Epic Games is suing a 14 year old YouTube streamer over alleged cheating in their game Fortnite. Not a sentence I thought I’d have to write today. The court case was raised after a stream Sky Orbit (Caleb), allegedly streamed himself using freely available online cheats in Fortnite. Epic Games claims that in doing so, he was giving others a how to guide on cheating, promoting cheating and the available links, and causing them a loss of profit.
Fortnite is a game still in development. The free section of the game is Fortnite: Battle Royale which is a 100 person PvP Battle Royale game. Players compete on one large map to be the last one standing. It’s very similar in style to popular battle royale game PUBG. The free Battle Royale part of Fortnite is the part that Caleb was streaming and cheating within.
Raising a whole new slew off issues regarding DMCA takedowns, Epic Games has filed a DMCA takedown of the video in question, but the 14 year old filed a counterclaim on the takedown strike. In filing the counterclaim, it seems Epic must either drop the case completely, or double down on suing. In a statement regarding the issue, Epic Games said:
“This particular lawsuit arose as a result of the defendant filing a DMCA counterclaim to a takedown notice on a YouTube video that exposed and promoted Fortnite Battle Royale cheats and exploits. Under these circumstances, the law requires that we file suit or drop the claim. Epic is not okay with ongoing cheating or copyright infringement from anyone at any age. As stated previously, we take cheating seriously, and we’ll pursue all available options to make sure our games are fun, fair, and competitive for players.”
The video in question seems to have been taken down since, but it may be too little too late.
With copyright infringement and the breach of the End User Licensing Agreement (The EULA), this would put Caleb and his family at risk of a $150,000 fine per incident. This is a major ethical issue as well, as the family as a whole would be punished, possibly bankrupted, for a minors actions.
This is where it all starts to get interesting though. Because it’s free to play and he’s a minor, Caleb might not be under the purchasing agreement. Fortnite doesn’t ask for parental consent when downloading, so even if Caleb agreed to the terms and conditions, he can’t actually be held to it without parental consent. With the lack of parental consent and purchasing agreement, the EULA might not actually hold true here.
Due to the nature of it being free to play, it also calls into question if they can claim any real profit loss off the event. Fortnite’s money is made primarily through microtransactions (and that’s a separate big issue at the moment). The cheats in question tend to give players better aiming advantages, rather than anything gained from a microtransaction, so loss of profit is a hard thing to claim here.
Luckily for the YouTuber, he has apparently been born to a kickass lawyer mother (or one who is extremely good at lawyer terminology).
Lauren Rogers has released a letter calling for the courts dismissal of the case against her son. In her letter, Lauren Rogers says:
“Epic Games Inc failed to legally bind underage users with their EULA agreement, which is a contract between the licensor and purchaser, establishing the purchasers right to use the software. This being said, the game itself was in-fact free. No purchase of said game occurred.”
She doesn’t stop there though. Lauren Rogers is justifiably, a bit angry about a company suing her 14 year old son:
“Touching on the subject of the game being free, Epic Games INC is claiming profit loss, their attorneys would need to provide a Profit and Loss statement to prove Caleb live streaming playing their game caused mass profit loss. It is feasibly impossible. It is my belief that due to their lack of ability to curve cheat codes and others from modifying their game, they are using a 14 year old child as a scape goat to make an example of him.”
She also calls into question the legality of Epic Games releasing the full name of a minor, something which is illegal in many places. Suing a minor is also illegal in many states. It’s unclear currently if Epic Games knew Caleb was a minor.
The whole document is available online and I strongly suggest giving the whole thing a read as it is a fantastically written piece and very interesting.
Caleb also released a video with his own thoughts on the matter:
It seems that while Caleb admits to cheating, he doesn’t think he should be punished for it. He admits to downloading and cheating, but denies making the mods. In his video, his first defence is:
“Fortnite cheats are f**king everywhere. You can get em from anyplace, anytime, anywhere.”
I’m very glad his mother is handling his defence. He states that Epic is taking issues with him using cheats because ‘they said I coded it‘. Epic’s counter argument is that they aren’t suing due to the cheats, they’re suing due to the video not coming down, and being a ‘how to’ guide to cheating- thus, promoting it.
This isn’t the first time Epic Games has attempted to sue cheaters. In October they launched a claim against Brandon Broom and Charles Vraspir, who are both said to be associated with the cheating service website, AddictedCheats.net. Since then, they’ve publicly filed at least four more civil lawsuits.
On Epic Games’ FAQ , they state:
We take cheating very seriously on both a legal and game development front. We don’t want to tip our hand by talking in-depth about how we combat cheating.
Cheaters are permanently banned across all Epic products.
It seems they’ve ‘tipped their hand’ a bit too far however. With most companies choosing simply to ban cheaters, Epic’s steps to sue are very uncommon. However, they don’t have a clear sign of the ramifications on their website about cheating. That leaves them even further in a legal grey area.
This is the first of their lawsuits against a minor however. How Epic Games responds is certainly going to be closely watched. With the growing tension surrounding microtransactions, lootboxes, gambling and minors engaging with them, this may be the worst possible timing for Epic Games.
This will undoubtedly call into question a lot of practices regarding EULAs, purchasing agreements, and their relationship to minors. Epic Games might not come out favourably, depending on their actions from here. If they continue and possibly bankrupt the Rogers family, it’ll certainly look bad for them. If they don’t, it may encourage cheating behaviour. It’s a wait and see case, but a very, very interesting one.
I’m willing to bet Caleb is very grounded though.