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Feature: 'Call of Duty: The Lawsuit'

For today's exclusive Gamasutra feature, we follow our earlier in-depth look at Spark Unlimited and Activision's
For today's exclusive Gamasutra feature, we follow our earlier in-depth look at Spark Unlimited and Activision's game contract with a comprehensive look at the fascinating lawsuit centered around the Call of Duty series, and an earlier EA suit over Medal Of Honor and Spark. In this excerpt, author Jeffrey Fleming details the charges between the Spark founders, who left the Medal of Honor team to set up their own studio, and Electronic Arts, who charged that the team left with a number of archived assets to give themselves a head-start at a new WWII themed game: "Electronic Arts was not ignorant of Spark’s plans and when approximately twenty of its people suddenly quit, EA’s legal team went in to action, filing suit against Spark. Electronic Arts claimed that its former employees had helped form Spark while still earning paychecks at EA and further accused them of stealing trade secrets by copying proprietary development software, including source code, libraries of art work, and internally created tools prior to leaving. It would be the first of many lawsuits that would haunt Spark. Electronic Arts’ computer forensics expert reported a number of questionable .zip and .gho files on EA’s network that appeared to be evidence of copying. In a court deposition listing the alleged instances of software theft, he stated “I find it alarming that these gentlemen were in possession of this information as a ‘.zip’ file, which is used to compress large amounts of data into a size for transfer over the Internet or by a medium such as a CD-ROM or DVD.” Among the suspicious zipped files he also discovered “a massive file named ‘JERRY.GHO,’ which appears to be the entire MOHFL [Medal of Honor: Frontline] art asset database. The ‘.gho’ extension indicates it was created using Ghost software, which is capable of copying entire directories or drives.” In its opposition testimony, Spark countered that many examples of copied software could be attributed to errors on the part of EA’s own IT department, answering that “the receipt of a zipped file, and the unzipping process itself, will leave zip files on the recipient’s computer... The presence of zipped files on a computer may indicate that the user has created zipped files to copy onto a CD or to email to another user. However, it also may mean (as it does here) that the user has simply received and extracted zipped files.” Spark went on to point out that “Ghost files are often made by a company’s Information Technology department as a routine part of operations.” Spark further explained that any other files that its people may have copied while at EA were actually work samples to be used in their personal portfolios. Activision had already advanced over a million dollars to Spark and the lawsuit threatened to kill the company before work on Finest Hour could even begin. When the case was settled in April of 2003, both parties agreed to pay their own costs, leaving Activision to foot the bill for Spark’s $850,000 in legal fees. It was not an auspicious start for the developer and their troubles were far from over." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, with much more on the history of Spark Unlimited's rocky start, as revealed by court documents made public during its various trials (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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