Category — Courts
wo Florida bar disciplinary proceedings are pending against Jack Thompson. On April 12, 2007, the Supreme Court of Florida warned Jack Thompson that he could be sanctioned if he continued to submit inappropriate filings. Thompson filed over 50 subsequent filings. On February 19, the Court issued a ‘show cause’ order:
It appears to the Court that you have abused the legal system by submitting numerous frivolous and inappropriate filings in this Court. Therefore, it is ordered that you shall show cause on or before March 5, 2008, why this Court should not find that you have abused the legal system process and impose upon you a sanction for abusing the legal system…
Apparently Mr. Thompson was unable to show such cause. The court decided Thompson’s “constant abusive filings” were repetitive, frivolous and insulting. As such the Court (per Curium – 7 concurring judges) has issued the following order sanctioning Mr. Thompson:
Accordingly, in order to preserve the right of access for all litigants and promote the interests of justice, the Clerk of this Court is hereby instructed to reject for filing any future pleadings, petitions, motions, documents, or other filings submitted by John Bruce Thompson, unless signed by a member in good standing of The Florida Bar other than himself. Under the sanction herein imposed, Thompson is not being denied access to the courts; that access is simply being limited due to his abusiveness. Thompson may petition the Court, but may do so only through the assistance of counsel, whenever such counsel determines that the filing has merit and can be filed in good faith. However, Thompson’s frivolous and abusive filings must immediately come to an end. Further, if Thompson submits a filing in violation of this order, he may be subjected to contempt proceedings or other appropriate sanctions..
Five Hundred Mexican police officers raided four Mexican video game piracy operations in the Tepito area of Mexico City (the center of the local black market) netting some 28,000 pirated game copies, 290 DVD/CD burners and 900,000 game covers.
In June 2007, the British Board of Film Classification refused to rate Rockstar’s highly violent and controversial video game Manhunt 2 – effectively banning it from distribution in the U.K. The BBFC called it “unremittingly bleak, callous and sadistic”. An edited version of the game was submitted to the BBFC in October 2007. It too was effectively banned. This was the first video game ban in Britain since 1997.
Rockstar appealed the ban to the Video Appeals Committee of the BBFC which ruled last December, 4 to 3, in Rockstar’s favour. The BBFC sought judicial review of the VAC’s decision from the British High Court. The court found that VAC’s decision was flawed by a clear error of law (see here, here and here). The High Court requested the VAC to reconsider its decision under new guidelines specified by the court.
In January 2008, the VAC did reconsider under the new guidelines but voted once again, 4 to 3, in favour of giving the game a certificate 18 rating, meaning it can be sold in Britain but is suitable for adults only.
In view of the second ruling, the BBFC released a statement saying it will not challenge the ruling any further and will issue the ’18′ rating. The edited version of the game (which is the same as the ‘reworked’ version of the game released in the U.S. under an “M’ rating) is expected to be on U.K. store shelves in June.
Click here for Wikipedia’s Timeline.
Dale’s Note: I have not yet found the text of the High Court decision or the ‘new guidelines’ it presented to the VAC. If I do, I will post them here.
Police Report (April 26, 2007)
A day after the Virginia Tech massacre, police in Fort Bend Texas investigated an Asian high school senior, Paul Hwang, as a potential “terrorist threat” for making a counter-strike map mod based on his high-school, Clements High. His family’s home was subsequently searched.
No charges were laid but ornamental knives and a hammer were seized from his room. The student was transferred to another school. The parents are appealing the transfer.
Note: It is unclear from conflicting reports whether the student was arrested or not.
Dale’s Comment: This is an example of a talented Counter-Strike modder being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is nothing unusual about high-schoolers making mods for the popular Counter-Strike video game. In a twist on the common writing adage “write what you know”, this unfortunate student modded what he knew, and got caught up in a storm of contemporary controversy.
Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release (April 17, 2007)
Text of Amended Answer and Counterclaim (March 28, 2007)
- amended to remove all but one paragraph of the counterclaim
Text of Original Answer and Counterclaim (March 21, 2007)
Text of Complaint (March 13, 2007)
Take-Two and Jack Thompson have settled their GTA IV/Manhunt 2 suit and counter suit. Thompson has agreed:
- not to sue or threaten to sue over the sale and distribution of ANY game – not just Manhunt 2 and GTA IV as sought in the original complaint – designed, published, manufactured, distributed or sold by Take-Two, its affiliates, subsidiaries etc.;
- not to threaten such suits; and
- to communicate with Take-Two only through its lawyers.
However, Thompson will still be free to criticize the content and distribution of such games and to represent third-party plaintiffs in actions against Take-Two, its affiliates, subsidiaries etc. alleging individual harm.
Dale’s Comment: It is odd for a settlement to contain an explicit agreement to limit communication with an opposing party to communication through counsel as the rules of professional conduct in most jurisdictions specifically prohibit lawyers from communicating directly with persons represented by counsel.
Categories: Controller Cases • Copyright Cases • Employment Law Cases • Injunctions • Misc. Contract Cases • Non-Compete Cases • Settlements • Trade Secret Cases • Trademark Cases • Unfair Business Practice Casses
In February, Activision launched a new lawsuit against The Ant Commandos (TAC), Reverb Communications and three former Red Octane executives/employees: former executive producer John Tam, brand manager [name removed on request] and hardware group member Jamie Yang. These former executives founded a new company with TAC – Loadstone Entertainment.
Activision has settled with John Tam and [name removed on request]. The two have consented to a permanent injunction restraining the two from:
- distributing a demo created by TAM incorporating elements of Guitar Hero II;
- using or disclosing any Activision trade secrets;
- taking steps to develop drum, guitar or synthesizer-based games for the next year;
- “working on” a guitar controller for the XBox 360 version of Guitar Hero II for six months after release; and
- competing against an undisclosed list of peripheral devices for six months after Activision commercially releases them.
The two were also ordered to return all materials relating to Activision’s proprietary information.
As far as I’m aware, no settlement has thus far been reached with Jamie Yang, Reverb or TAC.
Dale’s Comment [written April 26, 2007]: On a personal note, I was one of the lucky one’s to pick up Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360 on launch day. The local Best Buy had about 100 of them on the morning of the launch. As I understand it, they sold out within hours and, to the date of this writing (owing partially to extreme demand and problems with some versions of the initially released guitar peripheral), I still can’t find them for sale anywhere in Toronto. I would like to purchase a second guitar peripheral. I’m having a blast with this game. As one of the commentators in a recent Joystiq Podcast pointed out, my fingers ache and want to stop playing long before the rest of me does!
In what seems to be little more than another “look and feel” decision specific to the video game industry, the U.K. Court of Appeal upheld a prior Chancery Division decision ruling against Nova Productions in finding, yet again, that general ideas behind computer games, or in this case specific game mechanics, and other programs are not protectable under U.K. copyright:
“Merely making a program which will emulate another but which in no way involves copying the program code or any of the program’s graphics is legitimate,”
In this case, the court found no copyright in the “imagery” relating to either: (i) lines of dots indicating the direction of a pool shot; or (ii) an “in-time” mechanic that permits the player to alter the power of a simulated pool shot by timing the shot relative to a pulsing power level – see the images in the Annexes of the HTML version of the Chancery Division decision. Providing similar, but different, “imagery” to depict the same game mechanic idea is not infringing.
Text of Complaint (March 13, 2007)
In response to pre-existing threats form Jack Thompson, Take-Two Interactive has preemptively asked the Southern District Court of Florida to provide declaratory and injunctive relief against Jack Thompson to stop him from bringing suit:
- to stop the sale and distribution of Manhunt 2 (due out in the summer of 2007) and GTA IV (due out in October 2007); and
- seeking pre-publication review of the games;
as he did in the past with Bully. In the words of the complaint:
…declaratory relief is especially necessary here because Thompson has a history of making multiple threats of legal action, whether substantiated or not, both against Plaintiff as well as the retailers who purchase the video games and offer them for sale to the public.
Dale’s Comment: Interestingly, the firm representing Take-Two in this action, Blank Rome, LLP, is the same firm that previously had sought to have Jack Thompson held in contempt of court.
Almost a full year after Immersion won an appeal brought by Sony in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, after it lost at trial, and after a year of Sony marketing types insisting that rumble was a last-generation feature that wouldn’t be compatible with its new Sixaxis tilt control scheme, Sony has settled its long-standing patent dispute with Immersion and has licensed Immersion’s patented force feedback technology for use with future “PlayStation format products.”.
Sony will pay Immersion the $82 million previously awarded (Immersion had originally sought $299 million) plus $8.7 million in pre-judgment interest, in addition to compulsory license fees ordered by the District Court that were already paid.” Sony will also pay Immersion royalty/license fees of $1.875 million in each of the next twelve quarters (3 years), beginning in April 2007, totaling $22.5 million, along with other fees and royalties.
Dale’s Comment [April 30, 2007]: This couldn’t have come soon enough for this gamer. Aside from the exorbitant price and the lack of compelling games, a primary reason I haven’t yet purchased a PS3 (and yes, as I write this, PS3s are stacked high in my local Best Buy) is because I don’t want to play games without force feedback. Force feedback is integral to identifying the location of attacking foe and, frankly, rumble adds another sensory input that emerses the player more fully into the game. To my mind, Sony’s decision to release a console without rumble was akin to releasing a console without sound.
Sony has not yet announced or released a controller with rumble. But, on April 19, 2007 Sony released a PS3 firmware upgrade that activated rumble functionality for PS1 and PS2 games played on the PS3. On April 27, Engadget reported that Sony and Immersion were in talks to incorporate rumble within PS3 controllers. It appears we can expect a rumble-enabled PS3 controller sometime soon. There will likely be no PS3 in my household before then. But, the forthcoming Lair and Warhawk games are mighty tempting.
Anyway, so RedOctane sued the Ant Commandos, claiming rights infringement on their popular Gibson SG brand of guitar controllers. The Commandos fired back claiming that the SG stepped all over their existing patents on technology for 3-button Guitar Freaks! guitars. Everybody was fingerpointing, it sucked.
While details of the settlement have not been disclosed a representative of Ant Commandos confirmed to GameSpot that its products would continue to be distributed. Jack Black and the Rightous Gods of Rock will be happy with this outcome!
Dale’s Comment: Until I discovered that neither the Ant Commando nor the RedOctane controllers will work with the PS3, one of the primary reasons I wanted to purchase a PS3 was to play Guitar Hero. I had hoped that like most PS2 games, it would be playable on the PS3. Happily, Guitar Hero 2 is coming to the XBox 360 so I won’t need to purchase a PS2 in order to finally play this game.
Wolfman Productions was using Rockstar's GTA San Andreas logos/trademarks on its webpage promoting Jack Thompson's college detate tour. Jack Thompson is on the record for saying he is out to destroy Rockstar. Rockstar's parent, Take Two, sent a cease-and desist order to Wolfman Productions. Wolfman complied. As of this posting Master Chief, Laura Croft, Doom and Postal images/trademarks/depictions are still on that page.
Stephen Fitgerald offered a while-you-wait chipping/modding service at computer fairs contrary to the U.K. Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (copyright circumvention offences). He offered pre-chipped consoles and/or would install copy-protection and region-code defeating chips in PS2s and Xboxes while customers waited.
After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to 120 hours of community service, ordered to pay £2,500 towards prosecution costs and was subject to a confiscation order for £2,710 under the British Proceeds of Crime Act (2002). He has until May 23, May 2007 to pay-up, or face three months in jail. The maximum penalty is two years in prison and an unlimited fine.
Dale's Comment: Gamasutra characterized this case as being "in stark contrast" to Australia's recent legalization of region-code defeating mod-chips. While Australia did make it legal for users to mod game consoles to defeat region-coding, Australian has not made it legal to install chips to defeat copy protection systems.
As part of an investigation that started last August, the RCMP have seized about one-thousand counterfeit “Magic Mega Game Plug and Play” video game systems from three Ottawa-area malls. The consoles were sold for about $60 and features over 150 copyright-infringing Nintendo games among others. No charges have been laid – yet.
Text of Kirby v. Sega (Sept 25, 2006)
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal has held that Sega has a First Amendment exception defense to a right of publicity claim made against it in the context of a game character that shared similar traits to a real-world celebrity.
Sega created the video game Space Channel 5 featuring a character named Ulala, a reporter who wears a short skirt and platform boots and has pink hair – all of which are physical similarities to the former lead singer of the 1990s funk band Deee-LiteKirby – Kieren Kirby.
In this ruling the court held that Sega had passed the "transformative" test set out in the earlier Comedy III Productions v. Gary Saderup case by ‘adding something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message." Specifically:
If the “product containing he celebrity’s likeness is so transformed that it has become primarily the defendant’s own expression” of what he or she is trying to create or portray, rather than the celebrity’s likeness, it is protected.
In applying the test to the facts of the case, Justice Paul Boland concluded:
Ulala is more than a mere likeness or literal depiction of Kirby. Ulala contains sufficient expressive content to constitute a “transformative work” under the test articulated by the Supreme Court. First, Ulala is not a literal depiction of Kirby. As discussed above, the two share similarities. However, they also differ quite a bit: Ulala’s extremely tall,slender computer-generated physique is dissimilar from Kirby’s. Evidence also indicated Ulala was based, at least in part, on the Japanese style of “anime.” Ulala’s typicalhairstyle and primary costume differ from those worn by Kirby who varied her costumesand outfits, and wore her hair in several styles. Moreover, the setting for the game thatfeatures Ulala – as a space-age reporter in the 25th century – is unlike any public depiction of Kirby. Finally, we agree with the trial court that the dance moves performed by Ulala – typically short, quick movements of the arms, legs and head – are unlikeKirby’s movements in any of her music videos. Taken together, these differences demonstrate Ulala is “transformative,” and respondents added creative elements to createa new expression.
According to this FindLaw.com the Kirby case is at odds with a prior Missouri Supreme Court case setting up a possible Supreme Court challenge.
Text of Short Summary Judgment Ruling (November 29, 2006)
Text of Preliminary Injunction (August 25, 2006)
Text of Temporary Restraining Order
Text of ESA Complaint
Text of Violent Game Bill (HB 1381)
Hot on the heals of the 7th Circuit’s upholding the permanent injunction against Illinois’ Safe Games Illinois Act’, Federal District Court Judge James Brady issued a bench ruling permanently (followed by this short summary judgment ruling) enjoining the application of Louisiana’s, Jack Thompson-drafted, Violent Game Bill.
ESA’s response to the ruling:
“What makes Judge Brady’s action unusual and remarkable is that he issued his ruling from the bench rather than through a written decision, a strong signal that he felt the State’s arguments were so without merit that they didn’t even require a detailed opinion beyond the Judge’s August decision imposing the preliminary injunction. In his August ruling, the Judge emphasized the State’s failure to take into consideration when passing this law the long line of previous cases holding that video games are protected speech. The ESA will immediately file to recover its legal fees from the State as it has successfully done elsewhere.”
“In nine out of nine cases, federal courts have struck down these grandstanding efforts by politicians to ban video game sales to minors. It doesn’t get clearer than that. One hopes that enough is enough. Video games are like rock and roll: they’re here to stay, and it’s about time for elected officials to focus their energies, and taxpayer dollars, on truly productive and useful programs to educate parents to use the tools industry has made available — from ESRB ratings to parental control technologies.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has upheld the prior Illinois District Court permanent injunction against the implementation of Illinois’ “Safe Game Illinois Act” that provided for two new criminal laws, the Violent Video Games Law and the Sexually Explicit Video Games Law. Illinois had not appealed the Violent Video Games Law portion of the earlier decision. The Court of Appeal held that the Sexually Explicit Video Games Portion of the Law swept too broadly:
The game God of War… is illustrative of this point. Because the (Illinois law) potentially criminalizes the sale of any game that features exposed breasts, without concern for the game considered in its entirety or for the game’s social value for minors, distribution of God of War is potentially illegal, in spite of the fact that the game tracks the Homeric epics in content and theme. As we have suggested in the past, there is serious reason to believe that a statute sweeps too broadly when it prohibits a game that is essentially an interactive, digital version of the Odyssey.
Similarly, it seems unlikely that a statute is narrowly tailored to achieving the stated compelling interest when it potentially criminalizes distribution of works featuring only brief flashes of nudity.
The Court of Appeal also held that the portion of the law requiring a 4″ warning sticker in addition to the ESRB warning was not sufficiently narrowly tailored.
The FBI has shut down an illegal game operation that allegedly provided subscribers with fraudulent service to, and code for, Lineage II. Apparently L2Extreme.com (now seized by the FYI) had some 50,000 active users. NCSoft says it lost millions in revenue from this. The operators of L2Extreme.com face a fine of $250,000 and up to five years in jail. NCSoft has said it has no plans to pursue the users.
This case is different from the Blizzard v. BNetD case because in the BNetD circumstance, they had reverse engineered the Blizzard server software and, presumably, wrote emulating software in a “clean room” without access to the original Blizzard server software – thus no direct copyright infringement. In the L2Extreme case, it is alleged that the L2Extreme.com server software was pirated (ie: copied) NCSoft server software.
The ESRB is apparently demanding that Kotaku remove a post on their website describing and depicting a T-Shirt that parodies the ESRB logo (see the offending logo on the t-shirt depicted to the left). Despite being notified by Kotaku that the post is editorial content and not an advertisement for the sale of a T-shirt, the ESRB continues to demand the removal of the post. The ESRB demand letter states, in part:
We believe that this t-shirt ad will result in consumer confusion, and a substantial likelihood that the ESRB certification marks will face tarnishment and dilution.
Dale’s Comment: I personally don’t get the parody joke. Unfortunately the current state of trademark law is such that the trademark owner must fiercely protect its mark or face loosing it. This is an area of IP law that I believe is ripe for reform. The recent spat of “pod” related lawsuits brought by Apple against any company or service including ‘pod’ in their corporate, product or service name is another example of this silliness. Chris Bennet at the law firm of Davis & Company wrote this interesting blog entry on the topic. While the ESRB may have a case against the t-shirt manufacturer (and even that, I believe, is a tenuous case), they would have a much tougher time in any legal action brought against Kotaku based on this editorial post because Kotaku is not using the parodied logo in commerce. It merely comments on the existence of the shirt in a blog post. Trademark law is designed to keep others from using the trademark holder’s marks in commerce – not to keep editorialists from commenting on the existence of items that possibly infringe another’s trademarks.
[Update:] TheBBPS, a one man blog, apparently also received a cease and desist order from the ESRB for a similar blog post and took down the post. Destructoid, still another gaming blog, has seemingly decided to keep its post on the t-shirt up despite also receiving an ESRB cease and desist letter.
The new Mortal Kombat Armageddon game has a built-in character editor. Gamers can mix and match clothing, body types, hairstyles and facial characteristics to create original characters to be played/fought in the game. The enterprising e-zeen Gaming Target posted this story providing character editor formulas for gamers to use to create famous, and infamous, characters including a formula for creating anti-game-violence crusader Jack Thompson.
Jack Thompson, apparently not quite understanding the character editor distinction, sent off a cease and desist letter to Midway, the game’s publisher, with the following contained therein:
“It has today come to my attention that the newly recently Mortal Kombat: Armageddon contains an unauthorized commercial exploitation of my name, photograph, image, and likeness within the game.”
“You are commanded to cease and desist immediately from the distribution of this game because of this unauthorized, illegal content…”
“It would appear that your company has done this at least in part because I sued you all in the Paducah school massacre case and further because I appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 when your company came out with your profane, violent, and idiotic Blitz: The League.”
To be clear, there is no crusading Florida lawyer character that is shipped with the game. On the presumption that Jack Thompson is aware of the Marvel v. NCSoft decision (see linked posts below) which is on point, this demand will likely just fade away once Mr. Thompson realizes what has happened here. The mere inclusion of a character editor does not, in itself, infringe anyone’s IP or personality rights any more than the manufacture and sale of Etch-a-Sketches does.
- Konami Settles with Roxor – ‘In the Groove’ IP Transfered to Konami (October 19, 2006)
- Konami Files Lawsuit Against Roxor Over Dance Game (May 12, 2005)
Text of Preliminary Injunction
Text of Law (HB 3004)
As expected, the Oklahoma law that would make it a felony for anyone to sell, rent or display games which contain “inappropriate violence”, has been enjoined. The law would require stores to keep such games hidden in a similar manner to pornographic magazines and videos. The law was set to go into effect on November 1, 2006.
- Preliminary Injunction Granted Against Oklahoma ‘Games as Porn’ Law (October 12, 2006)
- ESA/EMA Sues Oklahoma over ‘Game as Porn’ Law (June 23, 2006)
- Oklahoma ‘Games as Porn’ Bill Signed into Law – ESA to Fight it (June 12, 2006)
On September 11, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken assessed more than $9 million in penalties against France-based mod-chip maker Divineo for trafficking in mod chips and the associated HDLoader software. HDLoader allows users to copy their games from CD/DVD disks to their hard drive. Despite legitimate use by legions of honest gamers, this mod-chip/software bundle works by circumventing copy protection measures contained on the game CD/DVD and thereby contravenes the controversial DMCA.
Dale’s Comment: Mod-chips and software like HDLoader is hated by game developers/publishers because they are commonly used to distribute pirated video games on PS2 consoles. For honest gamers, they are a terrific way to install all purchased games on a hard drive so that they can be quickly and conveniently served up like records in a jukebox. Without it gamers must manually flip game disks each time they want to change the current game.
A man was arrested and police Seized twenty duplicating machines and 5,000 master discs were seized from the man’s premises in Lowestoft, Suffolk UK.
ESA v. Minnesota (March 17, 2008 – 8th Cir Court of Appeals)
Click to hear Oral Arguments on Appeal (Feb 12, 2007)
Text of Appeal (Aug 29, 2006)
Permanent Injunction (July 31, 2006 – District Court)
Text of Complaint (June 6, 2006)
Text of Enjoined Bill (May 22, 2006)
Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch is appealing the last month’s permanent injunction against Minnesota’s violent video game bill.
No surprise here yet again. Jack Thompson’s violent game bill, criminalizing sales of violent video games to minors, designed to be immune from constitutional challenge – isn’t. Here are a few choice excerpts from Federal District Court Judge James Brady’s decision:
“The State’s argument overlooks a line of cases holding that video games are protected free speech…”
“Defendants (Louisiana) contend that the legislative record contains social science evidence demonstrating that violent video games are harmful. It appears that much of the same evidence has been considered by numerous courts and in each case the connection was found to be tenuous and speculative…”
“The evidence that was submitted to the legislature in connection with the bill that became the statute is sparse and could hardly be called in any sense reliable…”
“Absent an injunction the statute will have a chilling effect on both video game developers and retailers.”.