from the mod-squad dept
We’ve been talking a great deal about Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games lately as it relates to their aggressive actions on modding communities for the Grand Theft Auto series. This new war on modders really kicked off over the summer, with the companies looking to shut down a bunch of mods that mostly brought old GTA content into newer games for retro fans. Then came one modding group managing to reverse engineer the game to create its own version of the source code, which it posted on GitHub. Rockstar DMCA’d that project, but at least one modder managed to get GitHub to put it back up. That project was called “GTA RE3” and was supposed to be the basis to let other modders do all sorts of interesting things with the game from a modding standpoint, or to forklift the game onto platforms it wasn’t designed for, say on a Nintendo console. Take-Two and Rockstar then cried “Piracy!” and filed a lawsuit.
That’s typically where the story would end. The modding group would hide or run away if they could, or they would settle the suit for fear of a long and protracted legal process. But that doesn’t appear to be the case here, as the four men behind RE3 have responded to the suit, denying all accusations and asserting fair use. The response from the modder’s attorneys is embedded below, but mostly consists of outright one-sentence denials or assertions that the claims in the suit aren’t such that they have enough knowledge to affirm or deny them, and therefore deny them. But there are also some nuggets in there that tease out what the defense would be if this thing proceeds.
Right off the bat, the defendants assert that anything they did in connection with their GTA 3 and Vice City projects were actions protected by fair use under the Copyright Act. If any copying of copyright-protected material did occur, that was undertaken to allow for interoperability of software and fixing bugs present in the original titles.
As a result, any alleged ‘reverse engineering’ of original code represents a transformative use of that content, i.e it added something new, with a further purpose or different character, and did not substitute for the original use of the work.
This is an interesting take. From what I’ve read on the project, you would typically need to have the source material, the original games, in order to make use of any of this code. That brings up the obvious question of whether there is any actual concern here of this reverse engineered code itself directly competing with the official games, particularly given that much of what this team did was done to patch bugs and apply fixes to games that Rockstar hasn’t patched themselves for years and given how Take-Two has screwed around with how the public can even buy these games.
Another important fact highlighted in the answer to the complaint is that the defendants’ modifications are useless in their own right. In fact, anyone who wished to make use of ‘re3’ and ‘reVC’ could not do so without already possessing copies of GTA 3 and Vice City, games that Take-Two stopped making available for purchase on its online stores.
This leads to the question of whether the alleged conduct of the defendants affected the market for those games and if so, in what way. According to the answer, the mods did not affect the market but to the extent they did, any shift would’ve been positive since people needed to purchase the games to use the mods.
Notably, Rockstar has taken a far different route when it has come to dealing with other mods that improve aspects of GTA games in the past. One example would be a modder who essentially fixed long-loading times in GTA Online, only to have Rockstar pay them for it. And yet with RE3, where the stated aim of the modders was similar, it’s all DMCA takedowns and lawsuits. And that mod wasn’t the only one, nor apparently the only “approved” of mod that required reverse engineering of the source code.
Take-Two has previously allowed third parties to develop mods of its software (including for GTA 3 and Vice City) without any adverse action in response. That’s according to the answer which states that Take-Two (or its “subsidiaries or predecessors interest”) have “showcased” mods and even released portions of its software to the Multi Theft Auto (MTA) mod project.
“These supported, encouraged, or allowed ‘mod’ projects, upon information and belief, required the reverse engineering of software just as Defendants are alleged to have undertaken. Upon information and belief, Defendants had an implied license to undertake any complained of actions or Plaintiff abandoned is copyright,” the answer reads.
It’s also notable that the response denies that any of this work was done within the United States. The response therefore questions why American copyright laws are being applied to activity that occurred outside of the country.
Will any of this work? That’s obviously a question for the courts and/or a jury trial, but it is worth noting that all of this is not occurring in a vacuum. Instead, Take-Two and Rockstar have had a hell of a couple of weeks of bad press due to a botched release of GTA Trilogy and the disruption of its game launcher that made many of its PC games unplayable. To be in the midst of all of that and then be fighting these modders who are simply trying to make the games people have bought, or will buy, more playable is one hell of a bad look.