Billy Mitchell Threatens To Sue The Guinness World Record Folks For Removing His Records

from the not-how-it-works dept

Last time we wrote about Billy Mitchell -- a man who appears to be famous for playing video games and pissing people off -- he was losing his legal fight against Cartoon Network for having a character that was a parody of Mitchell named Garrett Bobby Ferguson on its "Regular Show." The court was not impressed.

The GBF character resembles Plaintiff because both have long black hair and a beard. GBF also has a similar backstory to Plaintiff’s portrayal in The King of Kong, in that both held records at video games, and both are portrayed as arrogant yet successful, beloved by fans, and willing to go to great lengths to maintain their titles. But while GBF may be a less-than-subtle evocation of Plaintiff, GBF is not a literal representation of him. The television character does not match the Plaintiff in appearance: GBF appears as a non-human creature, a giant floating head with no body from outer space, while Plaintiff is a human being. Nor does GBF’s story exactly track Plaintiff’s biographical details. GBF holds the universe record at Broken Bonez; Plaintiff held the world record at Donkey Kong. GBF attempts to maintain his universe record through crying and lying about his backstory; Plaintiff maintained his world record by questioning his opponent’s equipment and the authenticity of his submission of a filmed high score. Plaintiff himself acknowledges that GBF is not a literal representation of him when he states that “[t]he actions of this character . . . make me look like some sort of monster, or creature, with no heart or decency. This is simply not me.”

The court also noted that, unlike Mitchell, when Ferguson lost his video game record "the character literally explodes, unlike Plaintiff." So there's that.

Apparently, in early 2018, there was a big controversy when Twin Galaxies, who tracks video game records (including for the Guinness Book of World Records), stripped Mitchell of his various records after claiming that an investigation showed evidence that Mitchell did not follow the rules. The Guinness folks later removed Mitchell's records as well, and later included Mitchell in a section called "The Records That Never Were":

Now, a year and a half later, Mitchell had a law firm send a threat letter to both Guinness and Twin Galaxies, demanding a retraction. There's also the, um, 156-page "evidence pack." Notably, despite the legal threat letter demanding a "retraction" for "their defamatory statements made against him," nowhere in the letter does it lay out which specific statements are actually defamatory. That's kind of a key thing that you're supposed to do if you have a legitimate claim of defamation. What actual statements the letter does mention don't seem to come close to the standard for defamation. Instead, Mitchell's lawyers are nitpicking about Guinness' specific word choice. For example:

Notably, Guinness World Records then published its 2019 Gamer’s Edition Book (see Figure 1). Titled “THE RECORDS THAT NEVER WERE,” Guinness World Records specifically cites the disqualification of Billy Mitchell’s “highest score on PAC-Man and the first perfect score on PAC-Man.” Following that, Guinness stated that Mitchell’s “submitted scores were obtained while using MAME.” In this statement, not only did Guinness World Records assert that Mitchell’s records, specifically his Pac-man records, “NEVER WERE,” but its use of the generalized phrase, “submitted scores,” also asserted that all his achievements were obtained while using MAME. These statements are factually false.

Defamation has to be pretty specific. Merely using a "generalized phrase" that might imply a conclusion that is different than what you want is not defamatory. The letter also demands that every record Mitchell had be restored, and insists that only partially restoring the scores won't be enough to avoid litigation:

This request for retraction is for all of Billy Mitchell’s records; a partial retraction will not suffice. Both Twin Galaxies and Guinness World Records must retract their claims impugning Mitchell's scores publicly, so the damages done to him will finally begin to reverse. There was a press release against Billy Mitchell, and there must be a reciprocal release in his favor.

Each corporation has a 14-day deadline to review the information and issue the retraction, or we will resort to legal recourse, our final option.

But, uh, not giving you a world record is not defamatory. What would they be suing over? I don't see what kind of legal claim there might be. There are also at least some questions about the statute of limitation. The Guinness World Record people are based in NY. The Twin Galaxies boss appears to be in California -- both of which have a 1-year statute of limitations for defamation. Of course, it's possible that he could file elsewhere with a longer statute of limitations. Either way, it's difficult to see what's defamatory here, or what the actual legal claims are. We'll wait and see what is said in response and if any litigation is actually filed.

Filed Under: billy mitchell, cease and desist, cheating, defamation, opinion, records, threats, video games
Companies: guinness world records, twin galaxies


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  • icon
    Thad (profile), 16 Sep 2019 @ 11:34am

    Apparently, in early 2018, there was a big controversy when Twin Galaxies, who tracks video game records (including for the Guinness Book of World Records), stripped Mitchell of his various records after claiming that an investigation showed evidence that Mitchell did not follow the rules.

    That's a diplomatic way of putting it.

    To summarize the linked articles: analysis of the video where Mitchell scored a million points at Donkey Kong indicates that it was done in MAME (an emulator), not on authentic hardware. And that he very probably save-scummed -- that is, repeatedly saved and reloaded -- to maximize his score (killing enemies with the hammer awards random points; Mitchell consistently got high points with the hammer, which would be extremely unlikely to happen by random chance).

    Mitchell at least seems to be tacitly admitting at this point to the allegation that he used MAME. In this quoted section

    Notably, Guinness World Records then published its 2019 Gamer’s Edition Book (see Figure 1). Titled “THE RECORDS THAT NEVER WERE,” Guinness World Records specifically cites the disqualification of Billy Mitchell’s “highest score on PAC-Man and the first perfect score on PAC-Man.” Following that, Guinness stated that Mitchell’s “submitted scores were obtained while using MAME.” In this statement, not only did Guinness World Records assert that Mitchell’s records, specifically his Pac-man records, “NEVER WERE,” but its use of the generalized phrase, “submitted scores,” also asserted that all his achievements were obtained while using MAME. These statements are factually false.

    he doesn't actually deny ever using MAME; he only denies using it for his perfect Pac-Man game, and other vaguely-defined "achievements".

    I haven't read the entire 156-Page Package (though I admit I'm tempted), but from this excerpt it sounds like maybe he's shifted the goalposts from "I never cheated" to "okay maybe I cheated that one time but my other scores are still valid!"

    Which may well be the case, but the trouble with getting caught cheating is it throws all your scores into doubt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Sep 2019 @ 12:44pm

      According to a Polygon story on this matter, part of his claim is that Guinness defamed him by implying all of his records were achieved using MAME:

      The letter to Twin Galaxies alleges that it defamed Mitchell, both in its findings and in later posts to their website. In banning Mitchell, Twin Galaxies also vacated records that were not in question, and banned Mitchell from further participation in their leaderboards. One of Mitchell’s records thrown out was a “perfect score” in Pac-Man (reaching the maximum number of points available in its 255 levels)[.] Mitchell’s attorneys say Twin Galaxies implied that score was tainted by cheating, too.

      Guinness, say the lawyers, cited that disqualification in its 2019 Gamers Edition compilation of records in saying that Mitchell’s “submitted scores were obtained while using [the emulator] MAME,” which the attorneys take to mean as applying to all of Mitchell’s scores, from 1982 to present day. They say that is factually incorrect and also impossible, as MAME was created in 1997. “Guinness World Records never conducted an investigation into Billy Mitchell’s Pac-Man records,” the letter says.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 16 Sep 2019 @ 2:02pm

        Re:

        Yeah, that's covered in the article.

        Mike quotes the filing:

        Notably, Guinness World Records then published its 2019 Gamer’s Edition Book (see Figure 1). Titled “THE RECORDS THAT NEVER WERE,” Guinness World Records specifically cites the disqualification of Billy Mitchell’s “highest score on PAC-Man and the first perfect score on PAC-Man.” Following that, Guinness stated that Mitchell’s “submitted scores were obtained while using MAME.” In this statement, not only did Guinness World Records assert that Mitchell’s records, specifically his Pac-man records, “NEVER WERE,” but its use of the generalized phrase, “submitted scores,” also asserted that all his achievements were obtained while using MAME. These statements are factually false.

        And then responds:

        Defamation has to be pretty specific. Merely using a "generalized phrase" that might imply a conclusion that is different than what you want is not defamatory.

        Guinness's wording is, perhaps, imprecise -- it fails to clarify that Mitchell's Pac-Man score has been removed because he submitted a different score that he obtained while using MAME -- but it's pretty hard to see that rising to the level of defamation. The most important point is that Mitchell's scores were removed because he cheated. That they removed his Pac-Man scores because he was caught cheating at Donkey Kong on a separate occasion may be an interesting clarifying detail, but failing to precisely clarify that detail isn't defamation.

        Incidentally, I tried reading the 156-page Evidence Package and...well, it's about what you'd expect. The scanned text is blurry, and the text itself is a damned mess of awkward phrasing, meaningless cliches, and grammatical errors (helpfully including wavy green underlines). I got to page 10 before I gave up. I can't rule out trying to read more of it later, but...jeez. While the letter is at least competently-written enough that I believe an actual law clerk probably wrote it, the "evidence package" reads like a screed from a comments-section troll. I assume Mitchell wrote it himself.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 17 Sep 2019 @ 1:02am

          Re: Re:

          "The most important point is that Mitchell's scores were removed because he cheated. That they removed his Pac-Man scores because he was caught cheating at Donkey Kong on a separate occasion may be an interesting clarifying detail, but failing to precisely clarify that detail isn't defamation."

          Yep, bottom line is that he was caught cheating, and that cheating puts every record in question.That's why you don't cheat - the punishment is (rightly) not just for the single instance where you happened to get caught, and Guinness have every right not to risk another one having slipped through their process. They have more to lose by letting another faked score remain in their book than they do incorrectly identifying a legitimate score from a known cheat.

          Lance Armstrong might have won some of his races without drugs, but there's enough suspicion to mean he got stripped of them, and the relevant bodies have every right to not wish to be associated with him in case they missed one.

          "Incidentally, I tried reading the 156-page Evidence Package"

          I giggled at the hopelessly vain, poor quality and pointless photo and didn't bother scrolling any further.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2019 @ 1:04pm

    The Donkey Kong record in question was proven to be MAME (An Arcade Emulator). This is due to how older versions of MAME handled Transitions from the "How High Can You Get" screen to the first level of the game.

    Note, the game DOES loop after the 4th stage.

    What normally happens is a "Curtain" like fill or render. Were the "How High Can You Get" screen is "Wiped" or faded in a triangular inward sweep. This is then rendered or drawn over, by the Game Play area in the same Triangular rendering fashion.

    However, Billy Mitchel's Run, did not do this. It instead showed a Top to Bottom Rendering of the Game Play area. This is also how Older Versions of MAME rendered the game as well. Which brought up the issue of using an Emulator to get a World Record. It is allowed, HOWEVER, those runs are separated from runs that use original unmodified Hardware.

    That is why those records were revoked.

    For more information on this and a visual demonstration on the transition rendering method of Donkey Kong:
    https://youtu.be/234Y76_3YPE?t=130

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2019 @ 1:26pm

    Manbaby Cries, NEWS at 11

    See also: Shiva Ayyadurai

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JustSomeGuy, 16 Sep 2019 @ 7:09pm

    This is the problem with cheating that people don't often realise. Once you're caught, ALL your achievements become suspect.

    The way to avoid this is, FFS, DON'T CHEAT! EVER!

    When the Aussie cricket team were caught ball-tampering a few years back, they should have been stripped of all their titles for the previous five years rather than the slap on the wrist they got. Maybe then they'd think twice about doing it again.

    I was never really a big fan of cricket but, now, I won't ever contemplate watching it again.

    P'ed-off Aussie (and that's pronounced with a z, not an s (and that z is a zed, not a zee)) :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2019 @ 7:25pm

    "The court also noted that, unlike Mitchell, when Ferguson lost his video game record "the character literally explodes, unlike Plaintiff." So there's that."

    Plaintiff lost his record and has exploded now. Does that mean the case gets reopened?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 17 Sep 2019 @ 12:15am

      Re:

      And how does

      GBF attempts to maintain his universe record through crying and lying about his backstory;

      not match Mitchell?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        bhull242 (profile), 17 Sep 2019 @ 2:29pm

        Re: Re:

        It’s a universe record, not a world record. I suppose that, technically, any world record in an Earth-made video game would, by extension, also be a universe record, but literally speaking there’s a difference.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Snape (profile), 16 Sep 2019 @ 8:01pm

    I wonder if there's a record for "most times killed by weak, worthless enemies in video games?"

    I think I'm currently at ten million or so...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2019 @ 8:38pm

    Well, if Billy Mitchell really wants a world record, he's well on the way to getting one for the dumbest defamation lawsuit ever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      bob, 17 Sep 2019 @ 10:29am

      Re:

      I dunno, email man has set the bar pretty high given how easy it is to refute his claims.

      Manbaby will need to do some deep digging if he wants to really make that record.

      Given how corrupt the Guinness World records company is I'm surprised he would fight so hard to be listed by them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Arioch (profile), 16 Sep 2019 @ 9:26pm

    Where do they come from?

    It's a video game, and one I got bored with years ago, but why attempt to cheat to get, at the end of the day, a record that is of minor interest and devalued further by these allegations of cheating?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 17 Sep 2019 @ 1:12am

      Re: Where do they come from?

      This is worth checking out as it directly addresses the subject in question, and is a pretty good documentary overall:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_King_of_Kong

      In Mitchell's case, it seems to be the typical story - he got some small prominence for something early on in his life, and has attached way too much importance to it, and he's the sort of dick who would rather manufacture a win to remain "on top" than lose honourably.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2019 @ 2:13am

        Re: Re: Where do they come from?

        he got some small prominence for something early on in his life, and has attached way too much importance to it, and he's the sort of dick who would rather manufacture a win to remain "on top" than lose honourably.

        Sounds oddly familiar, but can't quite put my finger on it. Any idea why, Hamilton?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2019 @ 7:20am

        Re: Re: Where do they come from?

        Much as Billy can be discredited after being caught cheating once, The King of Kong contains many falsehoods that should call the whole story into question.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 17 Sep 2019 @ 7:49am

          Re: Re: Re: Where do they come from?

          I was recommending in answer to the question of why people would want to take part in the competition in the first place. But, like the story or not, that specific documentary is far from the only source.

          "Much as Billy can be discredited after being caught cheating once"

          Key word being caught once. If you're going to do it once, expect everybody to expect you to have done it before.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      bob, 17 Sep 2019 @ 10:37am

      Re: Where do they come from?

      Records in video games are a big thing to gamers. Not just high scores but also completing games as fast as possible. Check out GamesDoneQuick, Speedrunslive and youtube videos by summoning salt.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2019 @ 12:47am

    Just wondering if this chap is the character that the dwarf games player in Adam Sandler's Pixels is based upon, as the dwarf chap is a Pac-Man and Donkey Kong champion, who as it turns out is a cheating twat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mike, 17 Sep 2019 @ 6:04am

    I watched a pretty in-depth video about Billy Mitchell on YouTube not too long ago. Several of his records got proven to be literally impossible, and instead of admitting to it, he doubled down, making threats and excuses.

    The video I mentioned: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=234Y76_3YPE - this guy has made a bunch of other videos on Billy Mitchell

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2019 @ 8:33am

    Ah, but will Mitchell's evidence show up on the docket via PACER, or will it require an emulator to replicate it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 17 Sep 2019 @ 3:34pm

    The thing that bugs me the most is that he’s asking for all of his records be reinstated. Even if he wins on all counts of defamation, I can’t see how any court would award this relief.

    First of all, records-keepers like these can legally make their own rules as to what records count or don’t count or how they must be submitted or collected, and those rules can be enforced completely arbitrarily and even unfairly. That is, unless you’re alleging anti-competition bias or something (and he’s not), you can’t sue someone for removing a world record from your publication, even for a completely made-up reason. You may be able to sue for the notice explaining why it was removed, but the removal itself is non-actionable. This is important for reasons I’ll get into.

    Second, he effectively admits that at least some of his records were done on MAME—or at least he admits he can’t disprove that he did, which is needed to prevail on a defamation claim. This means two things: 1) for those records that were done on MAME, they were absolutely illegitimate by TG’s rules, so he isn’t even remotely harmed in a defamatory way by those records being removed; and 2) by TG’s rules, if even one submitted record is determined to be illegitimate, then all of the records held by that person are presumed to be illegitimate and are removed, regardless of whether or not they could even be illegitimate for the exact same reasons. That rule is in place as a reflection of the untrustworthiness of liars and cheaters and as a matter of practicality. In other words, if even one of Mitchell’s records was legitimately removed for being done on a MAME emulator, that removal is in no way the result of defamation, and the removal of all his other records is fully in keeping with their publicly stated rules, and thus isn’t the result of defamation, either.

    Why is all this important? Well, in defamation cases, the available remedies are generally restricted to: monetary damages, removal of the offending statement(s), an injunction on the speaker(s) to prevent them from repeating the offending stayement(s) (after the underlying case is fully adjudicated), and a public statement that the statement(s) was/were false and defamatory. They do not typically include a reversal of associated actions.

    Here’s an example: an employee is fired and public statements he made on company-owned property (such as websites) are removed. His former employer makes a public statement about the firing and why it took place. The employee sues not for wrongful termination but for defamation based on the public statement. Since he lost wages for being fired and probably failed to get jobs later that could have earned him money, monetary damages make perfect sense. To prevent future reputational or other harms, the removal of the offending statement(s), an injunction against future republication of the statement(s), and/or a public statement recanting the statement(s) are also reasonable. However, he wouldn’t get his job back because the law doesn’t allow that as a remedy. It also wouldn’t make sense because you can’t force an employer to continue to employ someone they don’t want to. He also wouldn’t be able to force the company to reinstate the removed statements as that would not only infringe on the company’s FA rights but also because that removal wasn’t a direct result of the defamation, so the harm caused by the defamatory statement(s) wouldn’t include the removal of the statements from company-owned property. That is, the requested remedy has no real connection to the alleged harm.

    Here, it’s similar. Even if certain statements about the removal of records were defamatorily false and some of the records removed were legitimate, reinstating any or all of the records wouldn’t be a remedy that would be directly related to the harms caused by the defamation. Some of the removed records were illegitimate by TG’s rules, so they were clearly not the result of anything defamatory. Additionally, the existence of some illegitimate record calls all of his records into question because that impugns his trustworthiness, which is reasonable justification to remove all of his records, even if some of them may have been or probably were legitimate. So again, their removal is not directly the result of defamation. As such, reinstating any of Mitchell’s records would not be a remedy for any actual defamation but for reputational harms he brought onto himself by his own actions, which is not actionable.

    You also can’t have the courts force a company to keep a record that their rules say shouldn’t be kept. That’s a violation of the FA by forcing them to make a nonprofessional statement that they believe is genuinely false. Their leaderboards, their rules. They can remove any records they want for any reason or even no reason at all. This is especially true for TG, which only publishes records online, and those records come entirely from user submissions, so they can moderate those records as they please under CDA §230. And Guinness was essentially just removing the records because they only consider video-game-related records that appear on TG, so if TG removes them, so too must Guinness. They were essentially following a contractual obligation to a partner, and generally courts can’t force a party to break a contract if the obligation itself is perfectly legal (which it is here).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 17 Sep 2019 @ 3:39pm

    Mitchell, you seem to be missing the point (well, a lot of points, really). Just because you didn’t submit the score doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a “submitted score”. Someone submitted it to TG, and it really doesn’t matter who. That’s just how the rules work on TG. Just because you don’t like the implications of calling it a “submitted score” doesn’t make it false statement of fact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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