Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds studio Krafton has filed a lawsuit against Apple, Google, YouTube and free game company Garena over two mobile games, Free Fire (originally called Free Fire: Battlegrounds) and Free Fire : Max, which he says “largely copies many aspects” of the groundbreaking Battle Royale game.
Garena began selling Free Fire in Singapore in 2017, shortly after PUBG launched, according to the lawsuit (via The Verge). This apparently led to a lawsuit and settlement, but this settlement did not include any sort of license agreement or permission to distribute the game. Despite this, a mobile version of the game appeared on the App Store and Google Play the same year, followed by Free Fire Max in 2018.
The combination claims that both games duplicate features of PUBG, including the “unique ‘air drop’ game opening feature, game structure and gameplay, combination and selection of weapons, armor, and of unique objects, locations, and the overall choice of color schemes, materials, and textures.”
Krafton alleges that Garena has earned “hundreds of millions of dollars” worldwide from app sales and in-app purchases. He also points the finger at Apple and Google, which have relied on in-app purchases (each takes a percentage of purchases through their in-game payment processing systems) while denying Krafton’s demands to stop distributing the games.
YouTube is also named as a defendant, for hosting (and refusing to remove) videos featuring Free Fire and Free Fire Max gameplay, as well as the Chinese feature film Biubiubiu, “an unauthorized adaptation of Battlegrounds, depicting a dramatized version in Live Battlegrounds Gameplay.”
Video game analyst Daniel Ahmad actually pointed out the possibility of copyright infringement in July 2021:
Here’s the official poster, who, uh, could be infringing copyright? Who knows tbh. But PUBG (PC) and Peacekeeper Elite (Mobile) are extremely popular in China and it’s no surprise to see a movie like this being made. It comes out on August 6 on Youku (in Chinese only) pic.twitter.com/bfmKb0JCKeJuly 24, 2021
Interestingly, the lawsuit claims that prior to its efforts to have Biubiubiu removed, Krafton filed a copyright infringement notice on another PUBG-like movie called Run Amuck. In this case, YouTube took action (although the film remains available), which Krafton sees as evidence of a double standard at work: “Unlike Biubiubiu, the Run Amuck videos were posted by users individuals who arguably lack the deep pockets necessary to fully indemnify YouTube from liability for copyright infringement,” the lawsuit states.
Krafton also cites a similar lawsuit filed by Ubisoft against Google, Apple, and game developer Ejoy in May 2020 regarding a mobile clone of Rainbow Six Siege. “Apple and Google refused to comply with a video game developer’s request to remove an infringing game from their respective stores,” the lawsuit states. “It was only after the developer filed a lawsuit against the infringing developer as well as Apple and Google that the infringing developer removed the app itself. Significantly, neither Apple nor Google ever taken action on their own.”
In this case, Ubisoft withdrew its legal action against all parties after the Rainbow Six Siege clone was removed from sale, and it is possible that the same will happen in this case. For now, however, Krafton is seeking injunctions against the sale of Free Fire and Free Fire Max, the posting of videos featuring either game and the movie Biubiubiu, and all manner of financial damages. The amounts at stake could be substantial: Garena isn’t particularly well-known, but in 2020 its parent company, Sea Ltd., reported revenues in excess of $2 billion in the “digital entertainment” category alone.