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PUBG developers sue mobile clone maker — plus Apple and Google

Krafton alleges infringement of PUBG by Garena Online, Google Play, and App Store

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Characters from PUBG Image: PUBG Corp.

The makers of PUBG Mobile, the mobile adaptation of PUBG Battlegrounds, sued Apple and Google this week over a battle royale imitator, sold on their mobile storefronts, which allegedly infringes PUBG’s copyrights. The lawsuit also names the maker of the copycat app, Garena Online, as well as YouTube for hosting gameplay videos the plaintiffs find infringing.

Krafton and PUBG Santa Monica, both of which brought the suit to U.S. federal court, say they previously brought claims against Garena in its home country of Singapore, for the sale of Free Fire: Battlegrounds back in 2017. The same game, now known as Free Fire, is at the heart of the U.S. complaint. Although Krafton said the 2017 complaint was settled, it did not include any license to Garena concerning elements of Free Fire derivative of PUBG.

Garena nonetheless began selling the game on Google Play and the iOS App Store in 2017, the lawsuit alleges. Then, in September, Garena published Free Fire Max, another battle royale game that Krafton says violates PUBG’s copyrights.

A spokesperson for Sea, Inc., Garena’s parent company, responded to Polygon on Friday with a short statement: “Krafton’s claims are groundless.”

Krafton’s lawsuit does not specify the damages sought, other than $150,000 in statutory damages for each infringement. But it’s holding Apple and Google (which also owns YouTube) responsible for these damages in addition to Garena. The complaint notes that “Garena has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from its global sales of the infringing apps,” with a lot of that coming from the Google and Apple marketplaces.

Free Fire is available on Google Play under the title Garena Free Fire Max, where it claims more than 100 million installations. It’s available under the same name on the iOS App Store, where it’s listed at No. 48 among adventure games.

Krafton’s 100-page complaint includes several screenshots alleging Free Fire copies specific elements associated with PUBG since that game skyrocketed to popularity in 2017. These include a pre-game gathering area; the parachute deployment that begins a round; a shrinking battleground; and supply drops and their aircraft. Many of these features are present or mimicked in Fortnite, Call of Duty Warzone Pacific, and other major battles royale.

But the complaint also shows that certain cosmetics and weapons associated with PUBG — like the welder-style helmet and facemask appearing on PUBG’s everyman mascot, as well as a frying pan — are also lifted directly into Free Fire.

PUBG Corp., as the main developer of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was known at the time (and whose parent, Bluehole, became Krafton) sued Fortnite maker Epic Games in May 2018, alleging similar infringement of its intellectual property. That lawsuit, brought in Krafton’s headquarters country of South Korea, was withdrawn for unexplained reasons one month later.

Update (Jan. 14): This story has been updated with comment from Garena parent company Sea, Inc.

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