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Tecmo Reaches Settlement In 'Dead or Alive' Lawsuit

by Rainier on May 22, 2005 @ 10:11 p.m. PDT

In a follow up to our Tecmo vs. Ninjahacker editorial from a few months back, it seems a federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit by California game maker Tecmo against the proprietors and users of the website, after the company quietly settled with the two main defendants. Read more for details ...

Tecmo filed the lawsuit in January in a crackdown on NinjaHacker.net, an internet forum where fans created and shared custom content for several Tecmo Xbox titles, including Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive 3 and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Users had reverse-engineered the games to figure out how to create custom "skins" that changed the appearance of onscreen characters, in some cases rendering the already scantily clad women of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball completely nude.

The defendants were not accused of pirating the games, and the modifications and methods at issue appear no different than those employed by video-game hobbyists. Moreover, the new skins could only be installed voluntarily, and only by Xbox users who'd taken the trouble to equip their consoles with a "modchip" allowing custom code to run. But the lawsuit, filed in Chicago, argued that the hacks violated a raft of U.S. trademark and copyright laws, federal and state prohibitions on unfair competition, and the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Named as defendants were NinjaHacker's webmaster, Mike Greiling of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and Will Glynn of Davie, Florida, who provided Greiling with hosting services.

Federal Judge Charles Kocoras dismissed the case last Thursday, according to court records, with leave to reinstate it if the settlement is not finalized within 30 days. Glynn confirmed in a telephone interview this week that he'd reached a settlement with Tecmo, but neither he nor his lawyer would elaborate on the details. "I can tell you that my client would not have been inclined to reach any agreement that would have required him to pay money to Tecmo," said attorney Charles Mudd.

The lawsuit also targeted up to 100 anonymous users of the website, whose identities Tecmo vowed to unmask earlier this year. Those users were the focus of the settlement talks, said Jason Schultz, an attorney with the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which had been tracking the case. According to Schultz, Tecmo insisted that Greiling and Glynn hand over NinjaHacker's user database to the company as part of any deal. "Tecmo wanted to get the personal identifying information of people who were uploading and downloading skins," said Schultz. "I don't know if that was in the final settlement."

Greiling did not respond to telephone and e-mail inquiries. A woman answering the phone at his family's residence said, "I think part of the resolution is that he couldn't talk about it." Tecmo, which announced the lawsuit in February with a press release, did not respond to repeated inquiries on the settlement.

Asked if he gave up the contested user database, Glynn said, "All I can tell you is that my arrangement with Tecmo is done, and they're not going to be suing me anymore."

If the pair turned over NinjaHacker's user list, a new round of lawsuits could follow, said Schultz. "Now that they know who these individuals are, (Tecmo) may choose to go after them." But Schultz argues that most of the skinning activities consisted of users making lawful "fair use" of the Tecmo games. "If they do end up suing some of those end users, I think we'll see a real fight over that."

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