Over the past several years, several videogame companies have taken cheaters to court in the United States.
In 2021, American videogame companies Bungie and Ubisoft joined forces in a lawsuit against “Ring-1”, a developer and distributor of cheat software targeting Destiny 2, Rainbox Six Seige, and other popular titles.
Bungie and Ubisoft identified four defendants who allegedly ran the cheating business. Filed at a California federal court, their complaint named Andrew Thorpe (aka ‘Krypto’), Jonathan Aguedo (aka ‘Overpowered’), Wesam Mohammed (aka ‘Grizzly’), and Ahmad Mohammed as key players.
Aguedo and the two Mohammeds were tracked down in the United States and eventually admitted their wrongdoing. This resulted in settlement agreements totaling $600,000 in damages.
Thorpe, a resident of the UK, was the only defendant who failed to respond to the allegations, despite being properly informed. In the absence of a formal defense, Bungie and Ubisoft asked the court to issue a default judgment.
According to the videogame companies, Mr. Thorpe was a “prominent” member of Ring-1 who, among other things, “ran” the group’s official website. This claim was corroborated by the testimony of one of the co-defendants.
Bungie and Ubisoft requested $2.2 million in damages, a figure that includes compensation for several claims, including copyright infringement and trafficking in circumvention devices.
Unrepresented defendants run the risk of evidence weighing in favor of the plaintiffs. In this case, however, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen took a more balanced approach.
Court Denies Default Judgement
After reviewing the arguments and evidence presented by the videogame companies, Judge Chen denied their motion for default judgment. This means that the fourth and final defendant won’t be required to pay any damages.
The key issue at stake is whether the California federal court has personal jurisdiction over the UK resident. Specifically, Bungie and Ubisoft were required to show that he was a key player who directed his actions at the United States.
In his order, Judge Chen first considers the role of the defendant, relying on the evidence provided by the game companies. This evidence failed to show that Mr. Thorpe was a prominent Ring-1 member.
“Mr. Thorpe is not an original developer of the software or an original participant in the Ring-1 enterprise, but only joined after Ring-1 had already attracted many users,” Judge Chen writes.
“His role at the Ring-1 enterprise appears to be akin to a customer service representative. For example, customers have asked him for information related to the Cheating Software such as its features, operations, and updates.”
Bungie and Ubisoft argued that the defendant’s actions were targeted at the U.S., based on the notion that the broader actions of Ring-1 can be attributed to him. That goes too far in this case, as the court fails to see him as a leader.
Co-defendant Mr. Agueda testified that Mr. Thorpe ran the Ring-1 website. However, Judge Chen believes that the term “run” is vague and is therefore insufficient to consider the defendant an alter ego for the entire Ring-1 group.
Instead, the court decided to evaluate whether Mr. Thorpe specifically directed his personal actions at the U.S., which would be sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction. Again, Judge Chen found the evidence unconvincing.
“First, contrary to what Plaintiffs argue, the fact that the two Plaintiffs are located in the United States does not mean that Mr. Thorpe has thereby targeted the United States,” Judge Chen writes.
Second, Mr. Thorpe may have assisted customers, but there is no evidence that any of those customers were based in the United States. More fundamentally, there is nothing to indicate that Mr. Thorpe reached out and solicited those customers. Rather, the evidence indicates that the customers reached out to him.
Judge Chen ultimately decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude that Mr. Thorpe purposefully directed his activities at the United States. As such, the court doesn’t have personal jurisdiction over the UK resident.
That left no other option than to deny Bungie and Ubisoft’s motion for default judgment and the $2.2 million in compensation they requested.
“Without the requisite minimum contacts, the Court does not have specific personal jurisdiction over Thorpe pursuant to Rule 4(k)(2), and thus a default judgment is not warranted,” the order reads.
In a footnote, Judge Chen writes that the injunctions awarded against the other defendants – prohibiting the Ring-1 members from engaging in any infringing conduct going forward – also apply to Mr. Thorpe but notes that his court has no power to enforce compliance.
Whether Mr. Thorpe is still part of the operation is unknown but, despite the previous settlements, the Ring-1 continues to be online and publicly accessible to this day.
The ruling in this lawsuit stands in sharp contrast with the criminal conviction of Gary Bowser, who was a relatively low-level ‘salesperson’ of the Team-Xecuter ‘hacking’ group. Last year, a U.S. court sentenced the Canadian to 40 months in prison for that role.
A copy of U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chan’s order, denying the motion for a default judgment, is available here (pdf)