Starcraft Feels the Heat

Lawsuit spells out what Starcraft's publisher did wrong. Read each and every word here.

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What's the latest trend in computer games? You know, that je ne sais quoi that makes games more and more realistic? Well, if you answered video cards, sounds cards, or force feedback, you'd be close. What really makes computer gaming seem more like the real thing is the sudden - though not entirely unexpected - proliferation of lawsuits that now dot the gamers' horizon.

To be fair, there are only two lawsuits that have been filed with the local authorities... at least only two that we know about. But still, who thought disappointment and alleged broken promises would come to this.

In the interest of disclosing as much about these lawsuits as is legally possible, as GameSpot did with the pending lawsuit against Origin and Electronic Arts, here is the full text of the lawsuit pending against Starcraft publisher Blizzard Entertainment (and Blizzard's parent company Cendant Corp.).

What follows is the contents of the lawsuit filed in San Francisco County Superior Court by attorney Donald Driscoll. GameSpot News has taken the liberty of highlighting passages of the lawsuit that we deem to be of greater interest to gamers - though we print it in its entirety so you can read the whole darn document if you like. The lawsuit follows:

INTERVENTION INC., on behalf of the general public, Plaintiff,

v.

BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT, CENDANT CORPORATION and, Does 1 to 50, Defendants.

COMPLAINT FOR UNFAIR COMPETITION

Plaintiff will prove:

Plaintiff Intervention, Inc. is a California non-profit corporation engaged in protecting consumers from unfair competition.

Plaintiff brings this action for the interests of the general public.

In this action plaintiff seeks that each defendant's unfair or fraudulent business acts and practices. California Business and Professions Code section 17200 provides that any unfair or fraudulent business act or practice is unfair competition. Business and Professions Code section 17203 provides that any person who engages, has engaged, or proposes to engage in unfair competition may be enjoined, and that restitution may be ordered.

Intervention, Inc., acting for the interests of the general public, is a proper party plaintiff. California Business and Professions Code section 17204 provides that any person acting for the interests of the general public may bring an action for relief pursuant to Chapter 5 (sections 17200-17209) of the Business and Professions Code.

As reaffirmed by the California Supreme Court this year in Stop Youth Addiction v. Lucky, any unlawful business practice may serve as a basis of an unfair competition action. Defendant is engaged in an unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business act and practice within the meaning of Business and Professions Code 17200.

Plaintiff does not know the names of defendants Doe 1 to Doe 50, and will amend this complaint to assert those names when she learns them. Each Doe defendant conspired to commit and committed each act alleged in this complaint.

Cendant Corporation is a corporation. Blizzard Entertainment is a division of Cendant Corporation, business form unknown. Defendants have failed to register their businesses with the California Secretary of State, as required by law. Hereafter this complaint shall use "defendant" or "Blizzard" to refer to Blizzard Entertainment, Cendant Corporation, and to each Doe defendant.

Blizzard sells to consumers a video game for IBM PC computers known as "Starcraft." That computer game can be played individually, and it can also be played as a multi-player game over the Internet on Blizzard's computer, whose Internet address is www.battle.net. When Blizzard is played via www.battle.net, computer instructions which Blizzard put in Starcraft without the knowledge or permission of the consumer, can, at Blizzard's instruction, cause data to be uploaded from the consumer's computer to www.battle.net. Blizzard intentionally put those instructions in Starcraft for the purpose of uploading information to www.battle.com from the consumer's computer without the consumer's permission. During April, 1998, Blizzard knowingly and intentionally without the permission of the consumers caused Starcraft to upload data from the computers of persons using www.battle.com. The data Blizzard uploaded form the consumers included information establishing the consumer's name and e-mail address.

Blizzard's conduct violates two different sub-sections of Penal Code section 502.

The conduct violates section Penal Code section 502(c)(8). That section provides that a criminal offense is committed by anyone who “Knowingly introduces any computer contaminant into any computer, computer system, or computer network.”

Starcraft contains a computer contaminant. Computer contaminants are defined by Penal Code section 502(b)(10). That section defines provides that the term includes "any set of computer instructions that are designed to modify, damage, destroy, record, or transmit information within a computer, computer system, or computer network without the intent or permission of the owner of the information." Starcraft contains such a computer contaminant—a set of computer instructions designed to transmit information from the user's computer to www.battle.com without the permission of the consumer.

Blizzard knowingly introduces this computer contaminant into the computer of each consumer who installs Starcraft into a computer. It thereby violated Penal Code section 502(c)(8).

Blizzard also violated Penal Code section 502(c)(2), which provides that a crime is committed by anyone who "Knowingly accesses and without permission takes, copies, or makes use of any data from a computer, computer system, or computer network, or takes or copies any supporting documentation, whether existing or residing internal or external to a computer, computer system, or computer network."

Blizzard violated Penal Code section 502(c)(2) in that it knowingly accessed consumer's computers to take data without permission, including the consumer's name and e-mail address. The consumers whose computers were accessed were in San Francisco, in California, and elsewhere. However, Blizzard performed all relevant acts in California, and each piece of data unlawfully transmitted was transmitted to California.

The definition of "data" includes the information which Blizzard took. At the time the consumer's name and e-mail address were taken, they were stored as data on the consumer's disk. Penal Code section 502(b)(6) states that " ‘Data' means a representation of information, knowledge, facts, concepts, computer software, computer programs or instructions. Data may be in any form, in storage media, or as stored in the memory of the computer or in transit or presented on a display device."

Further, Blizzard knowingly accessed the consumer's computers within the meaning of the statute in that it caused its Starcraft game to execute instructions which uploaded data to Blizzard's computer. This follows because Penal code section 502(b)(1) provides " ‘Access' means to gain entry to, instruct, or communicate with the logical, arithmetical, or memory function resources of a computer, computer system, or computer network.

Even if in the future Blizzard does not itself use the contaminant in Starcraft to upload information without the permission of the consumer, other computers connected to the Internet could use the contaminant to cause consumers' computers to upload data without the knowledge or consent of the consumer. Thus the contaminating code which Blizzard put into Starcraft is a continuing threat to consumers.

For these reasons, plaintiff asks:

1 . That Blizzard be required to offer a full refund on Starcraft to each consumer to whom it sold the contaminated program, by way of restitution and so as to serve as a deterrent against future similar unlawful conduct.

2 . That this court enjoin Blizzard from using Starcraft to upload any information other than that necessary to the function of the Starcraft game.

3 . That this court require Blizzard to create an update to the Starcraft game without the contaminant described in this complaint.

4 . That Blizzard inform owners of Starcraft of the contaminant, and offer them the update without charge.

5 . That defendant pay plaintiff and plaintiff's attorney the costs of suit together with a reasonable fee: and

6 . That this court grant all such further relief as may be appropriate.

Date: April 27, 1998

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