Spore DRM Prompts $5M Class Action Lawsuit

By Chris Faylor, Sep 24, 2008 8:11am PDT The controversy surrounding EA Maxis' PC evolution simulator Spore and its DRM continues to escalate, with studio owner and publisher Electronic Arts now facing a class action lawsuit due to the title's use of SecuROM copy protection software.

Whereas most of the controversy thus far has stemmed from the limited number of installs available to legitimate owners, the claims of plaintiff Melissa Thomas lay with the undisclosed installation of the SecuROM software that enables the above practice.

Filed on September 22, the suit argues that Thomas and "all others similarly situated" would not have bought the game had EA disclosed the title's installation of SecuROM. It claims that SecuROM prevents unspecified user actions and programs from operating, with the software only removable if "the consumer completely wipes their hard drive through reformatting or replacement of the drive."

The "aggregate claims of plaintiff and the proposed class members" are said to exceed the sum of $5 million, according to legal documents obtained by Courthouse News Service, with the suit specifically seeking "actual damages, individual restitution, equitable relief, civil penalties, cost and expenses of litigation, including attorneys' fees, and all further relief available" from Electronic Arts.

Relevant quotes from the document follow:

What purchasers are not told is that, included in the purchase, installation, and operation of Spore is a second, undisclosed program. The name of the second program is SecuROM, which is a forum of Digital Rights Management (DRM) for computer games. Although consumers are told that the game uses access control and copy protection technology, consumers are not told that this technology is actually an entirely separate, stand-alone program which will download, install and operate on their computers along with the Spore download. Consumers are given no control, rights or options over SecuROM. The program is uninstallable. Once installed, it becomes a permanent part of the consumer's software portfolio. Even if the consumer uninstalls Spore and entirely deletes it from their computer, SecuROM remains a fixture in their computer unless and until the consumer completely wipes their hard drive through reformatting or replacement of the drive.
Nowhere in any of EA's discussions, responses or explanations of its DRM did EA disclose that the Spore disk contained a separately install, stand alone, uninstallable DRM program which would install itself to the command and control center of the computer and oversee function and operation on the computer, preventing certain user actions, preventing certain user programs from operating or disrupting hardware operations.

Faylor's Take: With all the media attention and DRM controversy, I suppose this was inevitable, but I'm not too sure about this case.

It sucks that you aren't told about SecuROM and that it's a pain to remove, but this is far from the first game to perform such a feat. It's not even the most recent. Crytek's Crysis Warhead, also published by EA, uses the same SecuROM technology. So did Bioware and Demiurge's PC port of Mass Effect. Even Maxis' The Sims 2 used SecuROM.

And just what "certain user actions" and "certain user programs" does SecuROM prevent? I couldn't find a specific mention or example in the legal brief outside of a brief mention of system slowdown in the quoted Amazon.com user reviews, which is curious, especially in such an otherwise detailed document.

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  • Finkelstein Thompson LLP is a law firm that represents consumers who have been harmed by unfair business practices. We are currently investigating claims that computer games with an irremovable anti-piracy program called SecuROM may cause computer problems. These video games include: Spore, Mass Effect, The Sims 2, BioShock, Need for Speed, Medal of Honor, Armed Assault, Neverwinter Nights 2, Overlord, World in Conflict, Supreme Commander, Command & Conquer 3, and Stalker.

    Some Customers have complained that when they purchase and install these video games, SecuROM is automatically installed onto their hard drive with no warning, and they cannot remove the program. According to these complaints, SecuROM can cause a number of computer problems, including: the disabling of software and hardware operations, the disruption of other computer programs, and possibly making the computer more vulnerable to hackers.

    If you have purchased computer games with SecuROM and wish to discuss your rights and interests in this matter, please contact us toll-free at (877) 800-1450 or by email at contact@finkelsteinthompson.com.

    Responding to this advertisement does not, by itself, create an attorney-client relationship between you and Finkelstein Thompson LLP.

    Very truly yours,

    Mark Punzalan

    Finkelstein Thompson LLP
    100 Bush Street, Suite 1450
    San Francisco, California 94104
    Toll Free Telephone: 1-877-800-1450

  • I bought and installed Spore on my PC about the day after it came out. I went home and installed it, I didnt read the EULA (technically, yes that's my fault, but talk about wall of text, everyone knows very few people read it). I didn't know the game included SecuROM until today as I was reading this story.

    Everything seems to be working fine since installing the game, no problems that I know of. Daemon tools seems fine (though I haven't tested it). No PC problems that I can think of or have noticed that might be related to installing the game and/or SecuROM.

    That being said, I am not OK with not being told that the game uses SecuROM (besides the EULA). Games should have specific notifications when they use forms of copy protection that must be installed on the PC along with the game.

    For example, the cover of the box should have the SecuROM logo, big and bold in the corner, on the front. Or, the installation should list all installed components (like when games list music files, language packs, etc. that the user can install to increase load times) including SecuROM and similar programs so that the user is shown that they will be installed. A third option, is a simple prompt window appears somewhere in the installation program, before anything gets installed, notifying the user of the SecuROM (and/or similar programs) that they will also be installed and give the option to continue or cancel all of it.

    I think someone may have mentioned somewhere in here about returning the game to the store if you don't like the SecuROM the game uses (may not be true, I kinda was skimming). My first reaction was, "good luck, game retailers don't take open copies back because they could have been copied/cracked etc." Then I thought, "hmm, I haven't actually tried in a long while, I wonder if they would now. Maybe they will."

    So I called Software Etc. about 10 minutes ago, where I had purchased my copy, just to see what my potential options were. The call went something exactly like this: "Hello thank you for calling Software ETC. blah, blah blah, my name is Matt." to which I said "Hi, I recently bought a copy of Spore from you guys, and I was wondering if it was possible to return it." and then he said "Unfortunately we can't take it back if it's been opened." (which I had to do to get the EULA, the fine print on the bottom/back of the box about terms of agreement etc. is to vauge, inadequate, and frankly, unacceptable.) so I asked "No store credit? Cash? Nothing?" and he said "Sorry, no."

    End of story, I don't plan on returning the game anyway, but not finding out until 2 weeks later that SecuROM was installed and it wasn't made completely obvious and apparent to me, before I opened the package, means I might have wasted $50 and my roommates gas.

    This is unacceptable EA. More power to the plaintiffs.

  • Its realy realy stupid to sue for so much just because of DRM. I dont get why people think its so great to sue over realy stupid things and then demand a whold heap of money over it. Also this deal with developers going to consoles because of piracvy is stupid. Most consoles are hacked to play Pirated games and eventually the PS3 will be hacked. Theyre kidding themselves if they think their DRM or moving to consoles will change things. People of the world need to wake up and smell the beans.

    DRM will never work , moving to consoles will not stop piracy and stop suing ofer REALY STUPID THINGS.