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Woman sues EA over 'secret' Spore DRM

Digital rights rage

Electronic Arts may have tried to appease customers angered by slackening the Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions in Spore – but the game publisher's troubles over its use may have just begun.

On Monday, a class action lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of California on behalf of Melissa Thomas of Maryland and all others who purchased Spore in the US.

The suit claims EA intentionally didn't disclose Spore's DRM, known as SecuROM, which actively monitors the computer to prevent duplication and limits the number of times a customer can install the game.

Over the past few weeks, Spore's DRM has prompted a tempest of anger amongst customers over its installation restrictions and SecuROM occasionally knack for causing piracy false positives and interfering with a PC's hardware and other applications.

Also contributing much to the consumer ire are complaints that even if Spore is uninstalled, SecuROM remains on the PC.

"Although consumers are told the game uses access control and copy protection technology, consumers are not told that this technology is actually an entirely separate, stand-alone program which will download, install, and operate on their computer," the complaint states. "Once installed, it becomes a permanent part of the consumer's software portfolio."

The suit claims EA has engaged in "deceptive and unlawful conduct" by "secretly" including SecuROM in violation of California Consumer Legal Remedies Act and California's Competition Law, Business & Professions Code.

"No notice of its secret installation was provided to persons who loaded and uninstalled the Spore Computer game," the filing states. "No one was told that it was a separate program installing to the Kernel of the computer and that it could not be uninstalled."

Indeed, there doesn't appear to be any mention of SecuROM on EA's 29-page end user license agreement for Spore (PDF warning). The suit asserts all references of Spore's DRM are phrased simply as "online authentication," giving a false impression that the piracy protection is on EA's own servers rather than at the operating system level of the user's own computer.

The lawsuit asserts that Thomas would not have purchased Spore "and/or paid as much" had she known about SecuROM.

Customers have complained - notably on Amazon.com's user reviews of Spore - that DRM restrictions unfairly treat legitimate purchasers like criminals. Although DRM is intended to prevent piracy, the game was almost immediately cracked and illegally distributed on file-sharing websites without DRM, leaving many to feel that paying customers were rewarded with an inferior version of Spore.

SecuROM, developed by Sony DADC, has been adopted by several PC game publishers previous to Spore's release. Gamers have accused SecuROM of having similar functions to malware, arising in heated complaints of its use in popular titles like BioShock and Mass Effect. But because Spore has a broader public appeal, the DRM tool has received significantly more attention from customers and the media.

The lawsuit asks the judge to certify the complaint as a class action and award the plaintiffs the purchase price of Spore plus damages. A copy of the filing is available here (PDF). ®

Update

The SecuROM website appears to contains no reference or instructions on how the application can be removed. An email to support returns a form letter containing a link to file the company claims will uninstall SecuROM.

The reply reads:

"SecuROM does not install any malware, including viruses, spyware or Tojans, nor does it enable any third-party to gain access to your computer.

SecuROM simply downloads and stores SecuROM license data and information to assist with disc authentication and activation. This data and information does not affect your computer system in any way."

And I hadn't even mentioned viruses, malware, or nefarious things of that sort in my email. Clearly this kind of grief isn't something new for the company.

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