Feeds

Hackers sued for tinkering with Xbox games

Skinned alive

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Top three mobile application threats

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
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple ran off to IBM
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Nadella: Apps must run on ALL WINDOWS – PCs, slabs and mobes
Phone egg, meet desktop chicken - your mother
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
Samsung threatens to cut ties with supplier over child labour allegations
Vows to uphold 'zero tolerance' policy on underage workers
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.