by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
A reader asked me this month:
I recently obtained some source code for an online Web-based game. My partner and I have modified the game, changed the look, changed some of the code. However most of the game still works the same. I am planning to launch this game in the next few months.
Recently, the writer of the code contacted me, stating that if I do not take down the game, that he will contact his lawyers. I am in Australia. He is in the United States. I've heard of multi- national lawsuits before, but:
- Which laws am I under the jurisdiction of?
- Does it matter in which country the game is hosted?
- Can he sue me, even though I'm in Australia?
Because the game is hosted on the Internet and is available to both Australians and Americans, you could be sued under the law of either country. However since you are not resident in the USA, if you were sued in that country the author could only enforce any court judgment against you if he applied to an Australian court to have it registered here. This is quite a drawn-out and expensive process.
It is more likely that the author would retain Australian lawyers and sue you here. You cannot avoid being sued here simply by hosting the game off-shore. This is because as long as you are still personally present in Australia, and as long as the author can prove that you were responsible for copying his code, you are answerable for breaching his copyright, regardless of where the copied code is physically located.