Chinese ‘Developer’ Steals Game Engine, Sells it For Half Price

C. Custer
10:45 am on Aug 24, 2012

Recently we’ve been bringing you the saga of Cloudstone, a Western-developed indie game that was totally copied by Chinese “developers” and remains hosted on Tencent’s game platforms. Think that was just an isolated example? Think again.

Meet Impact, a Javascript game engine developed and sold by Dominic Szablewski that helps users make HTML5 games. Now meet Impact’s illegal ‘Chinese version’; an exact copy of Szablewski’s site and product that Szablewski has absolutely nothing to do with. The only differences are that the copied version costs way less, it comes with no after-sales support, and the money it generates is deposited into the bank account of a thief, not the engine’s real developer.

The real Impact site is on the left; the site illegally selling copies of Impact for half price is on the right

Szablewski says he first became aware of that someone in China was copying his website and illegally selling his game engine back in June. He told Tech in Asia:

I first tried to contact [the guy who stole my game engine] directly via email. Asked what he was up to and what it would take to make him stop. Obviously I never received an answer.

A few days later I emailed his hoster [the US-based Softlayer] with the request to suspend his account. Again, never received an answer.

On June 19th I registered an account on kilofox.net [the illegal Chinese copy’s domain] to look at the site a bit closer. The response to this was a DOS attack on impactjs.com [the official Impact website] that brought the site down temporarily.

The copied site, kilofox.net, is registered to one Long Yang, and the address listed along with its registration is in Harbin, the capital of China’s Heilongjiang province, although the Kilofox site suggests Long may now live in Beijing. When contacted by Tech in Asia with an request for an interview, Mr. Long responded:

The website [kilofox.net] is mine, but the product is not mine. I don’t think an interview is necessary.

Further attempts by this site to contact Mr. Long have been ignored.

Interestingly, Long’s site is hosted by Softlayer, a US-based hosting company that one would expect to be more responsive to claims of copyright violation. But Szablewski says that Softlayer has not been helpful:

On July 5th I got someone from Softlayer on the phone who told me that they can only respond to DMCA takedown requests. So I prepared a DMCA and sent it via fax to Softlayer. I never heard back and finally gave up on the whole thing.

A Softlayer customer service representative confirmed to Tech in Asia that Softlayer does require a DMCA report to investigate copyright claims, but further requests for comment or clarification on this specific case went ignored by Softlayer. The copied site is still up and is conducting business as usual.

Needless to say, this whole incident has been quite damaging to Szablewski’s business:

The bottom line is: I don’t know how many sales I lost. Prior to all this, I sold about 3-6 licenses per month to Chinese customers. This has gone down to about 2 licenses per month, while sales for all other countries have gone up. With numbers this low, it’s hard to say if it’s a fluke or really a consequence of the Chinese clone.

Since kilofox.net went online, I received numerous emails from Chinese customers who were confused whether the site was legitimate. After I told them it was not, they expressed how disappointed and embarrassed they were that someone from their country stole my product.

It’s a tough situation really. It’s not so much the sales I lose because of this, but the reputation for the game engine. I.e. when someones buys it from the fake site and does not receive the service and updates they would get from me.

That’s all depressing enough, but here’s the reason why this kind of thing should be taken seriously by every single person doing business in China. Szablewski told Tech in Asia:

I had some very happy customers from China and I would love to continue selling it in China, but honestly, stuff like that makes it hard for me to see China as a viable country to do business in.

That attitude is pretty widespread outside China and, as this case and the case of Cloudstone illustrates, it’s not unfounded. Do the majority of people in China’s tech industry pull tricks this dirty and lazy? Of course not. But perhaps more could be done within the community to discourage this kind of copying because it is destroying China’s reputation as a good place for smart people in technology to do business.

It also seems like Softlayer should be taking this more seriously than it apparently is. Perhaps there was some problem with the DMCA report Szablewski submitted, but if that’s the case, Softlayer apparently considers itself above explaining that to us.

This kind of theft should be approached from several directions at once. China’s tech community needs to be more direct and more vocal about its distaste for this sort of behavior. Hosts — whether they’re American, Chinese or anything else — need to take copyright violations seriously and investigate and rectify problems swiftly. Ideally, the thieves would also be brought up of criminal charges or at least forced to provide financial compensation to the people they’ve stolen from. That last one may be more difficult to accomplish given the complex nature of international law, but the first two should be easy. Why aren’t they happening?


Replies
  • fbparis

    Maybe the best solution for developers is to include kind of “Free Tibet” ads everywhere in their code to scary the chinese copycats (and if not scaried, my 2 cents chinese authorities would be more helpful to stop the guy :D)

  • justinchina

    Alternatively, he could copy the copiers Chinese Text…and use it for his own product/make his own Chinese version using the pirates work against himself…he may get some of his business back just by offering a localized product + his after sales-support and product updates.

  • John

    From my experience Softlayer is very responsive. There is no need to fax the DMCA, email is sufficient. The developer makes a drama out of nothing. DMCA is part of the business.

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Search-My-Fone-As-Soon-As-I-Get-Up-In-The-Morning/103571776377889 Unpredictable Sahil

    I agree with john comment..

  • Worth To Try

    Hi,

    First shame for this.
    Just want to point out the fake website got a validated “ICP Number”. (It is required by Chinese Gov for every public accessible websites in china, more informations: http://www.miitbeian.gov.cn/).
    The fake website ICP is in the bottom of the site: “黑ICP备06001016号”

    I am not sure the ICP system works, but as I runned a website in China before, as I know the site owner have to provide ID card or something and if the site is commercial have to provide company registered information as well.

    I am not sure what result you could get, but I think it is worth to try to contact the china ICP registered authority http://www.miitbeian.gov.cn/, phone: 010-6641116(Peking)

    PS: the fake site registered in Heilongjiang province ICP authority,(phone: 0451-53610153).
    But you need someone who can speak in chinese.

    Hope this help.

  • Worth To Try

    China ICP registered authority phone number: 010-66411166

  • James

    I agree with “Unpredicatble Sahil” and “John” that Softlayer are not the sort of people to create fake comments posted 3 minutes apart on an article containing negative reports of Softlayer’s business practices.

    No, wait. That’s the opposite of what I think.

  • http://codeincarnate.com Kyle Cunningham

    If you run a business, and your product is fully being stolen and hosted by a US company then it’s definitely time to get a lawyer and properly file a DMCA takedown request. The DMCA requires quick compliance with takedown requests, if they’re not met then the hosting provider is violating the safe harbor provisions of the law and becomes liable.

    This is becoming increasingly common, I’ve seen more direct website copies than I can remember off hand. I think the thing to do is to make sure that you get a Chinese language version of your software up as soon as possible. Hire a translator and get it out there! China is a huge economic opportunity and correct pricing and penetration into the market will help prevent copycats. For the rest, lawyer up, and prepare for the copycats to come.

  • Anonymous

    The response was a “DOS” attack, huh?

    How did you determine that? How do you know it likely wasn’t just a hosting problem or a temporary network problem on your crappy laptop? A “DOS” attack? Really? I find this highly suspect and probably just being dramatic. Which is a huge turn off and makes me not want to care.

    In fact, I don’t. Keep crying.

  • Jack

    “Maybe the best solution for developers is to include kind of “Free Tibet” ads everywhere in their code”

    Ha ha, classic, I like it! Seriously, China copies and steals, rather than innovate, it’s cultural. Why oh why does the west still let them play by “gentlemans rules” and give them any trust whatsoever?

  • http://gamecubate.tumblr.com Alex

    I tried to help Dominic with this after a brief discussion a few weeks ago. Being an expat living in China and running a small company and team specializing in game dev for web (impact) and ios, I figured contacting a friend of mine who works in government was worth a try. So I did and met with Creative Industries Division Government officials. They were helpful and explained the legal procedure that Dominic would have to follow. It’s involved but no more complicated than what I’d have to do back home, in Montreal. Still, distance and the apparently low benefit/cost ratio means that Dominic decided to not bother.

  • nuooo

    @fbparis If your idea was made real, the pirate version would surely disappear in less than a week, since the tibet-free-Based content is never expected to exist in the Great China region. Thus, the alternatives would benefit from Szablewski’s quit.

  • Daniel

    Some of the replies in the comments are quite suspect. It’s clear that the site is a complete knock-off and even worse stealing money off of another person’s hard work. If anything I think it’s clear that Softlayer is not a company to do business with.

  • http://peeka.sg Tse Erh

    This is very common, in our 2+ years operation, our web site name comes up in many posting for web-site cloning job, for the price of RMB 1000 to RMB 10000 …

    eg: http://task.zhubajie.com/1485215/
    http://www.witkeysky.com/html/46/n-780146.html
    … or you can just google keywords: 代购 网站 仿制 “peeka.sg”

    Good that they can only clone what the public see but not the backend processing which is the most valuable part.

  • Maybe Treat Fraud As Fraud?

    The victim is not ImpactJS’ developer, but the buyers of the fraudulent version. Why do you need to get into the whole copyright/IP idiocy (which is a totally arbitrary set of “laws” that varies entirely from country to country, from industry to industry.) when _clearly_ the chinese seller is engaging in plain old FRAUD towards the consumer (pretending to be someone else in order to take their money) which all legal systems have been handling for ages. DMCA?? ridiculous.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe he should post the info to consumerist.com? That tends to get business attention quickly

  • http://www.softlayer.com Kevin Hazard

    Hopefully I (as the only SoftLayer employee in this thread that I’m aware of) can provide a little insight. Before addressing the specific issue in the post, I want to share a quick overview of SoftLayer’s Abuse Department and the processes of handling complaints.

    The abuse@softlayer.com address functions as more of a notification system than a medium for conversation. You don’t have to be a SoftLayer customer to contact that address, and when reports of verifiable abuse are received, the abuse team will work with the customer responsible for the infringing server to get it resolved as quickly as possible. If the DMCA is properly formatted, the abuse team will work with our customers (who may, in turn have to work with their customers) to have the infringing material removed.

    If a complaint is submitted to that address that doesn’t meet the legal guidelines of documentation we need before we can take action, we cannot take action. If we can’t take action because of an incomplete or invalid complaint, we also can’t provide any visibility or feedback to the complaining parties about what was incomplete/invalid, as that could fall into the “legal advice” category.

    Abuse tickets aren’t handled by technical support, and they people creating and responding to the tickets are only responsible for abuse-related issues. Not only are they a distinct team, they fall in an entirely different part of the organization (alongside the legal, internal security and systems teams). As such, the way they respond needs to be extremely consistent from one issue to the next, and they’re only able to make decisions based on the reports/evidence they have.

    I don’t have visibility into the specific complaint that was submitted, so the only assumption I can make is that the complaint wasn’t properly formatted or it didn’t have the legal evidence we need to take action. Whether or not the copyright infringement is “obvious” or “unquestionable” from an outside perspective does not change our legal requirement of having a properly formatted DMCA complaint to take action. If there’s a lawyer in the building who is willing to offer his/her services to the game developer, a resolution might be a lot quicker. When the DMCA is submitted, I’d love to be copied on it (khazard@softlayer.com) so I can immediately have it investigated and acted upon.

    -Kevin Hazard

  • http://www.techinasia.com C. Custer

    Hey Kevin! See, this is exactly why I emailed you for comment on this story almost a week ago. It’s a shame you didn’t reply.

    As is mentioned in the post, according to Szablewski the DMCA has already been submitted; it was submitted back in July. I’m not sure how many of these you guys get, but I’m guessing you have some kind of electronic filing system that should make it fairly easy to look this case up…

    But I’m not sure why you’d need a DMCA anyway. From Softlayer’s MSA (emphasis added):

    . SoftLayer may suspend provision of Services to Customer without liability if: (i) SoftLayer reasonably believes that the Services are being used (or have been or will be used) by Customer in violation of the MSA or any applicable law, court order, rule or regulation in any jurisdiction; (ii) Customer does not cooperate with SoftLayer’s investigation of any suspected violation of the MSA or any applicable law, court order, rule or regulation in any jurisdiction…

    It sounds like Softlayer would be well within its rights to suspend the site pending investigation, and I would say there’s certainly evidence sufficient for Softlayer to “reasonably believe” that its services have been used to violate multiple laws in a few different places in this case. It’s worth noting that both “Fraudulent activities” and “violation of intellectual property rights” are both listed in the MSA as a violation of Softlayer’s AUP, and violation of the AUP can also lead to Softlayer turning off public access to the site and eventual suspension of services if the site owner doesn’t respond, which in this case I’m guessing he wouldn’t (since this was first reported to Softlayer months ago, I’m hoping the company has at least taken the step of contacting the kilofox.net owner about this).

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’d say that it would be pretty easy for Softlayer to suspend kilofox.net’s services, pending investigation, if it chose to do so. I’m sure you’ve got lawyers who could defend that in court if you needed to (which I’d be willing to bet an awful lot of money you wouldn’t).

  • slf

    WTF!!!! .. I advice you guys put this post onto China’s biggest twitter Sina Weibo.. Lets more pple know about it .

  • http://www.softlayer.com Kevin Hazard

    The trouble with “suspending the site” is that the site isn’t operated by a direct customer of ours. If the site is one of hundreds that are renting shared hosting space from one of our customers, any action on our part would affect those hundreds of innocent users who happen to be on that server as well. The action we would take when a valid DMCA is submitted would be to contact our customer, and the customer has the ability to suspend or disable the specific site. We can’t take that action without the valid DMCA, and while I’m not in abuse (so I don’t have access to the abuse team’s systems), I’d assume that the DMCA was not properly formatted or it didn’t include all of the information we needed.

    The best course of action would be for the game developer to send the DMCA again via email to abuse@softlayer.com and copy me on it so I can escalate it to the director of the abuse team immediately.

  • Jeremy

    Hi, the domain name is resolved to a US IP, so the government in China is not able to administer this issue. But you may try to complaint this to US because the IP is in US.

    C:\Documents and Settings\hp>nslookup http://www.kilofox.net
    Server: google-public-dns-b.google.com
    Address: 8.8.4.4

    Non-authoritative answer:
    Name: http://www.kilofox.net
    Address: 50.23.136.28

  • Jeremy

    Oh, sorry, please ignore what I’ve posted, I’ve missed the latter part…

  • http://www.techinasia.com C. Custer

    @ Kevin: Interesting. Can you by any chance share the name of the customer/company that’s directly hosting this site, then? I’m guessing if they have hundreds of people renting their server space, it’s probably a public-facing company so if nothing else maybe you could provide the URL or something else to work off of?

    With regards to your advice about the DMCA, I will pass that along to Szablewski and he can do with it whatever he would like. I think the problem is that after submitting one once and receiving no response whatsoever, he’s afraid that doing it again would just be a further waste of time, money, and energy. With all due respect, I have to say I understand that perspective, and I’m not sure how meaningful your promise to escalate the case this time is given that you ignored my request for comment for nearly a week (despite the fact that I specifically asked that you reply with a no comment if you didn’t want to comment so that I wouldn’t waste more time waiting for one). Of course, you are perfectly within your rights to do that; I’m just saying that given his perspective and what he’s seen so far, maybe it’s not unreasonable for Szablewski to be skeptical that further pursuit of any action with Softlayer is going to be worth his time.

    That said, like I said, I’ll pass along your advice and I hope he takes it anyway.

  • http://www.techinasia.com C. Custer

    @ Anonymous: Actually, he did include details about how he determined it was a DDoS attack in his email to me; however, I left them out of the post because I didn’t think that kind of technical information would be interesting to most of our readers and it seemed sort of tangential to the overall point.

  • http://www.softlayer.com Kevin Hazard

    I just got an email from Mr. Szablewski, and when he sent the DMCA to our abuse team via email after seeing my response a few hours ago, he received a reply that the DMCA was received and was being processed by the team. He didn’t copy me on his initial submission, but he forwrarded the response, so our customer is being notified, and they have a short window of time to take action on the site.

    When it comes to providing the customer’s name, I’m hesitant … Our customer is in the same position SoftLayer is, and to have them directly associated with their user’s behavior would be unfair to them. I’d also rather err on the side of caution when it comes to SoftLayer’s privacy policy and sharing customer information. Hopefully it’ll all get resolved quickly, and our customer’s identity will be a non-issue.

  • JG

    The concept of IP as the West knowns simply doesn’t compute in most of East Asia. It’s basically “it’s not physical so you can’t own/claim it”. Only things that a physical are intuitively seen as possibly “owned” or “steal-able”.

    Be aware also that when the US was “China” and the UK was the “US” (the 19th century), the US did ALL the same IP thieving we rant about with China. It’s part of how countries lift out of resource and commodity product economies and move to industrial revolution and high tech economies.

  • NB

    @JG: Yes.

    Unfortunately, cases such as this one automatically get entangled in a web of IP-based lawyerist nonsense in the current system whether we like it or not.

    It’s funny how some of the same people who are against RIAA and such things in the music world are simultaneously arguing for similar organizations in _their_ world (game development, etc.) to carry out the same types of actions (take down these site, take down that site, etc), under the hypocritical flag of “protecting author’s rights”.

    Some people never learn.

  • http://www.techinasia.com C. Custer

    @ NB: I think that’s a bit of a straw man argument, don’t you? The RIAA is fighting to shut down P2P sharing sites that are used for lots of legitimate purposes in addition to piracy, and it is also suing customers who just download music to enjoy for themselves. I think there are some very significant differences between advocating that approach (kill the platform, attack the customers) vs. what’s being suggested here: shut down a website that operates exclusively to sell stolen material and prosecute not the people who bought it but the person who stole it and is fraudulently selling it.

    IP theft is IP theft and it’s wrong either way; but I do think there’s a big difference between shutting down an entire P2P network because someone downloaded a song from it for free and shutting down a single website that’s selling pirated material exclusively.

  • NB

    C. Custer: First of all, I was responding to a comment which brought up the concept of “IP”.

    A comment which also brought up the hypocrisy of whining about “those chinese who steal”.

    So I answered to that. And that’s that. I wasn’t really comparing the chinese dude to a person downloading mp3s.

    But now that you mention “IP theft”, I’ll have to refer to that:

    There’s no “IP theft” here (or anywhere), because “IP theft” is a made up, ridiculous, intersubjectively inconsistent concept.

    You could try to make “IP” a valid concept, if you stretch the concept of “property” so far as to include intangibles (i.e. algorithms, scientific formulas, idea for a cure for cancer, etc) and infinitely reproducible digital bits. But that stretch is nonsensical, since the whole reason the concept of Property even exists in the first place is: To avoid the conflict that arises when more than one actor wants exclusive control of some scarce tangible thing.

    Now, countries have legislation (which of course wildly and arbitrarily differs among them, since it’s not in check with reality) that views – and treats! – the following two concepts as if they were equal:

    1. Digital copying/cloning of virtually infinitely reproducible things.
    2. Theft of tangible, scarce, physical property. For example the theft where A owns X, and after B steals the X, A no longer has it).

    But those two are clearly not equal, or similar in any way. And neither are their consequences.

    Legislation (words written on a piece of paper by some guy) doesn’t make “IP theft” a valid concept. Just like anti-gay marriage legislation doesn’t make anti-gay marriage “theories” valid. (Well, for those who _are_ anti-gay marriage and reading this: just think of some evil piece of legislation in some backward country, and you’ll get my point).

    So what do you say to that? Probably this:

    “Oh you’re right, the ImpactJS dev did not lose his copy of ImpactJS, like in _real_ theft. So it’s not ‘traditional theft’. However, he LOST POTENTIAL BUYERS because of what the chinese dude did!”.

    But if you think that through, you’ll notice that it’s a weak reason for taking violent action against a person. Because clearly you can’t just go around taking down sites that cause “Losses of potential, would be, buyers” of ImpactJS.

    What if I have a very popular gamedev site, and decided to post a really negative review of ImpactJS, saying that I THINK the library is the reason my game crashes computers and so I recommend nobody uses it, therefore causing a huge “loss of would be buyers of ImpactJS”. Are you going to take my site down? Because of _that_ reason (loss of potential buyers)?.

    So, you probably ask me: “OK so what’s your point? Are you saying that the Chinese guy should simply get away with it?”.

    No. Chinese dude _is_ making an evil move, indeed. But that evil move is deceiving people in order to get their money. The deceived buyer is the victim.

    Maybe in order to download ImpactJS one has to sign a contract with a clause in the veins of “…agree not to make a site selling this thing”? Then great. He’s in breach of contract. So now you’ve got 2 arguments against the chinese guy, none of them being based on bogus IP nonsense.

    Maybe you’d ask: “What if the buyers have NOT been deceived? What if the site has a text that explains that what you’re being a rip off of the original ImpactJS and has no support/etc”, then you’d have only the breach of contract argument.

    Then you could ask: “What if there’s no such contract either?”. Then you have no (morally and logically consistent) argument against the chinese merchant, sorry. However, as you know, you’ll still be able to take action, due to the existence of IP legislation (which is based on bogus, inconsistent, and arbitrary arguments.)

  • http://www.techinasia.com C. Custer

    @ NB: That all makes sense if predicated on the assertion that “intellectual property” is a meaningless and valueless concept, but I don’t agree to that. The fact that nothing physical has been lost and the “stolen” goods can be reproduced is irrelevant because the “theft” here isn’t the product itself, it is a theft of the concept of property/ownership. If you can copy and sell my digital creations at will, they are no longer my property in any meaningful way. I may be able to recreate them ad infinitum, but I have still definitely lost something: the exclusive ability to decide what happens to something that I created. Moreover, that “stolen item” can indeed be recovered if, for example, you are stopped from copying my creations. It is intangible and abstract, but to my mind, that doesn’t make it any less of a theft.

  • roserouge
Read More