When Video Game Makers Sue Users for Broadcasting Cheat Codes

The video gaming industry is a massive, multi billion dollar business in the United States.  It is also a business that is almost totally intangible (with the exception of merchandise sales that carry the branding of individual companies or game titles.

Computer code is copyrightable, and before any major titles are released, that software is in fact protected by trademarks and/or copyrights.  

As one would expect, the video game developers protect their intellectual property through the use of copyrights, patents, trademarks, all of which are enforceable.  If they can't protect their IP, then they don't have a product to sell. 

There are a couple of new concepts at play in this legal update, but the basis for litigation described below is traditional copyright law. 

If you have a child or young person in your life who is under the age of 18, you know that one of the most widely watched type of YouTube videos are gaming videos, where a video gamer has recorded (or has livestreamed) his or her gameplay, and provided commentary of what he or she is doing. The actual online environment of the game is broadcast via YouTube.  

One thing that gamers tend to publish on YouTube are cheat codes for certain video games.  What is a cheat code?  A cheat code is just what it sounds like they are: pieces of software that can be downloaded that give the cheat code user special powers or abilities within the game that other players do not have.  With the rise of multiplayer games, there is an expectation in the game player community that the playing field (no matter how virtual) is level, and that all players are operating within the same online environment without unfair advantage.  More on that later. 

It's not surprising then that a company like Epic Games would file suit in federal court alleging a copyright infringement claim, among other claims, against an individual who admitted to using cheat codes on his YouTube channel.  Why?  The plaintiff alleges that the defendant violated Epic's End User Licensing Agreement ("EULA") by using and broadcasting the cheat and refusing to take down the YouTube video, among other copyright infringement claims.  It is important to note two things: 1) the original game was free, and apparently there was no consideration paid for the initial game, and 2) the defendant is a minor. 

There are many questions before the court in this case.  Is a cheat code a violation of copyright law?  Is an EULA enforceable against a minor?  Did the plaintiff violate the defendant's privacy by publishing his name?

While this case is in the beginning stages, there will be additional updates as it progresses. 

A Guide for Nonprofit Leaders During Election Season

Whether you are an executive director of an art museum, dance company, a faith based organization or sports league, if you run a nonprofit organization, election season presents some challenges. The federal primary elections are heating up, and this is a great time to revisit the rules for nonprofit organizations regarding political activity. 

Under the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”), public charities are wholly prohibited from participating in any political campaign on behalf of - or in opposition to - a specific candidate for office.  This prohibition is against direct or indirect activity.  Also, it should be noted that these rules do not pertain only to federal elections, state and municipal elections and candidates are also covered by this rule. 

Participation can mean the contribution of political campaign funds, or any public statement or advocacy specific to any candidate for public office.  Violation of this rule may result in the revocation of the nonprofit’s tax exempt status. 

Certain activities are permitted, however:

  1. Voter education activities in a nonpartisan manner;
  2. Voter registration drives;
  3. Get out the vote drives; 

However, if any of the above activities are undertaken with evidence of bias in favor of - or against  - a particular candidate, then such activity would arguably constitute campaign intervention and thus be prohibited activity. 

Specifically of interest for nonprofit executive directors and CEOs, the prohibition against campaign intervention is not intended to restrict your first amendment rights as a private citizen.  Best practices in this circumstance are to preface any comments you make publicly (whether verbal or in print) that they are your personal beliefs and not intended to represent the views of your organization.  Nonprofit leaders should avoid, however, making any partisan statements at official organization events. 

If you have any questions about political campaign activity and your nonprofit, please contact us today

Should Robots and Artificial Intelligence Be Granted Legal Status?

At the recent Future Investment Initiative in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom reportedly granted Saudi citizenship to Sophia, a robot built by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics.  Publicity stunt?  A scripted event?  Probably a little of both, but this opens the door on a very interesting question as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) become more and more integrated into consumer products and people's daily lives.  Should robots have legal status?  Citizenship?  Civil rights?  All of this is uncharted territory that our policy makers are going to have to confront very, very soon.

The pace of the development of AI has been far more rapid than experts have predicted.  The granting of Saudi citizenship to Sophia, does not seem to be solely a publicity stunt, and has kicked off many questions in the press about human rights in that country.  

For a moment, think about what granting American citizenship to an AI being could mean.  There is no such thing as degrees of citizenship.  In the United States, it is an all or nothing proposition. Either you are or you aren't a citizen.  The Bill of Rights and US Constitution apply to you or they don't.  Opening the door to a legal status for robots and AI beings is an incredibly thorny issue.  

Could individual states grants state-level rights and privileges to robots and AI beings?  In theory, yes.  I suspect that the federal government at some point soon is going to have to act, to at least hold preliminary hearings.

We have seen in another context that activists such as PETA have initiated strategic litigation to attempt (however unsuccessfully) to obtain federal rights for animals.  Most notably, the copyright litigation brought by PETA to obtain copyright ownership for Naruto, a macaque that lives in Indonesian jungle.   Expect that there will be strategic litigation on the "personhood" of robots and AI soon.  

Much more to come....

Tuk Law Offices and ArtsQuest Team Up To Provide Legal Training for Creators

Pleased to announce that Tuk Law Offices and ArtsQuest are teaming up for our first live event focused on legal issues that impact the arts and creators. If you are a photographer, web developer, or in publishing or social media, this event is for you.

We live in an economy of ideas. Every creative should have a working knowledge of copyright basics and licensing to protect the value of their work. In the age of social media, it becomes more and more important to know your rights in this area. This session will provide attendees a working knowledge of copyright law, licensing and current trends in social media on these topics. 

For tickets, please click on the logo!

The InVision Image Festival is a premier photo-based art festival that is designed to foster excitement and dialogue between a diverse group of participants around learning about and making art. The 3-day festival and complementary year-long programming provides professional development, networking and hands-on workshops for photographers, image-based artists, creative entrepreneurs, makers and DIYers. InVision leverages the unique attractions, history and landscape of the surrounding region and celebrates its diverse artistic and cultural community.

First Amendment Update: Federal Judge Rules Lehigh County's Official Seal Is Unconstitutional

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is very simple at first reading.  It provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...."  Those ten words have spawned volumes and volumes of legal analysis, countless lawsuits and provided a key issue in the culture wars that keep America in constant turmoil.  

An interesting ruling came down affecting the Lehigh County government: today a federal judge ruled that the County's official seal, which includes a prominent yellow cross, violates the US Constitution, specifically the Establishment Clause.  The fallout from this ruling is unclear, and there will be more developments shortly.  

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