Electronic Arts Sued Over Spore's Anti-Piracy Software

SporeElectronic Arts' controversial decision to bundle its new game Spore with digital rights management software that limits the number of computers on which users can install the game has sparked a lawsuit by a California resident.

In a class-action lawsuit filed last week in federal district court in the northern district of California, Maryland resident Melissa Thomas alleges that Electronic Arts did not disclose critical details about the anti-piracy software included with the game.

Specifically, Thomas alleges that Electronic Arts did not reveal that the software 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." She also alleges that consumers can't uninstall the software without reformatting their hard drives.

The lawsuit caps several weeks of consumer backlash to the game's digital rights management software, which users complain limits their ability to install the game on as many computers as they would like, or sell it when they no longer want to play it. Around 85% of the more than 3,000 reviews posted so far to Amazon give the game only one out of five stars, mainly because of the software restrictions. But despite the bad publicity, Electronic Arts has sold more than 1 million copies of Spore since releasing it earlier this month.

The game publisher recently relaxed the digital rights management restrictions, which originally prevented buyers from installing the game on more than three computers. Among other changes, users can now install the game on up to five computers.

In some ways, the Spore lawsuit is similar to cases against Sony BMG--which, in 2005, briefly bundled music CDs with hidden digital rights management software that was difficult to uninstall. Several state attorneys general filed complaints, as did the Federal Trade Commission. But in the Sony situation, the software also created security holes on users' hard drives, leaving people open to malware attacks by third parties, according to the FTC.

The software also triggered a class-action lawsuit against Sony BMG, brought by the same law firm--Kamber Edelson--that filed the case against Spore.

The Spore lawsuit alleges that Electronic Arts violated various California state laws, including its consumer protection law. If it's true that the software can't be removed, the case could potentially break new legal ground. "It really begs a pretty important question for the software industry: Whether installing software that a user can't uninstall is per se illegal," said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.

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