Nexon's Copyright Infringement Case Against Dark And Darker Is Official And Looks Terrible For Ironmace
As we've said before, Dark and Darker has serious issues here. This isn't just taking an art asset that wasn't yours.
Obvious disclaimer: I write for a gaming site, I'm not a lawyer.
Have you been paying attention to the feud between Nexon and Ironmace Studios? If not, you should be. As we've talked about on the Always Online podcast, this case, if it ever became official, could be one that shapes the gaming industry a bit... and this past weekend it became "paperwork official".
Nexon has officialy filed suit in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington and is demanding a jury trial to review their claims that Ironmace Studios is infringing on copyrights that Nexon owns. In addition to naming Ironmace Studios, the creators of Dark and Darker, in the suit, Nexon also names two specific individuals, Ju-Hyun Choi and Terence Seungha Park, both of whom were previous employees of Nexon's that the filing claims signed non-compete clauses (this is unlikely to matter) and who were involved in the storing of P3 (Nexon's project they allege Dark and Darker infringes upon) assets on an external server after the company required this off-site storage no longer be used (this will 100% matter).
This external storage option was an exception made during the COVID-19 pandemic which Nexon later discontinued post-pandemic. Nexon alleges Choi continued using external storage after the practice was discontinued without permission.
The filing also alledges that Choi pulled source files onto other spun up external servers that Nexon wasn't even aware were in use. Nexon specifies "twenty separate downloads of stolen P3 source code and art resources" to these servers, eighteen of which "occurred after Nexon lifted its COVID-19 work from home policy on June 2, 2021."
The filing then accuses Choi of plotting to leave Nexon and soliciting team members to leave with him and work on the project outside of Nexon. Nexon claims that Choi's assertion of Nexon cancelling P3 when attempting to recruit employees was false, Choi knew it was false, and Nexon had already moved P3 to production.
Perhaps the most damning accusation, though, comes from Nexon saying Choi was confronted and had initially agreed to turn over his servers to Nexon so they could be forensically examined to determine if Choi had disclosed the information to any third parties. He later rescinded his agreement and said the servers were deleted multiple times at his direction to ensure the data was gone and couldn't be recovered.
Since Nexon can then no longer investigate the servers, Nexon claims they have to infer the data was purposely spoiled by Choi to avoid an investigation and could still be available to someone, somewhere. Nexon's internal investigation alleges over 11,000 key files were transferred and the files included art, source code, build files, and more. Choi was eventually terminated from Nexon employment.
Now, Park enters our story.
After Choi's termination, Park left Nexon and founded Ironmace. Choi and 9 other members of the P3 project ended up coming to work at Ironmace. Nexon accuses Ironmace of creating Dark and Darker in just 10 months, something that would have been impossible without the use of the stolen P3 materials, particularly source code and playtesting revisions. A point that Ironmace will almost certainly dispute should this end up at trial.
The extensive filing then continues by comparing assets, class choices, and the purchase of Unreal assets for P3 to those in Dark and Darker. While in a vacuum this portion of the filing could (and likely will) be argued as coincidental, in totality the accusation is pretty damning.
Sure, Nexon can't copyright a genre and Ironmace can cutely have ChatGPT verify that, no one disputes that. I can also make a Cleric in my game and you can make one in yours and they can be super similar. Hell, we can both buy the same Cleric art and STILL not be stealing from each other.
However, that isn't what Nexon is claiming is infringed. Citing the actual Copyright Act in question, Nexon's claim is that the "arrangement" as a whole of the assets creates original authorship... and legally they are right using that definition. (Granted, I'm not a lawyer, but you don't really need to be one to be able to read.)
While Dark and Darker was able to kick off a recent playtest via a Torrent download (something my non-lawyer self would have advised strongly against doing) following delisting from Steam, this honestly doesn't look good for the game.
I enjoyed the game itself, I'd love it to release. However, as we've said on the cast often, this doesn't seem to us to be a case of "big bad corporate company bleeding small team dry via legal fees" as much as Ironmace wants to claim it as such.
I love underdog stories, but after reading the full filing (and having guesses it was going to go this way for a while ahead of the filing), I can say that Ironmace certainly wouldn't want me on the jury, despite me being a fan of what they are creating.
About the Author
Mike “Magicman” Byrne has been a part of the MMOBomb family for years and serves as the site’s current Editor-in-Chief. His love for MMOs and gaming in general has led him to covering games for numerous websites including Gamebreaker TV and XIV Nation where he proudly displays his fanboy flag for FFXIV:ARR.
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