Well, it looks like Facebook’s attempt to have its lawsuit with Daniel Miller dismissed has failed again. The diligent reader will remember from our previous post that Miller brought a claim against Facebook alleging that the social website was in violation of copyright infringement by allowing the game ChainRX to be posted on its site. ChainRX is facially similar to Miller’s game Boomshine. Facebook has tried to have the lawsuit thrown out, claiming that Miller had not alleged a sufficient claim. The judge did not agree, saying that the threshold to have the case move forward was low and that Miller satisfied that low threshold. In the present decision, on Sep. 22, 2010, the judge denied Facebook’s claims that Miller had failed to prosecute the case because Miller did not serve the co-defendant Yao Wei Yeo. In a previous court order, Miller was told that he had until July 30 to serve Yeo with a complaint. Miller took subsequent steps to locate Yeo: he subpoenaed the website that hosts Yeo’s website, but was only able to obtain a UPS Store address for Yeo. Miller subsequently sent a complaint to the UPS address. Even though Yeo has yet to appear in the actual lawsuit, the federal judge has ruled that Miller has met the due process requirement for service of process. The federal judge, in his ruling, states that “[i]ndeed, it appears that defendant Yeo did in fact receive notice of this action.” After receiving the complaint in his mailbox, Yeo even contacted Facebook’s in-house counsel and discussed the case with him. It appears that the lawsuit will continue to go forward against Facebook. We will, as always, stay on top of the action and keep you as updated as we can.*Thanks to Josh Mosley for his continued help with this post and with the blog
N.D.Cal., Case no. 10-cv-00264
Facebook’s attempts to end a lawsuit with Daniel Miller before trial has again apparently failed. On July 23, 2010, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied Facebook’s second motion to dismiss and vacating hearing proceedings. Nearly two months ago Facebook alleged that Miller’s complaint did not meet “the minimum pleading requirements set forth in Iqbal” for allegations of direct and indirect copyright infringement.
In 2007, Plaintiff Daniel Miller authored Boomshine, a video game where players click on a floating circle which then expands and causes other contacted floating circles to expand. The game has twelve levels. Each level sets a minimum number of circles that must be contacted in order to advance the game. Every time a circle is contacted it expands for a limited period until it disappears. Thus, players must time their contacts just right before all the circles disappear. Mr. Miller owns a registered copyright for the Boomshine video game source code (i.e., as a literary work).
Sometime in 2009 defendant Yao Wei Yeo authored his own, allegedly similar, game ChainRxn. ChainRxn, like Boomshine, is played over the internet and also involves expanding circles that cause other circles to expand. The Defendant’s game is a Facebook software application written using the Facebook Developer Platform. The game appeared in Facebook’s “Application Directory” which allowed members of Facebook to download and enjoy the game.
According to the Plaintiff, ChainRxn shares the same “look and feel” of Boomshine and incorporates almost every visual element of the game. Miller filed a suit alleging direct copyright infringement based upon these allegations, but has since amended the complaint to allege only contributory infringement. Facebook countered that Miller could not state a plausible claim under Iqbal for direct copyright infringement because Boomshine is not registered with the Copyright Office as an “audiovisual” work, but as a literary work. Thus, Facebook alleges that only the source code for Boomshine is registered, not the game itself. According to Facebook, the non-literal audiovisual elements of Boomshine are not protected by Miller’s copyright, and any unlawful copying of the source code cannot be plausibly inferred from the allegedly identical look and feel of the two software programs.
In a recent decision, William Alsup, United States district judge for the Northern District of California, rejected Facebook’s allegations that the lawsuit could not proceed for two reasons:
First, because it would be “unreasonable, if not impossible” for the plaintiff to know in detail, “how defendant Yeo copied his computer code” at the pleading stage. Judge Alsup went one to state that all Miller could know at this stage of the proceedings is that sometime after he published his copyrighted work a copycat version appeared on Facebook bearing all readily observable similarities. The Judge continued by arguing that the plaintiff could make a reasonable inference that the underlying source code (which he holds a copyright to) was copied. The discovery stage will reveal whether or not this inference is false, and Judge Alsup intends to move the lawsuit toward that stage.
Second, the prior order did not hold that copyright protection for source code was limited to the literal elements of the work. Rather, it stated that “plaintiff’s copyright appears to be limited to the source code rather than the audiovisual aspects of Boomshine” to set the proper starting point for the analysis. Judge Alsup stresses that the prior order did not make any determination either way as to whether the various audiovisual aspects of the Boomshine software program were unprotected.
Its worth noting that, according to the United States Copyright Office, a copyright registration in the computer program also protects the resulting output generated by the program:
[A] single registration is sufficient to protect the copyright in a computer program and related screen displays, including videogames, without a separate registration for the screen displays or a specific reference to them on the application for the computer program. An application may give a general description in the “Author Created” space, such as “computer program.” This description will cover any copyrightable authorship contained in the computer program and screen displays, regardless of whether identifying material for the screens is deposited. (From Circular 61, emphasis added)
So, we will continue to monitor this case as it is likely heading to the latter stages of litigation. If you are interested, you can read the full order here. Also, for anyone looking to waste a little time, be sure and check out Mr. Miller’s game Boomshine [Author’s warning: The game is very addictive!].
Lastly, a big thanks to Josh Mosley, from the University of Miami Law School, for all his help, research, and assistance with the blog this summer (including this post). The posts by “Patent Arcade Staff” this summer were principally researched and written by him, and he also did 99% of the legwork for a new forthcoming section of the blog on issued video game patents. Thanks Josh, and best of luck in your last two years of law school!