

            Ok, say you make a CD and put it up for sale. Someone buys a copy and burns a copy of his copy for his friend, who has never heard of you. You have lost nothing. If his friend likes your CD he's likely to buy a copy of your next one and you earn even more. Now, if your customer sells a copy of his copy to his friend, that's money that should have gone to you, but didn't.

            Now, if you sell a copy of your work for five bucks and he turns around and resells his legitimate copy for ten, he's made five bucks but that's perfectly reasonable. You sold him that copy and he now owns it, and if he can sell it at a profit he's free to.

            • Ok, say you make a CD and put it up for sale. Someone buys a copy and burns a copy of his copy for his friend, who has never heard of you. You have lost nothing. If his friend likes your CD he's likely to buy a copy of your next one and you earn even more. Now, if your customer sells a copy of his copy to his friend, that's money that should have gone to you, but didn't.

              I don't understand how I've suddenly lost more when someone who hasn't (yet) heard of me paid money for a copy than if they'd taken it for

              • There is a higher probability of someone who pays for a pirated copy to pay for an original copy as compared to someone who gets the pirated copy for free
                Regional pricing has (not very significantly, but noticeably) affected the pirated game market in India for example
              • by geekoid (135745)

                If I buy your CD. The resell it at a profit, in no way to you deserve that money.
                If I make copies and swell those, then I have violated copyright law...but that still doesn't mean you 'deserved' that money.

          • by geekoid (135745)

            NO. the wrong doing is to who has the rights. artists are free to give or sell the rights away.
            Copyright protects the whoever as the legal rights.

            Unless you are saying artists don't have the right to enter into contract agreements.

        • by nschubach (922175) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:08AM (#39732985) Journal

          It's more like someone writing a web server that works great with Chrome or some Chrome features and creating a website that they charge access to get to...

          Now, is it appropriate for Google to go after that company because they are making money?

    • by Lucky_Norseman (682487) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @08:33AM (#39732783)
      "minimum of $200 per infringement" why is the $200 multiplied by the number of clients? Its the server that they claim is infringing, why not just $200 per server?
      • by c (8461) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Thursday April 19, 2012 @08:59AM (#39732921)

        > Its the server that they claim is infringing, why not just $200 per server?

        Because the plaintiff's goal is to maximize the damages. It was a default judgement, so the defendent didn't show up to do anything to minimize anything.

        If there'd been an actual trial with both parties, there's a good chance that the judge might have bought that argument. Or the argument that it was the actual users who did the circumvention. Or, IIRC, there's an exception for compatibility purposes. Plenty of options.

        There could be an appeal. Or, if UMaple doesn't have much in the way of assets, they might just declare bankruptcy and walk away from the whole thing. That'd probably be the smart move.

    • by The-Forge (84105)

      But if you take that logic to it's extreme you wind up with Microsoft or Google suing the whole net because you're using their intellectual property (the browser) to access a services other than a Microsoft or Google one without getting their permission and making money. I know this thought will never happen, but it's still a extension of the logic.

      Back to the crux of this though, The UMaple people clean room reverse engineered the MapleStory server to run a completely separate environment. There was no t

    • Oh no! Not making money without asking permission!

      Why should someone who runs a server have to get the permission of whoever wrote the client?
      • by jimshatt (1002452)
        I hope they didn't count me, since I play on UMaple with telnet! (Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Maplix is.)
      • by bjourne (1034822)
        Is that a rhetorical question? The answer is because that is the way the law (DMCA) is written.
        • The OP said that the fact that UMaple makes money without first getting the permission of MapleStory is inherently bad. The law is not the definition of "good" or "bad," so I am simply asking for justification for that position. Why should someone who runs a server, who is providing a service to willing customers, first have to get the permission of the people who wrote a client that can connect to that server?

          The fact that the law says they are supposed to do such a thing is not relevant; the law is n
        • law, -s: Rule created to protect those that create them.
          criminal, -s: Someone who cannot first change a law to make his actions legal.

    • by Asic Eng (193332) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @08:58AM (#39732911)

      UMaple was after all making money from software written by MapleStory, without their permission

      So what? If the users legally obtained the software, they don't owe MapleStory any further income.

      ObCarAnalogy: If you buy a car you don't need to have it serviced by the manufacturer, you don't need to buy fuel from them and you can get your tires elsewhere.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        But what if you agreed to when you bought the car?

        • by Asic Eng (193332)
          That would mean you entered a contract with the car manufacturer. It's not the problem of the petrol station though - they don't have such a contract.
    • by nschubach (922175)

      So, I have a question for you. If someone writes an Exchange server by reverse engineering the protocols that Outlook connects to and interfaces with... and someone pays for access to that server... the people that wrote the server should have to pay Microsoft because Microsoft wrote the Outlook Client?

      • If
        a) The protocols were proprietary and not open protocols(IDK if Exchange uses IMAP,etc or some proprietary stuff)
        AND
        b)The Outlook client was free with an implied understanding that it would be used with an Exchange server, instead of being sold as a separate piece of software
        Then probably yes
        • by nschubach (922175)

          a.) Reverse engineering (clean room style) a protocol is not illegal or forbidden (see Wine)
          b.) I see no reason that this point is the responsibility of the people who wrote the server. Maybe the person running the client is violating the intent of the application, but it's not in any way the fault of the server software.

        • You are not entitled to suing just because your business model of bait and switch failed.

          Or, actually... it seems you are...

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      So slashdot should also be penalized, right? They solicit payments that leads to enhanced privileges: http://slashdot.org/faq/subscriptions.shtml [slashdot.org]

      And I'm pretty sure they didn't get permission from Microsoft and Mozzila and Google and Opera and Apple and all the other web browser producers whose software their users use to access slashdot.

      In fact I know they didn't since I just accessed slashdot with a web browser I just wrote and they certainly never got my permission.

      • If those companies owned HTTP, then sure
        Or, if the intent of IE,Firefox,etc was to access only their manufacturers websites
        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          Both are arguable.

          But that's irrelevant since neither of them are in the original claim the bredth of which is all I was disputing.

        • If those companies owned HTTP, then sure

          I know you're trying to use an extreme/absurd example here, but it brings up a point I've always found interesting about DMCA.

          Other than indirectly through patents (and that's an important exception), there doesn't seem to be any law, DMCA included, which recognizes that a protocol or a DRM scheme can be "owned" by anyone. DMCA's language is always about who holds the copyright of the DRMed work, not who invented the DRM scheme. That party is whose authorization is

    • The users bought the software and used it as they saw fit, on a competitors server. Why should anyone need permission from MapleStory to use a product they've already paid for.

      Judgement or not, I hope they never collect a dime.

    • I agree that a penalty is justified, but 3.5 million is certainly not justified. I don't even think several thousand is justified. It's a sad day when even the judge even agrees but our laws are so screwed up that he's forced to accept it. I am curious why the $200 penalty was multiplied by the user count, though. If it's a server, wouldn't that be a single infraction?

      As for what UMaple actually made, I find it hard to look down on them too hard. Only some odd $400 in AdSense revenue? I doubt their actual d

    • UMaple users can play MapleStory (using the MapleStory client software) without ever touching MapleStory's servers. UMaple then solicits "donations" that lead to enhanced privileges in the UMaple environment.

      In this case some penalty does seem justified
      UMaple was after all making money from software written by MapleStory, without their permission

      Why should the producers of MapleStory care if the infringer makes any money from it?

    • Another example of computer laws/licensing not making sense in the real world.

      >> "UMaple was after all making money from software written by MapleStory, without their permission."

      If UMaple were making or selling car parts they would be OK. Autozone or NAPA sell parts not manufactured by the car maker. Instead of donations they can outright sell parts that service or enhance a car built by a 3rd party. They would be a similar relationship to the customer - they are offering an alternative to using f

    • by aztektum (170569)

      How so? MapleStory is free to play, AFAIK. They give the client away. So there is no money to be made from the client itself.

      Did UMaple break into MapleStory's servers and steal their server code? I find no evidence of it.

      Are we under an obligation to use a free software client only to access the servers the company says?

  • by c_g_hills (110430) <chaz@noSpam.chaz6.com> on Thursday April 19, 2012 @08:30AM (#39732765) Homepage Journal
    I don't see how they work out that it is 17938 infringements when they only set up one server, so they have only infringed once.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      I agree. I'm sure the law says "per work" infringed. not per person infringing. The rationale for the damages I thought was that you can't know how many users infringed.
    • by tomhath (637240) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @08:49AM (#39732861)
      FTA:

      17 USC 1203 sets a statutory damages minimum of $200 per act of circumvention. UMaples' client, the "UMaple Launcher," allegedly bypassed the access controls in MapleStory's client software. UMaple had 17,938 users.

      I suppose one could argue what "act of circumvention" means. But apparently it doesn't mean 17K users avoiding payment to the rightful owner of the software is just one act.

      • by Amouth (879122)

        but by that argument wouldn't it be one count for the server and then one for each of the clients, as they knew they not using the autorized server.. so really this defendant is liable for one count and each of the users are each in their own liable for a count.. so if they wnat the 3.6m they will need to solicit it from the actual 17k people who bypassed the DRM

        • yes, that's the way I read it as well.

        • by tomhath (637240)
          That's a reasonable argument. But the article also mentions that UMaple didn't try to defend itself against the claim of 17k acts, so the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff by default. The judgement is probably irrelevant anyway since I assume the owners of UMaple live outside the US.
    • by Megane (129182) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:38AM (#39733211) Homepage

      I don't see how they work out that it is 17938 infringements when they only set up one server, so they have only infringed once.

      That would probably because that was the argument from the only side that showed up.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Because it's an infringe to allow people to access the code you have circumvented.

  • I vaguely recall that someone had developed a program that mimicked battle.net, so people could host their own Starcraft game servers. Blizzard eventually sued and shut down the program.

    It sounds like the facts are similar, except that in the MapleStory case, the people were making money whereas the battle.net clone was just some developer who released his stuff open-source.

    Anyone with a better memory than me?

    • by NotQuiteInsane (981960) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @08:55AM (#39732891) Homepage

      You're thinking about Bnetd -- Blizzard sued the dev team under the terms of the DMCA. As I recall, the main issue was that they'd created a Battle.net emulator which didn't implement CD key checking -- Blizzard refused to allow Bnetd to validate CD keys against Battle.net (citing security and piracy fears), and proceeded to send a DMCA takedown to the Bnetd project's ISP.

      Blizzard then sued the Bnetd developers and their ISP (in addition to the takedown request), alleging copyright infringement, trademark infringement, breaking the Battle.net and several Blizzard games' EULAs *and* several DMCA violations to boot. The EFF defended the dev team, but Blizzard still won the lawsuit, the Bnetd.org domain, and a judgment against the original developers.

      Proof positive that Blizzard were definitely in the "evil" category long before the Activision merger.

      (However this didn't stop the GPL'd source code of the Bnetd project ending up on many, *many* servers worldwide... far out of reach of the DMCA restrictions)

      (Disclaimer: any opinions presented herein are my own, and not necessarily those of any other entity)

  • ... do this with all cheats (i.e. banks) we'd all be rich.

  • Where is the DRM circumvention. Did UMaple modify the original commercial clients? If all they did was set up a server that somebody accessed with a client, how is that circumventing DRM. It might be using the software for a purpose other than intended, but, my wife who teaches kindergarten takes old CDs and the kids make mosaics from them. That to is using it for a purpose other than intended.

    I'm not saying what they did was legal, but it seems that a different statute than DRM circumvention would be at

    • by jimshatt (1002452)
      I hope they're not selling those mosaics, or she'll be in trouble! I stopped using them as a coaster, because I'm too afraid of MPAA raids (and I don't even live in the US!).
    • by PSVMOrnot (885854) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:06AM (#39732977)

      The server is not the issue here, or at least not the main one.

      The part that is landing UMaple with the $3.6 million fine is that in order to make the official MapleStory client look to UMaple's server instead they had to write a little launcher app (UMaple Launcher) which would presumably do something like an in-memory edit to change the server address the client used. Possibly with a modification to some sort of handshaking protocol.

      It's the technological equivalent of ignoring a 'do not enter' sign, rather than the actual bypassing of security, but sadly it still seems to count.

      This launcher is the part that is being used by the 17K users, and so where the court is getting the 17K counts of infringement from.

      • by sandytaru (1158959) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:27AM (#39733121) Journal
        That is actually pretty common. I use a modified launcher for my MMORPG, which then allows me access to third party plugins. Since the group that made the launcher has not solicited donations, and all the play still occurs on the main servers so we still pay the original licensing fees and monthly fees to the actual company producing the game, they haven't gone after the group that made the circumventing launcher just yet.
      • by ArhcAngel (247594)

        It's the technological equivalent of ignoring a 'do not enter' sign, rather than the actual bypassing of security

        I think it's more akin to you telling your GPS you want to go to Wendy's but YOU installed a hack on your GPS to redirect you to Wendie's instead. The hack of course was provided to you by Wendie's

    • Hold it, hold it... Those AOL coasters I've had for the longest time look stunningly like CDs now that I look at them...

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:03AM (#39732951)

    In fact, it sounds like the court would very much like to decrease the amount, but notes that 'nevertheless, the court is powerless to deviate from the DMCA's statutory minimum.'

    The court should have ruled that a $3.6 million award would violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against "excessive fines," and that this portion of the DMCA was therefore unconstitutional as applied to this particular case. (It's not that unusual for courts to decide that while a law is constitutional "on its face," it is unconstitutional "as applied."

  • The only thing I remember Maple Story for was how they blocked any browser that wasn't Internet Explorer from even viewing their website a few years ago. Screw them.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:15AM (#39733021) Homepage

    But he chose not to.

  • Default judgment (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot.uberm00@net> on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:15AM (#39733025) Homepage Journal

    Let this be a lesson: If you're sued, even if you think the lawsuit is the dumbest thing on Earth, you should still show up to defend yourself. If you don't, things like this happen.

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      Let this be a lesson: If you're sued, even if you think the lawsuit is the dumbest thing on Earth, you should still show up to defend yourself. If you don't, things like this happen.

      Unless you live beyond the reach of the country with the dumbest lawsuit on Earth.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Clearly you know nothing about lawsuits.
        The problems is too fold:
        The media only talks about things they can twist into a spin.
        Insurance companies continue to make up stories about lawsuit in order to get 'tort reform'. Which we don't need.

        The lawsuits in American aren't really that bad.

    • things like what? Being able to ignore the penalty because it's a non-US company that isn't held to US law?

    • What would you do if you were sued in a Turkmenistan court for using purple text on your website? Because apparenty they outlawed that in the 90's and you didn't know about it.

    • by jmerlin (1010641)
      Sounds like the Salem witch trials. Get accused, defend yourself at great personal risk else face unreasonable punishment. This is not a criminal matter, so they don't need proof either. And if you want to defend yourself, I hope you have super, super deep pockets. What's next? Do we throw them in water and determine that they are guilty if they float?

      What we need above almost everything else in this country is Tort reform. Being able to sue another person with such impunity (especially massive cor
    • by Tom (822)

      you should still show up to defend yourself

      No, you should talk to a real lawyer.

      Showing up can also be shotgun blast to your own foot. It all depends.

      I was sued in California in the DeCSS case. Fortunately, that generated enough headlines that the EFF became involved. I had a long and very revealing phone call with one of their lawyers. You see, I am from Germany and I've never been to California in my life, nor do I have any business there or any other interaction.
      Before calling the lawyer, I had wanted to write a polite letter to the court, explai

  • by Cajun Hell (725246) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:16AM (#39733029) Homepage Journal

    DMCA isn't what is most fucked up here. The real problem is for default judgment to automatically mean total lack of judgment. If both parties don't show up, then for some reason the judge is required to ignore how the facts compare to the law. Justice isn't even half-heartedly attempted.

    I suspect this ridiculous process is one of those things that is long-established by judicial tradition but has never been penned by any legislator, so the people have have no say in the matter.

    • Re:Default judgment (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MobyDisk (75490) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:47AM (#39733299) Homepage

      If both parties don't show up

      That isn't what happened. In this case, only the defense didn't show up. Since they provided no defense, they are guilty. If both parties don't show-up then there is no evidence of a crime so common law jurisprudence requires that the judge rule in favor of the defendant.

      • by jpapon (1877296)

        Since they provided no defense, they are guilty.

        I think this is the part the OP has a problem with. Unfortunately, in an adversarial judicial system, it's the only possibility (unless of course the case of the side which shows up is completely without merit).

      • by jmerlin (1010641)
        So what you're saying is that the defendant is guilty until proven innocent?
    • It's a US law, and a non-US company.

      The company doesn't give a shit about US law.

      Fix the law(s) if you want it to work better.

    • Laws systems usually ignore logic and reason. Generally, trials are theaters where you have two actors - the prosecution and defense - where those who interpret and best lies wins. Who is really telling the truth is a detail skipped.
  • by MasterPatricko (1414887) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:44AM (#39733261) Homepage

    Instead, Plaintiff merely submitted 252 raw pages of documents obtained through discovery without so much as a summary of the information contained in those documents or an explanation to the Court how any of the line items contained therein directly relate to Kumar’s UMaple activities.

    Seems to me that's the real reason the judge wasn't feeling like awarding any more damages, not some kind of protest against the DMCA or statutory damages.

  • A properly formed jury could have nullified the law and saved everyone a huge amount of grief here.

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