Banning people who cheat on online games from those games is nothing new, and is encouraged by the gaming community. When someone uses a third-party program to hack into the game’s systems and gain an unfair advantage, it’s understandably upsetting to anyone that’s forced to play with them. Auto-aiming, auto-firing, damage and health hacks, all of it is frowned upon by the majority of gamers.
There is a difference between not letting people play anymore and going after them in court. And from there, there is a difference between going after a grown adult and going after a child.
A 14-year-old obtained third-party cheats from a website on the internet and used them to gain an advantage in the up-and-coming free-to-play game Fortnite. He also decided to live-stream his gaming session through YouTube, which is doubtlessly how Epic Games caught onto his cheating so easily. Instead of simply banning him from the game as they had done with countless others, however, they decided to take it a step further.
A lawsuit was leveled against the child by Epic Games last month, alleging copyright infringement by way of derivative works that he prepared. In layman’s terms, they’re saying that the 14-year-old infringed on the copyright of the game by modifying Fortnite to cheat at it. They are claiming loss of profits as a basis for their lawsuit, completely ignoring the fact that their game is free-to-play.
As anyone with any common sense can clearly see, this is ridiculous. Thousands of people every day cheat at online games, each of them using the exact same program. Further, Epic Games decided to go after a literal child instead of trying to take down the website he got the cheats from. Not only are Epic Games’ legal department proving themselves to be completely ineffectual at their jobs, going after a symptom of the problem instead of the root cause, they are proving themselves to be petty and vindictive while doing so.
The 14-year-old’s mother addresses this herself in her letter to the judge presiding over the case: “Furthermore, Epic Games, INC has released the defendant’s name publicly, therefore allowing news articles and different online publications to obtain his name and in turn release additional information. Referencing State of Delaware House Bill No. 64 it is illegal to release under age individuals’ personal information by any agencies. Epic Games INC is in complete violation of this as well as other individual websites and news reporting agencies.”
Yes, that’s right. Epic Games released the 14-year-old’s identity to the public, opening him up to identification by media, slander, and worse. This is illegal for a reason; it’s completely despicable. Please take note of how his name has not appeared anywhere in this article, although it does appear in the full transcript of the mother’s letter to the judge.
Those three pages make the situation even worse.
It appears that Epic Games not only leveled a lawsuit against a 14-year-old, not only did they release his full name to the public, but they also made a point to include in their lawsuit a demand that any income the child earned off of live-steaming the game be turned over to them. As if a) any income earned off of one live-streaming session was going to be at all significant, and b) the 14-year-old they are attempting to sue is going to have enough money to not only defend himself but also pay them reparations.
Keep in mind that all of this is based on the premise that the live-streaming somehow caused Epic Games massive profit loss, despite the fact that Fortnite is free-to-play. It’s not stated what the cheats the child was using, but I sincerely doubt they caused the microtransactions present in the game to fail across the board. That is the only way I could see the necessary profit loss occurring, aside from the game crashing altogether. Everywhere.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the entire lawsuit is built on the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) that the child would have had to agree to before starting the game. Minors aren’t allowed to enter into legally binding contracts, which the EULA counts as, unless they have parental consent. And in her letter, the child’s mother emphatically states that he did not. There wasn’t even an option to say that you’re underage and have parental consent included in the game.
The mother states in her letter that she believes Epic Games is using her child as a scapegoat since they cannot strike out at the use of cheat code and other modifications directly. According to her, they think that by using her child as an example, other cheaters will become afraid of being targeted by lawsuits as well.
I am inclined to agree with her. Whether or not Epic Games they actually went after the website that supplied the cheats in the first place, they thought it would be a good idea to target one of the most vulnerable members of their userbase. As if suing a child is going to paint them in a positive light.
Let’s recap this entire clusterf*ck, just to drive home their idiocy.
Epic Games sued a 14-year-old for cheating at their game, Fortnite. They cited the EULA that he wasn’t legally able to agree to as a basis for this, and named loss of profits from a game that people don’t need to pay for as the reason. They completely ignored the website he actually got the cheats from, whether because they didn’t want to deal with a competent and extensive legal team or because they were too lazy, and demanded that any income the child earned from his live-streaming the game be turned over to them. As if that wasn’t enough, they illegally released his full name to the media, for reasons I can only guess at. This presumably opened him up to hounding from the media and ridicule at school.
But what about Epic’s side of the story?
It seems that the reason for their lawsuit isn’t the fact that he cheated, but that he made a YouTube video about it and refuses to take it down even now. They claim that it’s a how-to for any Fortnite cheater that wants to get in on the action. They also said that since he contested their DMCA claim, they either had to file a lawsuit or drop it, and they weren’t about to do that.
In that light, their course of action is a little less damnable. However, they still released his name to the public, and based on recent news, I assume they’re still pursuing the lawsuit. I wasn’t able to find the initial video on the kid’s YouTube channel, but that might just be a feature of the DMCA claim. Furthermore, although I wasn’t able to view the original video, I’m quite certain that it wasn’t a line-by-line run-through of how to code a recreation of the software in case the original website was taken down. All they had to do was get the software pulled from distribution, and any instruction the child could have given would be useless..
Not to mention the particular flavor of their lawsuit means that they could demand up to $150k from the child’s family as reparations.
Look, I get it. Cheating is an issue that affects nearly every nook and cranny of the technological world we live in. Piracy, jailbreaking, and indeed, cheating at online games has some form of harm to it no matter who does it.
But come on.
Epic might have had a good reason for doing what they did, but if they actually went through with bankrupting a random family for cheating at a free game with a program somebody else made, they’d probably find quite a bit of backlash waiting for them.