Feeds

Hackers sued for tinkering with Xbox games

Skinned alive

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

In the first case of its kind, a California video game maker is suing an entire community of software tinkerers for reverse engineering and modifying Xbox games that they legally purchased.

Tecmo, Inc., a subsidiary of a Japanese company, announced a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Mike Greiling of Eden Prairie, Minn., and Will Glynn from Davie, Fla, for alleged violations of US copyright law and the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

According to the complaint, Greiling and Glynn were webmasters of ninjahacker.net, an online forum dedicated to creating custom content and modifications for certain video games. Also included in the suit, filed January 21st in Illinois, are up to 100 anonymous users of the site, whose identities the company vowed to unmask.

"[W]e believe it is our duty to uphold the integrity of our work," said John Inada, general manager for Tecmo, in a statement. "Hacking of this kind will not be tolerated and we intend to take all necessary measures to protect our intellectual property."

The lawsuit claims the ninjahacker.net users decompiled the code to several Tecmo titles, including Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive 3, and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, and figured out how to create their own "skins" that change the appearance of game characters. They swapped modding techniques and hundreds of custom skins over the website message board.

The defendants are not accused of pirating the games, and the modifications and methods at issue appear no different than those employed by hobbyists on other video games - from Halo to the Sims 2 --for years. But according to the lawsuit, Tecmo suffers in the practice anyway.

"Most of the skins posted on the Message Board by defendants show Tecmo Characters with appearances that are different from the original Tecmo designs," the complaint notes. "Several... are designed to make Tecmo Characters appear naked."

The harm isn't just to the wholesome values of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, hinted Tecmo spokesperson Melody Pfeiffer. There's a principle at stake. "Hackers, if they're allowed to do this kind of thing, will be allowed to hack into any game, anywhere," Pfeiffer warns. "We spent millions of dollars to develop these games, and people are coming in and changing the code to their liking, and that's illegal."

Jason Schultz, an attorney with the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, couldn't disagree more. "This complaint is absurd," said Schultz. "The law allows for fair use of other people's copyrighted works without any permission needed, and one of the key things that you're allowed to do is make copies in order to reverse engineer and understand how they work."

Everything the complaint accuses the defendants of doing is completely legal under well-established law, says Schultz. "If they'd offered a competing video game with Tecmo's code in it, it's a legal issue. But here, they have simply offered a way for legitimate game owners to modify how the game looks on their screen. Its like a home customization kit. It's not competing in any way with Tecmo's product. In fact, you have to own Tecmo's product to use this stuff."

Tecmo's Pfeiffer says the company is seeking $1,000 to $100,000 in damages for every custom skin swapped over the website.

"The key issue is going to be, do [the defendants] have the resource to fight back against a company that apparently has quite significant revenues," says Schultz.

A message on ninjahacker.net reports the site was taken down on January 25th, a few days after the lawsuit was filed. Greiling did not return a phone message Wednesday. In a telephone interview, Glynn said he hosted ninjahacker.net as a favor to Greiling, but that he had no other interaction with the site or its users. "Basically, I was hosting this website," Glynn says. "I don't own an Xbox and I wasn't into modding or skinning things."

SecurityFocus logo

Related stories

Property tycoon buys fantasy island
Sims 2 hacks spread like viruses
Halo 2 leaked onto the net
Oz mod-chip seller to take Sony to High Court
Judge deems PS2 mod chips illegal in UK

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Assange™: Hey world, I'M STILL HERE, ignore that Snowden guy
Press conference: ME ME ME ME ME ME ME (cont'd pg 94)
Premier League wants to PURGE ALL FOOTIE GIFs from social media
Not paying Murdoch? You're gonna get a right LEGALLING - thanks to automated software
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Ballmer quits Microsoft board to spend more time with his b-balls
From Clippy to Clippers: Hi, I see you're running an NBA team now ...
Online tat bazaar eBay coughs to YET ANOTHER outage
Web-based flea market struck dumb by size and scale of fail
Kate Bush: Don't make me HAVE CONTACT with your iPHONE
Can't face sea of wobbling fondle implements. What happened to lighters, eh?
Amazon takes swipe at PayPal, Square with card reader for mobes
Etailer plans to undercut rivals with low transaction fee offer
Call of Duty daddy considers launching own movie studio
Activision Blizzard might like quality control of a CoD film
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.