In this Aug. 30, 2016, photo, a man plays a computer game at a PC cafe in Seoul, South Korea. The maker of a video game that pits players worldwide in a fight for survival on virtual terrain has used U.S. courts to successfully chasten cheaters from Ukraine to Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jungho Choi)

Video game maker using courts to stop online game cheaters

RALEIGH, N.C. — The maker of a video game that pits players worldwide in a fight for survival on virtual terrain has used U.S. courts to successfully chasten cheaters from Ukraine to Minnesota.

North Carolina-based Epic Games has in the past two months squeezed promises from men in Minnesota, Sweden and Russia to stop cheating and spoiling revenues from its popular “Fortnite” online multiplayer game. The company also closed its case against a Louisiana boy with a confidential settlement.

Only the Minnesotan faces a $5,000 penalty if he resumes cheating. Epic Games spokesman Nick Chester would not say Wednesday whether that’s because the company can’t enforce financial penalties against foreign copyright violators. Chester would not say how much Epic Games estimates it has lost because of this cheating.

The company has sued three Americans and seven foreign gamers for hacks that undercut the game the company’s lawyers say is played by more than 30 million people worldwide. The company accuses the hackers of using and sharing covert code “that allows players to obtain game currency without paying for it” and making YouTube videos showing how well they are able to overpower opponents.

“Fortnite” players “explore, scavenge gear, build fortified structures and fight waves of monsters who want to kill the player and her friends,” company lawyers said in suing a New Zealand man earlier this month. The winner is the last one standing.

Cheating gamers are able to overpower their opponents by using tools that allow them to see through solid objects, impersonate other players and make moves other players cannot, according to one lawsuit. Up to 100 people can play the game at a time.

“Fortnite” costs nothing to play online but generates revenue by charging players for cosmetic options, like different outfits for their virtual character, which don’t give players an edge against rivals. Game currency can be purchased in packages of up to $100.

Cheaters “obtain items for free that other users must purchase or obtain limited-distribution game tools without earning them,” one lawsuit said. Cheaters who win regularly make the game less appealing and less likely players will shell out real cash.

The lawsuits, which were filed in North Carolina and California, allege violation of the game’s copyright and terms of use contract. One of the targets is a 14-year-old Delaware boy. Other accused cheaters in Russia and Canada have so far escaped receiving official notice of the lawsuits against them.

A 1990s-era update to federal copyright law sets up procedures where companies can demand that online service providers like YouTube remove material that violates the companies’ rights. The person or company that posted the challenged material can counter with a statement that the material isn’t illegal. But challenging the takedown notice can give U.S. courts jurisdiction over foreign residents in the dispute.

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