By: Perry Maybrown
Does anyone else remember being a kid, getting stuck on that super hard level and having to insert a Game Genie or GameShark into their machine to activate cheats? Apparently Nintendo really did not like these types of add-ons, so they sued the company that made them, and lost. But in today’s internet age, cheating has gotten more sophisticated, and much more illegal.
Earlier this month, AimJunkies.com, a website that offers video game cheats for sale, was ordered by an arbitration judge to pay Bungie 4.3 million dollars after being sued for copyright infringement and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Bungie followed up by filing a motion with the court, to affirm this monetary award.
Bungie brought nine claims in its original complaint filed in 2021 . The company argued that AimJunkies had infringed upon their copyright of Destiny 2, by “copying, producing, preparing unauthorized derivative works from, distributing and/or displaying Destiny 2 publicly all without Bungie’s permission.” Under those same facts, AimJunkies also infringed upon Bungie’s Destiny 2 trademarks. Furthermore, by making use of Bungie’s trademarks and copyrights, AimJunkies was also accused of false designation of origin. As well as two separate DMCA violations, breach of contract, tortious interference, consumer protection act violations and unjust enrichment.
Later in 2022, a court dismissed Bungie’s copyright infringement allegations, for failure to state a claim. And while the copyright issue was dismissed, the door was still left open by the judge for Bungie to refile the claim later, with more evidence. Which Bungie unsurprisingly did. The court later upheld this amended complaint when AimJunkies once again tried to get it dismissed.
After substantial litigation, Bungie decided to change tactics. Rather than attacking AimJunkies in court, they would drag them into mandatory arbitration. This was accomplished by citing Destiny 2’s user agreement. Whenever a user plays games online, they are usually required to sign some kind of user agreement, which almost alway includes a mandatory arbitration agreement. Arbitration is a process that happens out of court, where two sides argue their case to a neutral arbitrator (usually a retired judge). There is a lot of controversy surrounding mandatory arbitration. For one thing, the “neutral” party deciding the case is usually paid/hired by whatever company included the arbitration agreement in the first place. It’s also difficult to overturn an arbitration agreement, as decisions can only be challenged for a limited number of very specific issues.
A judge agreed to allow claims four through nine in Bungie’s lawsuit to be decided by mandatory arbitration. This meant that JAMS, one of the world’s largest private alternative dispute resolution providers, would be overseeing these six claims. Thus beginning the long, 9 month, process of arbitration. Bungie won and was awarded more than $4 million in damages as reported by TorrentFreak.
So how did the arbitrator reach that huge number? It’s mostly thanks to the DMCA. The DMCA is an amendment to the copyright act from 1998 which seeks to address the relationship between the internet and copyright. The DMCA includes a section also referred to as the anti-circumvention law, which makes it illegal to knowingly circumvent a copyrighted work’s electronic security measures. For example, most video games have some kind of security measure, or Digital Rights Management (DRM) that stops users from getting into the source code. But some bad actors will sneak around these protections, so they can get a peek into the code. This allows those same bad actors unfettered access to the games, making it possible for them to reverse engineer different systems or download the game itself and share it. In this case the arbitrator found that AimJunkies had circumvented Destiny 2’s DRM to see the code and develop an effective cheat. Following § 1203 of the DMCA, the arbitrator awarded Bungie 2,500 per violation. With 102 violations, that meant AimJunkies was fined $255,000 for just one of Bungie’s six claims.
Additionally, by hosting the cheats and selling them, the arbiter found that AimJunkies was in violation of the anti-trafficking provisions of the DMCA. This is where the costs really start to stack up. Just like the previous issue, Bungie was granted $2,500 per violation. With more than 1,316 copies of the Destiny 2 cheat sold, AimJunkies faced a whopping $3,402,500.00 in anti-trafficking violations.
Finally, Bungie was awarded a further $738,722 in costs and attorney’s fees after proving AimJunkies had committed spoliation, the intentional destruction of evidence. This was found on the grounds that AimJunkies failed to keep proper financial records even after receiving a cease and desist letter from Bungie, which the arbitrator found to be a purposeful choice.
While this is a huge win for Bungie, the war is not over. As of February 28, 2023, AimJunkies is attempting to contest the arbitration decision. While it is unclear whether they will succeed, it’s a good lesson for us all. Just like the old saying goes, cheaters never win.