(CN) – An online fantasy game can subpoena the personal information of cheating players in a California court, even though that information is under seal in a Massachusetts case, a federal judge ruled.
Jagex Limited is a UK-based company that owns “Runescape,” a massively popular multiplayer online role-playing game, free to users. In 2008, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized Runescape as the world’s most popular game of its kind, with more than 130 million accounts created since 2001.
The company sued Impulse Software in February 2010, claiming that Impulse violated trademark and copyright law by developing and selling robot, or “bot,” software for several online games, including Runescape.
Runescape provides a fantasy world in which a player guides a virtual character through various quests and challenges to reach higher levels. Establishing and maintaining a successful character “requires a substantial investment of time and effort,” according to the complaint.
“As of October 2009, the three highest ranked players have a cumulative total of over 2500 days in game (an average of approximately 20,000 hours each),” Jagex said.
Impulse’s Bot software allegedly “enables its users to cheat fellow players by completing in-game tasks and advancing characters with little or no human participation, thereby giving Bot users significant unfair and contractually prohibited advantages over legitimate players.”
Last year, the 9th Circuit resolved a similar case involving “World of Warcraft.” The federal appeals court vacated a $6.5 million judgment against a programmer who created bot software in December 2010.
That ruling may have influenced Jagex’s decision to file a separate lawsuit in California in June 2011 directly against customers who use bot software. In July 2011, Jagex successfully subpoenaed PayPal for the personal information of bot purchasers. It simultaneously informed its customers that if they did not stop using bots, they could be banned from the game or sued for copyright infringement.
Impulse filed an emergency motion for sanctions in response to this subpoena, because the same customer information is protected by a protective order in this case.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gordon denied Impulse’s emergency motion, saying that “the dire consequences predicted by defendants may transpire, but there are no legitimate grounds upon which this court is authorized to forestall them.”
According to the judgment, the “defendants implored the court to step in immediately to prevent their business failure” and alleged that the subpoena was a “sham proceeding initiated for the sole purpose of serving the subject subpoena.”
Gordon disagreed, finding that the subpoenaed information was “directly relevant” to Jagex’s other case and was “neither an abuse of the subpoena power nor a violation of the protective order in this case.”
“The protective order in this case does not preclude such discovery,” he concluded (emphasis in original).