Computer Games and Cheat Software
A recent decision of the High Court of Justice in the United Kingdom considered the use of cheat software for the video game called Grand Theft Auto V. Grand Theft Auto V is the best-selling video game of all time, and over 85 million copies of the game have been sold.
The cheat software in issue is of a kind known as a “mod menu.” A mod menu is a software program that alters the operation of the game while it is being played to allow specific players to gain advantages in gameplay. A player using such software can create copies of weapons, vehicles or ammunition or do other things, which gives that player an advantage. Such cheating interferes with the gameplay experience of other players. This is important since frequently, there may be up to thirty players playing the game at one time. Cheating players can also generate virtual goods and currency, which they would otherwise have to acquire using real money or earn during legitimate play.
The plaintiff is the owner of the copyright subsisting in the software relating to the game. The defendants were individuals involved in developing the cheat software known as Epsilon.
When the plaintiff learned of the Epsilon software and its use, it sued five defendants involved in developing the Epsilon software. Settlements had been concluded with three of the defendants, and only two defendants remained.
The plaintiff alleged that the defendants had
breached various terms of the end-user license agreement; (the EULA)
induced breaches of contract by the defendants’ customers who used the Epsilon mod menu; and
As the action proceeded to trial, the plaintiff brought an application for summary judgement.
Breach of Contract
The License Conditions in the EULA provide that:
“You agree not to, and not to provide guidance or instruction to any other individual or entity on how to…cheat (including but not limited to utilizing exploits or glitches) or utilize any unauthorized robot, spider, or other programs in connection with any online features of the Software;”
“violate any terms, policies, licenses, or code of conduct for any online features of the Software.”
All players of the game must agree to comply with a code of conduct to install and play the game.
The defendants had accepted the terms of the EULA and the code of conduct. Since the defendants intended to enable cheating, there was a clear breach of contract.
Inducing breach of contract
The elements to establish such a claim and the evidence relating to each element were:
There must be a breach of contract by each purchaser of the Epsilon software who installed it and played the game. Since the purchasers would be bound by the EULA and the code of conduct, they breached their contract with the plaintiff.
The defendants must have engaged in persuasion, procurement or inducement, causing a contracting party to breach their contract. Epsilon was marketed and supplied expressly to allow and encourage individuals who acquired it to cheat and breach their contracts. This requirement was satisfied.
The defendants must have known that what they were doing was inducing a breach of contract. Awareness of the contract and a deliberate decision not to inquire into its terms was sufficient. This requirement was satisfied.
There must be an intention to procure a breach of contract. On the facts, this must have been the defendant’s intention.
The court found that all the requirements were satisfied, and the defendants had induced breaches of contract.
The judge found that by providing the Epsilon software to consumers to whom they had sold it, the defendant had authorized copying of the Grand Theft Auto V program or substantial parts of it. Under the law in force in the United Kingdom, the judge found that making transient copies of the program to cheat was infringing. Taking information from the program libraries regarding an object such as a weapon and reproducing the image function of the weapon, and allowing the cheater to use it in gameplay clearly involved copying. The defendants were found responsible for authorizing copying of parts of the Grand Theft Auto V program.
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These comments are of a general nature and not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with a lawyer.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Lawyer’s Daily website published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.