On December 6, 2021, Guangdong High People's Court overturned a lower court ruling over a game map copyright infringement case in favor of Tencent against seven defendants and awarded Tencent more than 25,000,000 RMB ($3.9million) in damages. As introduced by the court, it was the first validate judgment over copyright dispute of elements in game map nationwide.
Dating back to March 9, 2017, Shenzhen Tencent Computer System Co., Ltd. filed a lawsuit against seven defendants:
Fog Games (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd.(hereinafter referred to as Defendant 1),
Hero Entertainment (Beijing) Co.,Ltd.(hereinafter referred to as Defendant 2),
Hero Entertainment (Tianjin) Co.,Ltd.(hereinafter referred to as Defendant 3),
ZhuoYue ChenXing Technology（Beijing) Company (hereinafter referred to as Defendant 4),
ZhuoYue ChenXing Technology (Tianjin) Company (hereinafter referred to as Defendant 5),
4399 Network Co.,Limited. (hereinafter referred to as Defendant 6),
Shenzhen QiLe WuXian Software Development Co. (hereinafter referred to as Defendant 7),
alleging the game Crisis Action (CA) developed or operated by the defendants has infringed copyright of Cross Fire (CF), which is exclusively operated by Tencent in mainland China.
Cross Fire (CF) is a first-person shooter online game developed by a Korean company Smile Gate Entertainment,Inc, and it has been highly recognized by game players since its launch in 2007, which leads to its leading position in similar games. As a giant, Tencent was authorized as the only one operator of CF in mainland China with the right to file lawsuit as a plaintiff against other infringers.
As the exclusive operator, Tencent accused the defendants of having infringed copyright of CF including reproduction right and information network transmission right by having copied several elements of the game scene maps and their corresponding thumbnails from CF in the game CA. Tencent also requested the court to order the defendants to stop infringing, and paying 98,000,000 RMB ($15.4 million) in damages. In addition, Tencent also requested prominent statements of apology to eliminate the side-influence by the defendants on their official websites and the front page of Legal Daily, China Intellectual Property News.
As verified, the game CA was developed by Defendant 1, together with Defendant 3,4,5,7 are all whole-owned subsidiaries of Defendant 2. And Defendant 6 was charged for operating the infringing game on its website.
The first instance ruling was made by Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court, who found for the plaintiff, affirmed six maps of CA were infringement involved and awarded Tencent with 45,247,986 RMB ($7.2 million) in damages and another 95,394.12 RMB ($1.5 million) for reasonable right maintenance.
The defendants later appealed to a higher court.
In the final trial, Guangdong High People's Court overturned the judgment of the first instance, and modified the compensation amount.
The court found that the identification of copyright infringement for game map should be made after verifying the substantial similarity between the allegedly infringing maps and the protected ones, during which process should focus on the core expressions-- the spatial layout structures of the game scene maps (or "white box") in this case as CF is an FPS game. Moreover, elements in the public domain and contents without originality should be excluded from the copyright protection. Four of the six allegedly infringing maps can be deemed as infringing according to this principle while the other two were excluded for their spatial layout structures were different from CF.
Accordingly, the court adjusted the compensation and made it more than 25,000,000 RMB ($3.9 million).