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Developer of huge video game Fortnite sued for alleged copyright infringement

Written by  May 30, 2018

The creator of the smash-hit video game Fortnite is to be sued in South Korea for copyright violation.

According to the Korean Times, a lawsuit has been filed by PUGB Corp, a subsidiary of the publisher Bluehole. It alleges that Fortnite bears many similarities to its own title, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which was launched several months earlier.

PUBG claims an injunction was filed on Friday with the Seoul central district court against Epic Games Korea, the local office of Epic Games, a game publisher and developer based in Cary, North Carolina. An official told the Korean Times: “We filed the suit to protect our copyright in January.”

Fortnite was originally released last July as a co-operative zombie-shooting game. However, after the success of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, in which 100 players fight each other across a shrinking environment to be the last person standing, Epic Games released a new version of its game entitled Fortnite: Battle Royale, which features the same premise.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds aka ‘PUBG’ beat Fortnite to market but it has a much more naturalistic militarised look
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds aka ‘PUBG’ beat Fortnite to market but it has a much more naturalistic militarised look Photograph: PR Company Handout

Since its launch in September, Fortnite has become one of the most successful games in the world, attracting over 40m players. The game is free to download on consoles, PC and mobile, but participants pay for cosmetic items such as costumes and backpacks. Epic Games made almost $300m (£226m) from such purchases in April, according to market analysis firm SuperData.

Over this time, the popularity of PlayerUnknown’s Battleground has fallen. Fortnite is now the most popular game on streaming platform Twitch, while Battlegrounds has dropped to 10th place.

The lawsuit is complicated. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was created using a games engine named Unreal Engine 4, which is developed and licensed by Epic Games. PUGB and Epic Games also share an investor – the Chinese tech company Tencent, which has a stake in both and last month contributed $15m toward bringing Fortnite e-sports to China.

Copyright infringement is often difficult to prove in the video games industry, where competing publishers and developers often produce very similar titles in established genres. “In England there would only copyright infringement if it was shown that Epic copied a substantial part of PUBG,” said Alex Tutty of Sheridans law firm, which specialises in video game industry disputes. Epic Games has not yet commented on the lawsuit.

“Games are a bundle of intellectual property rights, but in this case what’s most relevant is that copyright subsists in the source code and in the representation of the game on screen. Without examining the court documents it is impossible to say, but it doesn’t appear that Bluehole is saying Epic has copied the source code for PUBG to produce Fortnite.

“With Fortnite, the style of the game does appear different to PUBG and given their close release dates it would seem less likely that copying took place [...] In their statement they say they are concerned that Fortnite is ‘replicating the experience’, which seems the sort of unreferenced statement that suggests that they are trying to protect the general gameplay.

“Traditionally the protection of gameplay where it does not directly copy is not an action that succeeds, and rightly so.”

There have been many attempts in the past to prove copyright violation in the games industry. In 1974, console manufacturer Magnavox sued Atari, arguing that the classic arcade game Pong infringed on its own patents and concepts. The companies settled out of court.

Fortnite

Fortnite Photograph: Epic Games

More recently, the mobile games industry has seen a series of lawsuits ver games that have been alleged to have effectively “cloned” successful titles. In 2012, the US developer SpryFox launched a lawsuit against another studio 6Waves arguing that the latter’s title Yeti Town was a direct copy of its own Triple Town. The case was settled out of court.

While PlayerUnknown’s Battleground has a naturalistic art style and focuses on authentic combat, Fortnite features cartoon-style visuals, fantastical weapons and the ability to build fortifications in the game world.

In April, PUGB Corp launched a similar lawsuit against mobile developer NetEase, which developed two titles, Rules of Survival and Knives Out, bearing strong similarities to Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds.

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