Today we have some mysterious news about a lawsuit filed over two older Grand Theft Auto games.
videotech_ on Twitter has shared the details of the story:
“NEW: In 2021, Take-Two Interactive initiated legal action against a team of mod developers who had developed a project that involved reverse engineering Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto III, shortly after the developers launched a counter strike on GitHub.
As of today, both sides have reached an agreement to settle the case out of court, and the case will not be proceeding later this year. However, the terms of this agreement are not public and the mod developers are subject to pay Take-Two legal fees and other expenses.
Unfortunately, Take-Two still wants to hunt down the “remaining unnamed defendants”, so it’s not fully closed.
Just a small correction, the modding team are not subject to pay Take Two legal fees and expenses. I had misread this quote, but unfortunately the team has to pay for their own legal fees and expenses, leaving them in a horrible financial position.”
videotech_ also linked to the PDF of the settlement announcement, which you can read here. The settlement was allowed to name the defendants, namely, Angelo Papenhoff, Theo Morra, Eray Orçunus, and Adrian Graber.
These four are not the only defendants, so we may get more details about this case in the future. It is possible that the four were not involved in the actual programming of the reverse engineering project. They may have been added to the suit as people who contributed in other ways, such as sharing resources and advice to the actual developers to use in their project.
In a follow up, videotech_ also shared their opinion about this lawsuit:
“They didn’t do anything to harm Take-Two’s business. The mod developers just wanted preserve the games since the original executable files are so outdated and barely work on Windows 11/10.”
However, another developer, with the handle Speyedr_AU on Twitter, shared even more context on the situation:
“The downfall of the project was due to copyright violations, not reverse engineering.
They basically proved that they were copying IDA pseudo-code and didn’t follow clean-room practices, which means the project couldn’t be considered an original work.
Creating a program to modify the official versions instead of redistributing copyrighted code would have prevented the project from violating T2’s intellectual property.”
Speyedr_AU had this to add when asked about other decompiling projects not facing lawsuits:
“True, but it’s still code theft. Just because they haven’t been taken down (yet) doesn’t mean they’re not violating copyrights.
With that being said, there are also some arguments relating to abandonware that can be applied to old or unobtainable game ROMs.”
There is a lot that can be said about the legality, and separately, the ethics of violating copyright to preserve older video games. But, there is an elephant in the room that we definitely need to bring up here.
And that, of course, is the fact that Take-Two published their own version of these classic Grand Theft Auto games, called Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. And Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition is notoriously awful, as a botched port of what were already mobile versions of these older games.
Let’s not conflate all video game companies here. Nintendo is always at the frontlines when gamers complain about game companies blocking fan projects like decompilations and ports of their older games, but they usually don’t go farther than telling fans to stop their projects.
Take-Two is far more aggressive in this situation, and in ways that are arguably unfair and can be contested. The port that these devs were planning would presumably be more accurate than the version that Take-Two themselves published, if it was using the code from those classic games. That could be the reason Take-Two made those poor ports in the first place; to discourage fans from trying to make their own ports. Nevermind if their official version isn’t actually any good, so long as it allows them to litigate.
It does seem like Take-Two knows what they’re doing won’t be popular with their own fans as they have been quietly keeping it under wraps. But if people like videotech_ continue to be vigilant in watching this case, we may continue to hear about this case soon.