FBI, NCSoft Close Down Unauthorized Lineage II Servers

FBI agents, working in conjunction with officials from MMO firm NCsoft, have closed down L2Extreme, a free website alleged to be providing "fraudulent service" by running unauthorized Lineage II servers. [UPDATE: Comments added from the FBI
FBI agents, working in conjunction with officials from MMO firm NCsoft, have closed down L2Extreme, a free website alleged to be providing "fraudulent service" by running unauthorized Lineage II servers. The operation, which NCSoft claims was "reaping profits" from its private version of Lineage II's servers, was closed down after multiple raids and interviews were conducted in various cities from California to Virginia. Federal search warrants were served on owners of L2Extreme who were also questioned during the raid. However, NCSoft's PR head David Swofford would not confirm any specific charges against L2Extreme in comments to Gamasutra, noting that the site was an "unauthorized group that were selling the right" to play NCSoft's game, and that the company "worked with authorities to have that corrected". Swofford explained in his comments to Gamasutra: "There's a lot of this investigation still to be [accomplished]", and that further information on the charges would be forthcoming. [UPDATE: Gamasutra had a chance to speak to Chris Thompson, the Austin-based FBI agent assigned to the case. Thompson noted that the case " an ongoing investigation", adding: "The charges for something like this are not really public." However, Thompson did make it clear that copyright-related investigations are part of the FBI's remit here. He referenced the message on the FBI-seized L2Extreme site, which specifies: "The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000." Regarding the Lineage II server code, Thompson explained that it was "really not determined" who had originally made it available, but the L2Extreme creators were "certainly someone who was using [NCSoft's proprietary code] - that is at least part of the investigation."] This hypothesis is backed up by a cache of a Wikipedia page on the L2Extreme service, which includes an interview with its 'owner' which reveals: "Jason Chambless is the original creator of L2Extreme. He played beta testing retail and one day found out that the Lineage II server files had been leaked. He liked the game so much, he then decided to use one of his spare computers to host the game." This implies that the servers were running on code that was originally the property of NCSoft, albeit significantly modified, thus making it different from the hotly contested Blizzard vs. BnetD case, which dealt with reverse engineering of Blizzard's servers, and has been the subject of multiple complex DMCA-related court cases. It is unclear, though, whether L2Extreme was genuinely charging for all players to use its servers - a Google-cached thread on the website from late 2005 asked: "Arent you guys a little worried about being caught by the Lineage2 people?", to which several commenters suggested: "If it was not a free server then they could get in trouble for it, but since it is free. they cant." It's likely that the service, like many other unauthorized Lineage II servers, accepted donations for server upkeep, however. Regarding the investigation, NCSoft commented: "L2Extreme was providing its users with unauthorized service and code for NCsoft’s online computer game, Lineage II. The warrants enabled officials to halt L2Extreme’s operations while collecting further evidence in the course of the investigation." The FBI estimated L2Extreme has up to 50,000 active users on its service, and L2Extreme advertised on its website that more than half million registered users had subscribed to play. “Operations like this essentially are defrauding customers by stealing from companies like NCsoft,” said Matt Esber, NCsoft North America general counsel. “In the end those losses impact our customer support, product development, operational areas and ultimately they impact our player communities, most of which are trying to play games legitimately. This group in particular was downloading our version of the Lineage II software from our servers, costing us close to a million dollars in realized bandwidth costs during the period it was operational. “We’ve taken this action because we strongly believe in defending the intellectual property rights that we’ve worked so hard to create. We’re extremely pleased that the FBI has worked with us so diligently to bring this particular case to its current state and we want our customers to understand that we will continue to fight similar operations in the future in order to maintain the integrity of all NCsoft games.”

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