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Can cheating on a video game be copyright infringement?

On Behalf of | Jan 6, 2022 | Copyright Infringement |

We usually think of copyright infringement as obtaining or copying someone else’s protected work, like a song, a movie, video game, etc. If someone is illegally streaming a video game for others to play, without permission from the copyright holder on the video game, the copyright violation is obvious.

When looking at technology that doesn’t steal or transfer copyrighted video games but alters the players’ experience of the game or improves their ability to perform in a game – like cheat codes – the legal question about copyright infringement becomes more complicated.

A recent lawsuit

In a recent story, reported by TorrentFreak online, game developer Activision has recently filed a lawsuits against EngineOwning UG, CMN Holdings S.A. and 56 individuals.

The lawsuit contends that the defendants have been distributing cheat code technology that gives some players of Activision’s “Call of Duty” games a distinct advantage in online play. Plaintiff further alleges that defendants are using and distributing technology that helps circumvent Activision’s anti-cheat software.

How can cheat codes be copyright violations?

There are two primary issues at play in a case like this:

  1. Hindering user experience of the game: Both the creators of cheat codes and those who use them in online, multi-player virtual environments are hindering the experiences of everyone else playing the game. This is analogous to someone infringing on a painter’s copyrights by splattering some paint in the corner. It changes the original work for everyone else who views the painting, and thus violates the artist’s copyright protections on the work.
  2. Circumventing anti-cheat detection software: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a federal law that, according to the S. Copyright Service, “prohibits circumventing technological protection measures (or TPMs) used by copyright owners to control access to their works.” In the Activision case, the defendants had to use technology specifically designed to circumvent the game’s built-in anti-cheat technology. This is the case in most of these video game cheat-code cases.

These are the two primary issues in online video game cheat code copyright infringement cases. However, there are nuances involved and other significant issues at play.

If you represent a game developer victimized by cheat codes, or if you have been accused of copyright infringement of this kind, these are serious, high-stakes legal matters. Make sure you work with an attorney who has experience handling these matters and litigating cases of this kind.