from the ready-fire-aim dept
It’s funny sometimes how quickly a company can go from being known for making a great product to being known for being a litigious intellectual property bully. And if that doesn’t accurately describe the heel-turn pulled off by the folks behind PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, then I don’t know what does. To be clear, PUBG, as it’s lovingly referred to, was a groundbreaking video game. While the game didn’t invent the battle royale concept, it certainly ushered that genre into an era. And just like any breakthrough genres suddenly having success, that means others are going to start trying their own hands at the genre. While plenty of other entrants have gotten into the battle royale game, PUBG has fought battles with several of them, most notably Epic’s Fortnite title.
Now, while PUBG has managed to get some settlements out of other legal action against battle royale game developers, it’s worth noting that it ended up dropping its suit against Epic. Why? Well, because unlike some of its other targets, Epic has a huge legal war chest of its own to fight back. And, as tends to be the case with PUBG’s suits, all of its complaints were over non-protectable elements of those games. Much of what is in these suits that PUBG files are for supposed copyright infringement of what ends up being ideas, rather than specific expression. The battle royale concept, for instance, or the manner in which some of the gameplay is conducted, are not protectable expression, but mere ideas for a genre of games.
Well, the PUBG folks are at it again, with publisher Krafton suing Garena over its Free Fire mobile game. Apple and Google are also named in the suit, both of them for putting Free Fire on their app stores, and Google additionally for hosting some videos of the game’s gameplay and other footage.
In the complaint, Krafton has alleged that multiple features of Free Fire and the more recent Free Fire Max infringe on copyrighted aspects of PUBG, including in-game items, weapons, and its map.
One claim in the lawsuit which addresses the “substantially similar” in-game maps alleges that Free Fire has attempted to mimic PUBG, such as the addition of a river flowing from through the map and the similarities between a coastal village in both games.
From the second paragraph in that quote, you can already see where we’re going with this. I’ve reviewed and embedded the entire complaint so that you can go see for yourself, but many, if not all, of the examples of infringement contained in it are for ideas, not expression. There is no accusation of copying actual game assets. Instead, you get things like Free Fire changing its map to include a river or village. Or the manner in which health is increased in a delayed fashion when applying a bandage. Or the fact that both games have a player lobby before the match starts.
Hell, some of the screenshots comparing the two titles you will see almost feel like Krafton telling on itself that this isn’t actual copying, but the reuse of an idea. For instance, in the complaint Krafton argues that both games use leveled body armor, that the body armor is visually similar, and that its gameplay effects are similar. Then the filing has these examples to show all of that, except they don’t show that at all.
If those look similar to you, you need to get your eyes checked. And the gameplay effects are in fact different. Those effects are similar, sure, but how could they not be? Body armor is going to reduce damage. That’s how video game body armor works. These just aren’t the same.
As another example, the complaint says that the app is infringing on PUBG because both games include certain building types or structures. For example, both games, and I’m not making this up, include gas storage tanks.
Again, this is Krafton telling on itself. Having gas storage tanks in a game is an idea. How you depict those structures is the expression and these screenshots most certainly do not show any copying of that specific expression.
Honestly, there are too many examples given to dissect in one post. What you will see if you dive in is that, rather than specific examples of explicit copying, the examples are all somewhere between non-infringing and maybe-kinda-borderline similar, such that the document throws everything at the wall in the hopes that either something sticks or the sheer volume of examples fools someone into thinking that this is copyright infringement.
The accusations against Apple and Google are equally silly. Essentially, PUBG is accusing those companies of copyright infringement because both claim to review games before publishing them in their stores, both make money off of app sales in those stores, and both didn’t agree to take the app down when PUBG complained and filed DMCA notices. That is, as the filing notes, because neither Apple nor Google agreed that the accusation of copyright infringement was valid.
PUBG also accuses Google of copyright infringement for hosting several YouTube videos that either show gameplay from Free Fire or fan-videos of live-action recreations of PUBG gameplay.
Furthermore, Krafton has named YouTube as an additional defendant due to the hosting of Free Fire gameplay on its platform, as well as a Chinese film that is “nothing more than a blatantly infringing live-action dramatization of Battlegrounds”.
Not only are these videos almost certainly non-infringing as fair use, it’s also worth remembering that this is user-generated content uploaded to the platform, rather than YouTube making these videos themselves. While it’s true that, in rejecting the DMCA takedown notice, Google has given up its DMCA safe harbor for those videos, that doesn’t make the company automatically liable. Google would still have a very strong defense that the works are not infringing.
And so it goes. A once vaunted company that produced a popular and great game is now continuing to go copyright infringement hunting against the competition, largely, if not entirely, over non-protectable elements. It would probably be best for all involved if Krafton got back to the game-making business and stopped with this nonsense.
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