In 2015, French video game developer Ubisoft released Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. The game released to critical acclaim, winning the Best PC Game at the Game Critics Awards. Utilizing a game-as-a-service model, Rainbow Six Siege boasts more than 55 million registered players, 5 years after the game’s release. In April 2020, a competing, strikingly similar mobile game launched on the Google Play and Apple stores. As a result, Ubisoft sued both Google and Apple for contributory copyright infringement.
Ejoy.com, a subsidiary of Chinese company Alibaba, recently released Area F2 as a free-to-play game including microtransactions, or in-game purchases. Game critics immediately noticed striking similarities between Area F2 and Rainbow Six Siege. More importantly, Ubisoft noticed the same similarities, contacting Google and Apple to request the takedown of the Area F2 app for alleged copyright infringement. However, Google and Apple largely ignored Ubisoft’s requests, instead choosing to make money off the Area F2 microtransactions.
Why File the Takedown Request?
Ubisoft’s strategy in this case appears to be to pressure app stores to protect its intellectual property rights. The big question here is: why did Ubisoft pursue Google and Apple, as opposed to Alibaba? Copyrights protect the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. As a result, media can include similar ideas, but cannot include subject matter copied from another source. Commonly in the world of video games, the copied subject matter includes lines of code stolen from an original source. As such, Ubisoft would have to prove that such copying exists between Rainbow Six Siege and Area F2, which can be a difficult undertaking.
Instead, Ubisoft’s tactic appears to be shutting down the means of consuming the competing product. Specifically, Ubisoft’s federal court filing targets the Google and Apple app stores to remove Area F2 from the stores. Since copyright infringement can be difficult to prove, Ubisoft decided the best route forward is to remove the ability for consumers to easily play Area F2. In addition, Ubisoft likely prefers to litigate against Google and Apple as opposed to Alibaba, a Chinese company with few legal ties to the US.
Ubisoft filed the copyright infringement lawsuit last week, so it’s still very early in the case. It will be interesting to see how tech giants Google and Apple respond to the allegations of contributory copyright infringement by hosting an app on their platforms. The result of the case could have vast implications for intellectual property policing on the part of Google and Apple.