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PUBG Game maker says Apple, Google selling rip-offs in new lawsuit (reuters.com)
74 points by ksec 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

It's sort of commonly accepted in the Game Industry that there exists an insurmountable proliferation of asset rips on mobile stores, and that there is an apparent total acceptance and tolerance of them by Google and Apple. So I'm not surprised to see such a lawsuit.

> According to Krafton, Apple and Google have distributed hundreds of millions of copies of the Free Fire games. The complaint says Garena generated more than $100 million in revenue from Free Fire sales in the U.S. in the first three months of 2021.

Right right, that's unexpected.

    Edit: I meant 'expected'.
> Krafton also named Google's YouTube as a defendant for allegedly hosting videos of Free Fire gameplay, as well as a Chinese film that Krafton says is a live-action dramatization of its game.

But this? This is something interesting.

Last I heard of someone going after YouTube videos of gameplay was the raucous Nintendo made a few years back when they were sending DMCA takedowns to Streamers and YouTubers who featured gameplay of first-party Nintendo games. I don't recall those ever really going anywhere in court?

Going after a film maker for making a live-action dramatization of a game that features asset rips of another game seems ... A bit of a stretch. Presumably, the live-action dramatization includes no copyrighted assets and doesn't infringe upon any protected trademarks; and so is Krafton alleging that the live-action film features facsimiles of virtual assets that violate copyright?

> Presumably, the live-action dramatization includes no copyrighted assets

A derivative work of a derivative work is still a derivative work, and if the first derivative is unlicensed and thus a copyright violation...

Uploading / streaming gameplay in most cases is copyright infringement that is ignored by the rightsholders. Only a very small number of games' licenses give you permission to do so and usually you aren't allowed to do so for commercial use (think pay wall), but they do allow things like ads as an exception.

I suspect this is a largely incorrect legal take as far as US law goes, though if you have a court case supporting you I'm open to being proven wrong.

My not at all a lawyer reading is that streaming video games is almost always a classic example of fair use and thus not copyright infringement in the first place. Fair use is evaluated as a balancing act of 4 factors, and streaming is very favorable under 3 of them:

It's transformative, adding something new to the original work and not superseding it at all (factor 1), it reproduces a small fraction of the whole of the work - only renders of the final work not the models behind it, none of the code, only the fraction of the artwork that is interacted with and even then only in one of many possible renderings of it (factor 3), it doesn't compete with the original work in the market place (factor 4).

The only thing that really ways against it is that the original work was very artistic in nature (not something like a recording of JFK getting shot, mainly of interest for it's factual content... actual example from a court case).

The problem with fair use is that it is very often in practice decided by "judge gets a gut feeling of whether or not it's fair, and uses the factor to buttress their opinion." It's not an objective reading of the factors in practice--read the dueling analyses in SCOTUS's opinion Google v Oracle. One analysis finds all four factors favor fair use, whereas the other finds that the three factors that really matter (as who really cares about factor 2) all disfavor fair use. The latter was the dissenting opinion, but quite frankly, it's the kind of analysis you're likely to see a trial court judge actually use.

Let's run through that kind of analysis here. Factor 2 disfavors fair use, because the original work is clearly "creative"; what more needs to be said? Factor 4 is the marketplace factor, and clearly, people who are watching the game aren't going to be playing the game themselves, so it's having a depressive market effect--fair use disfavored. Factor 1 is again disfavoring of fair use, because you're reusing market value copyrighted content in a commercial context. It's not transformative because it's not commenting on the original work [1]. Factor 3 again disfavors fair use, because you're reproducing essentially the entire video game in the playthrough.

Conclusion: all 4 factors disfavor fair use, so how can it be fair? I personally disagree with this analysis, and I even think that it misapplies SCOTUS-level precedent (precedent at the circuit court level is even more incoherent), but this kind of analysis is more likely to be what I expect to see, especially because (as in Thomas's minority opinion) the monetary and commercial implications of the use tend to dominate the thinking.

[1] My understanding of practical US fair use analysis is that "transformative" is viewed far, far narrower by the courts than by lay people.

>It's transformative, adding something new to the original work and not superseding it at all

A let's play is not transformative. You are literally experiencing the game as it was meant to be experienced. Similarly it's not transformative to put a song on in the background of a stream. (Video game music is copyrighted too ;)) For it to be transformative the game needs to be transformed into something else.

>it reproduces a small fraction of the whole of the work - only renders of the final work not the models behind it, none of the code, only the fraction of the artwork that is interacted with and even then only in one of many possible renderings of it

There are plenty of let's plays which play through a whole game. In terms of fair use you could for example illustrate what a boss looks like when talking about it by showing a screenshot of a game. Using your idea of what partial means you could watch a whole movie. It's not like by watching a movie you get access to the raw audio and video clips, or the projet files used to edit it. You don't get the 3D models they used to make CGI.

>it doesn't compete with the original work in the market place

For some linear story based games you could make the point that it does compte because you can experience the whole story without needing to purchase the original.

Games are interactive, that's their defining feature.

Uploading a clip of you silently watching a movie the whole way through with the camera pointed at the screen would obviously be copyright infringement, but a let's play of a game does not convey the experience of playing the game.

If the entire experience (or even a large portion) of a game can be had via passively watching a recording of somebody else playing it then the developers haven't really succeeded at making a 'game', they've made a long-ass movie with extra steps.

And yes, maybe if you can show that your game is practically a movie that asks you to press a button every 5 minutes then you should be allowed to copyright strike commentary-less lets plays of it - but where exactly do you draw the line?

There are entire genres like visual novels, kinetic novels, story games, and even many triple a games that lean heavily on story and visuals rather than gameplay. Gameplay is only a small part of a great many “games.” In terms of budget too, many studios have a couple gameplay programmers and a million artists and rendering / audio engineers

Being the experience you're meant to have doesn't follow when you consider something like https://youtu.be/E_Z9lvWbfFU where a player is telling developers how theit game works, and they've got no idea how he's jumping through the levels.

The player playing is turning the game into something new. The name would be something like "a run"

Something like Minecraft is even turing complete. You could describe just about anything in your playing, including like writing a novel.

Also, the moment you've got a multiplayer game, the whole thing switches to how players interact with each other. A conversation in game doesn't become part of the owned product of the game maker

My point is that even speedrunners are just booting up the game and playing it. Something transformative would be something like taking the binary representation of the game and turning that into an image to be a piece of art. Even though it's a derivative work, it's no longer is just the game.

I'd say the biggest difference is personal usage vs. public broadcasting. You can watch a football game with friends but you can't show it in a pub without paying additional fee.

It's interesting how there exists a huge market based on what is in fact copyright infringement. And the biggest player on this market is a legit publicly traded company. Thankfully, game developers understand that it doesn't make sense to try and shut down Twitch and/or individual streamers.

I think you mean ‘expected’, instead of ‘unexpected’ there?

Yes, sorry.

Interesting that this appears to be about copying specific game mechanics, not something like game assets or code.

Based on the screenshots they provide on page 43+ it does look like Free Fire is pretty clearly aping PUBG's aesthetic and mechanics, but I'm not sure that is copyright infringement.


Interested to see where this goes.

Not a copyright lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt:

One of the core limitations on copyright is the idea-expression divide. Copyright does not--cannot--protect an idea, only the expression of the idea. (There are other limitations on what expressions themselves can be protected, but if it's not even an expression, you're hosed). Of course, this itself isn't a clear-cut and easy divide, and is endless wishy-washy.

So what allegedly copyrighted material has been lifted here? Well... as you dig into it, it's really a stretch. The argument is that PUBG copyrighted using a military-style helmet in a shooter game. No, seriously, ¶57 is arguing that using a particular "Russian special forces or 'spetsnaz'-style helmet" is a copyrighted element. ¶59 ups the insanity by arguing that using clothing is copyrighted. Not specific kinds of clothing, just regular streetware in general.

Again and again, most of their claims on the aesthetic being copyrighted boil down, essentially, to "we copyrighted using military-style equipment, casual streetware, and a vaguely war-torn, somewhat austere Eastern European-ish environment as the setting for a shooter game." Which is not copyrightable for the even more basic fact that this predates PUBG by a long-shot.

The two strongest copyright claims to me are a) the use of the frying pan and b) "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner". The first claim itself is pretty weak, but it's one of the strongest by simple virtue of its actual rarity in games, so PUBG may have a viable claim to have actually originated it. And the second claim is weak because I'm not sure it's actually infringed--the claimed infringement (¶101) is that the win screen has a cooked chicken on it, not the actual phrase.

So the basic summary I have is that, while Free Fire is definitely a rip-off of PUBG, PUBG's aesthetic itself is so generic that it's not really copyright infringement.

I am also not an american copyright lawyer, is that "dissecting the details, ignoring the grand scale" how american IP laws for video games work?

Concerning #57 and #59 the chapter is about what PUBG is, not about what is copied or copyrighted. You are wrong when you say they claim "using clothing is copyrighted" they do not make that claim at all. That chapter in the document describes in detail the artistic choices Krafton made in their expression of a battle royal last man standing free for all deathmatch arena ego shooter that is PUBG.

In the next chapter (#78+) they argue that Garena is copying the overall look, feel, and audiovisual style, gameplay, maps, and many detailed design choices. They don't even pick up on that specific detail of clothing again.

While i completely agree with you that they did not in fact come up with the artistic choice of clothing in mixed civilian and military gear, they directly lifted it from DayZ, which took it from the generic post-apocalyptic setting, the point of these details is to show that Garena is infringing by creating an almost identical expression of the idea, instead of creating a distinct expression of their own.

It seems to me that the whole thing is not about sueing them over details like the level3 helmet looking almost identical to the one from the PUBG box art and marketing material. Yes Krafton claims the rendering of that helmet is a copyrightable piece of visual art in #57, but they do not claim that this piece of art was copied in #94, they claim that Garena used the same three types of helmets (motorad, military, spetsnaz) as their level 1,2,3 gear as part of their overall attempt to copy the whole game down to the details.

The document seems less like a list of small infringements and more like list of examples of one big infringement. The core claim is that Garena is intentionally making an identical game. (again, not a lawyer)

The Winner Winner Chicken Dinner thing wasn't even invented by PUBG, that's been a common phrase (how common depends on the country) since before /video games/ existed, let alone PUBG specifically.

Yes, this is different than bringing other Battle Royale like games to court. It clearly is a rip off. And Google and Apple clearly benefited from it.

And this is interesting because Apple likes to compare it's App Store and Games Distribution to console. ( To the point they included PS5 and Xbox as direct competitor in their recent quarterly report ) Which is only true on the surface, but in reality console maker have much stricter guidelines in releasing games where something like this wouldn't have happened.

Being a "rip off" is not disallowed by our legal system though.

It can be illegal depending on some factors.

Like there are things like design patents or even "normal" parents which might be violated.

Some countries also have laws which make a rip off by itself illegal if it's too similar (oversimplified).

None of that applies to software - they are not Gucci bags.

Why shouldn't it apply to software?

I mean it would be nice if it doesn't.

But as far as I know there is nothing explicitly excluding software from this laws.

As far as I know, you can write your own poetry. The way how you would describe a love or chair, does not make you owner of those abstract or real things. Software code here is only a language of that poetry.

>>I mean it would be nice if it doesn't.

If we were applying medieval guild based rules to software development, there would be no evolution of software at all. There would be no mobile phones(maybe one - not series, but one phone) and personal computers - and also no PUBG, which like all the successful software has borrowed ideas from other software. With such draconian rules, there would be no market for those things, that we have now. Isn't it nice - you can make your own web browser, that does not differ that much from others, or OS, or a game...

> evolution of software at all

If we just enforce existing US patent law wrt. software related things, then not only would there be no evolution. There would be an apocalyptic collapse of the whole software industry, and beyond.

The question is often less if we have sane laws but more how they are used/enforced. In case of software related patents they often aren't.

But often aren't doesn't mean they never are, we just have been lucky until now as no one was stupid enough to force it...

And copyright law is I think even more messed up then patent law... so I don't think your argument holds.

They didn't directly rip assets, but based on those screenshots, they obviously mimicked tons of assets. Armor, weapons (the frying pan, really?), structures, and even some level design. That, combined with the fact that the design of the game was identical seems like a pretty good case to me.

Another thing that will make the case interesting is that mobile games like this are like chameleons. If you look up free fire now, it looks more like Fortnite.

> (the frying pan, really?)

Hardly original to PUBG. Valve had a frying pan in Team Fortress 2 in 2010, long before PUBG even existed: https://wiki.teamfortress.com/wiki/Frying_Pan

> That, combined with the fact that the design of the game was identical seems like a pretty good case to me.

Clones are common for a reason. Heroes of Newerth, 12-odd years ago, was a functional copy of DotA, with identical items; eg boots, bottle, etc. A more recent Apple action, where they are taking Wordle clones down, isn't an indication that there's a copyright violation. This is just the Apple walled garden trying to prop up winners for their own Black Mirror-style ends (30% cut is easier from a single vendor and everyone gets to participate in the news story).

You can mimic as much as you want because game design is not copyrightable. Your game is basically the same, does not make a good case. You want to point to specific assets, art, and other copyrighted IP.

The entire game industry is built on "rip-offs". Can you imagine the gaming landscape if nobody was allowed to clone Doom, or Street Fighter 2, or Dune 2/Command & Conquer.

Clone it once, it's a "rip-off". Clone it 10 times in slightly different ways it's a whole new genre (as we have seen with Battle Royales).

Blocking developers from building games that copy mechanics, even seemingly verbatim is dangerous territory - I don't think anyone wins in the long term from getting any stricter with IP rights on video games.

/However/ imo a line should still be drawn at outright stealing assets - which I believe the creators of Garena Free Fire have actually done in the past, hopefully this lawsuit sticks with that and doesn't attempt to create a stricter precedent.

EDIT: I should probably include Warcraft in the early RTS list - seems like Dune 2 set up the conventions of the genre, but I'm not sure whether Warcraft or the first Command & Conquer did more work in popularizing it.

Likewise I know Doom wasn't the very first first person shooter, but it definitely popularized the genre to the point that making "clones" was more profitable.

I'm not sure I remember anyone cloning Doom with a setting of a Mars base infested by fireball-throwing demons, a marine as main character, puzzles consisting of brightly-coloured keys opening corresponding doors, the same slate of weapons and a red mist descending over the screen when your die. If they had, I feel like they would have been laughed out of the room in those days. (I don't know if this legal claim has a leg to stand on, but it does seem to be copying different in degree if not in kind from the Doom example).

(The Settlers and Syndicate were near-contemporaries of Dune 2 in that genre, perhaps also responsible for some of the genre conventions?)

I can't think of other games set /on mars/ and /with demons/, but the broad weapon archetypes (shitty single shot pistol/rifle, shotgun, bigger shotgun, high fire rate chaingun type thing, 'BFG' esque super weapon) and doors with keys thing were both aped by a lot of games. And there were certainly other FPS games with demonic themes.

Regardless, 'Scavenged Present Day Military Equipment on Island' is a much less distinct theme than 'Demons on Mars'.


I think calling the Settlers and Syndicate RTS games in the same vein as Warcraft or Command and Conquer is a stretch.

If you compare the latter two to big RTS titles released even years later (Age of Empires, TA/Supreme Commander, Dawn of War 1 are some examples I can think of that weren't made by the same studios as Dune/C&C/Warcraft) you'll see all the core mechanics are still the same - base building, unit training, economy, UX conventions.

The Settlers and Syndicate are lower case real-time strategy games, but they aren't 'Real Time Strategy' games.

Didn't Syndicate originate the "unit training" type mechanic in the RTS context, where you upgrade individual units?

They're alleging art and other asset rips, which is very different from copying gameplay or themes.

Are they? The article says "game structure and in-game items, equipment, and locations" which doesn't sound like actual asset rips, although I wouldn't be surprised if the reporting on this was innacurate.

Do you have other info about the content of the lawsuit?

I just took a look at the complaint, and looks like I was wrong!

They claimed such things were copied, and so I assumed an actual ripping; as that's common. But in the complaint it appears that they mean a more traditional copying by recreating a facsimile.

That's greyer. It'll be up to the court to decide if it's flagrant enough of a duplicate to warrant damages.

I agree, but legally, there does seem to be a limit on how far you can go about cloning another concept. I remembered the following case, and was able to find it back:


This isn't the first time they've tried this. They attempted a copyright lawsuit against Epic for Fortnite when it came out.

I don't recall all the details but I remember them implying that they owned the battle royal concept.


Yeah but Fortnite wasn't copying the design of entire maps.


How is that a copy? I don't see it.

They are both islands, duh! Nobody came up with this concept before!!7! other than all the things PUBG copied when its creator pivoted from copying Zombie games (in DayZ).

the island map is a direct homage to the -korean- japanese novel/movie "Battle Royal"


note that the original had no smaller island connected by two bridges, a detail which Garenas version inherited from PlayerUnknowns.

Not Korean, but Japanese.

Battle Royale had such an influence on PUBG up to the point that the devs made a special skin for the homage:


Also note that there were some other rarely mentioned games that contributed to the conception of the battle royale genre. The Hunger Games Minecraft mod was the first I’ve seen the concept actually materialized in a video game.

First BR game I recall playing was actually a shareware single player Amiga text game named LabyrinthII by Russell Wallace. It was on Fred Fish Disk 162.

So a classic text adventure style interface and map, but you and the bots all started at random locations and have to go around searching for weapons & armour and trying to survive against each other to be the last one standing. Didn't have the concept of a shrinking playzone but was absolutely a Battle Royale.

Really enjoyed that one back in the day, and would often play while listening to the 'Unknown Girl' mod that was on the same disk. The Amiga had proper pre-emptive multitasking after all :-)

urgh you are right, no idea why my brain jumped to korea :-/

Also note that last man standing with shrinking play zone was the multiplayer experience of the Bomberman game series, going back as far as 1983, but the japanese battle royal novel may have been inspired more by other "winner takes all" or "last survivor" patterns in popular culture and games that are far older. (wrestling and boxing, to be precise which included more "multiplayer" in the past than today). I wonder where the novel took the "forbidden zones" idea from, that became PUBGs "bombardment zones"

"Big island with small island connected via choke point" !== clone. It's also like that because it makes for interesting gameplay when you have the shrinking border that's common in BR games - you get in to situations where you know you or other players have to cross the bridge to leave the island.

The pro-IP crowd has officially become self-parody if you guys are passing that around as a "copy."

Those maps are a copy? You could have foold me.

strange, since the pubg map is itself a copy of chernarus from dayz, which apes off of real places.

Which apes off Arma, which apes off of the idea of real places*

Wouldn't this fall under software patents? Not sure about the US but it's not a thing in Europe.

I don't think copyright applies unless code was actually copied. But IANAL.

Epic sells the most obvious rip-off of PUBG. Fortnite's battle royale mode was a direct copy and directly inspired by PUBG making a wildly popular game in Epic's engine. Epic then used their position in the market ($$$$$$$) to effectively buy out PUBG's playerbase. It's not even controversial that they did this. But I guess it's all just history now. I do wonder why they're going after Apple and Google's app stores when a case against Epic and it's app store behavior is far more clear.

They did sue Epic over Fortnite Battle Royale, but they ended up dropping the suit. Game mechanics are not subject to copyright in the US, and Fortnite probably doesn't borrow anything copyrightable from PUBG.

This lawsuit does include some things that Epic took from PUBG (like a fixed island map that you airdrop into), but its claims that those particular things are copyrightable creative expressions are questionable. Hell, they include "a grid map with a two-letter coordinate system", "health packs taking a while to apply", "needing to scavenge equipment", "realistic weapons", and "damage based on hit location" in the lawsuit. It also makes some claims that just obviously aren't true ("unlike other shooter games, Battlegrounds does not display designators above opposing game characters"). But it also includes some aspects which are more obviously unique to PUBG, like the frying pan being usable as invulnerable butt armor.

Free Fire looks much, much closer to PUBG than Fortnite BR. The screenshots in the complaint are pretty convincing. As someone who hasn't played PUBG for a few years, you could easily trick me into thinking this was a new version with updated textures. It even has a frying pan that can be used as a weapon or as invulnerable butt armor, and a "chicken dinner" victory screen!

I played Fortnite when it was an entirely different game. I even paid $40 for it. It was nothing at all like PUBG.

Then PUBG became popular. Suddenly Fortnite, the game I bought, was an entire different game... and released for free. Yeah, it might not be illegal, but it sure was a shady, asshole move by a monopolizing megacorp abusing their market position and exploiting their engine customers.

It's common practice in game industry, each successful breakthrough game spawns clones of various quality. Doom spawned tons of first-person shooters, WarCraft spawned tons of real-time strategies etc.

Yep and if the IP-warriors had their way there would be no Halo, no Everquest/Wow, etc. Its just incredible how these people back the most corrupt corporation's laziest IP theft claims and jump to defend them and mock everyone else as a "rip off."

Heck, even your example of Warfcraft wouldn't have happened because by the pro-IP crowd's standards, it would have been a "rip-off" of Dune II.

I remember when the tech community fought overly broad IP claims and patents, now its just pro-IP shills left and right. Its incredible how far we've fallen.

Heh, one of the most successful modern games wouldn't exist if game mechanics could be patented or copyrighted.

Dune 2 -> WarCraft -> WarCraft 3 -> DOTA -> League of Legends.

Come to think of it, the only time Blizzard invented the whole genre was with Diablo. All their other (incredibly successful) games were refinements of prior work by other game developers.

The people involved with Diablo are surprisingly honest about their initial pitch being take Moria, Nethack, and Rogue, and bring them into the 1990s with fantastic graphics and sound. ^^ Ask them again and they talk about Telengard and Legend of Zelda, ask again and they call out MUD and D&D. Their strategy resolved around naming many inspirations, thereby removing the idea that they copied a specific one. I truly wish our culture would not favor deniability due to fear of litigation over honesty and giving respect and credit.

Say goodbye to that free App Store promotion. Honestly PUBG was all the App Store was pushing when they pulled Fortnite.

If they directly stole copyrighted assets you could just send a DMCA request to have it taken down. They didn't do that so this is all probably frivolous.

But what about the profit that has already been made? Apple is taking 30% after all.

If they aren't copyright infringing, then the profit is theirs. I don't think that any assets were directly stolen, and these games just look and play like PUBG.

That's only one remedy available, this is another one.

That's new. I always thought clones of successful games is widely accepted practice in game industry, game mechanics can't be copyrighted or patented.

Pretty weird to go after Apple and Google with such a frivolous lawsuit, their legal teams will tear Krafton apart.

> Krafton said it asked Garena, Apple, and Google to stop selling the Free Fire games in December to no avail.

Pubg itself is a ripoff of minecraft hunger games.

The Minecraft Hunger Games (later rebranded as Minecraft Survival Games) started in 2012 when that movie was hype and it hit the game streamer scene, cross-polinating the Arma2 modding and streamer scene into creating the "Survivor GameZ" in closed groups, which as legend says, PlayerUnknown couldn't join due to not being a streamer. So he made the "Battle Royal" mod in 2013 as a free for all. It was quite obviously influenced strongly by the movie of the same name. All one big happy family back then. Those were easier times, when it wasn't about "hundreds of millions of paying customers".

If it sold then customers want it. I don't understand how can you deny customers from having a product just because you feel you are owed everlasting profit.


They fuel it, they empower it, and they depend on it, the market is all about manipulating an audience, for that, as long as you have money, you are free and welcome to do it

Liars and manipulators, that's what majority of asian companies are, specially in the smartphone app market

US/EU ones aren't clean as well, but they have to play by the same rules otherwise they get shadowed

Thanks Apple/Google for empowering such behaviors, and thanks to all of us for not standing up against it, and thanks to our politicians for keeping quiet

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