Over the past couple of years, Genshin Impact publisher Cognosphere has been to court several times in the United States hoping to identify those who leak unreleased content online (1,2,3,4,5).
What happens when leakers are identified is mostly unknown. Direct contact from Cognosphere’s legal team seems the most likely outcome but, since the courts aren’t directly involved, nothing can be confirmed from official records.
These matters in the U.S. sit in stark contrast to events currently unfolding in Canada’s Federal Court. A named defendant and others yet to be fully identified now face a full-blown lawsuit after allegedly failing to comply with the terms of a cease-and-desist notice.
Statement of Claim
The complaint lists Cognosphere PTE Ltd as the headline plaintiff but since its trading company HoYoverse is the exclusive licensee of Genshin Impact in Canada, that’s the entity with rights at stake in the claim.
Genshin Impact is described as a successful game but an expensive one too. In addition to an initial development budget of $100 million USD, around $200 million USD is required annually for the development of updates, expansions, and patches.
“This makes Genshin Impact one of the most expensive games ever developed,” HoYoverse informs the court.
HoYoverse’s exclusive rights in Genshin Impact include all copyrights and the right to prevent circumvention of the game’s Technical Protection Measures (TPM). According to the complaint, multiple TPMs are deployed to prevent hackers from engaging in activities that disrupt gameplay, devalue the game, and harm the Genshin Impact community.
These activities run contrary to Genshin Impact’s Terms of Service and while HoYoverse does what it can to prevent players from gaining an unfair competitive advantage, no measures are ever completely bulletproof.
“Defendants Are Members of Online Hacking Groups”
HoYoverse begins by identifying an individual said to reside in Alberta, Canada. They’re the only defendant currently identified by a real name but until such a time we’re able to confirm the person isn’t a minor, we’ll use their online handle ‘Taiga’ instead.
“[Taiga] is a software developer and self-proclaimed game hacker. [Taiga] is a member of game hacking groups including ‘Akebi Group’, ‘Crepe Team’ and others unknown to HoYoverse,” the complaint reads.
The remaining defendants are currently listed as John Does but, according to HoYoverse, all are members of the same hacking groups so it refers to them using their online handles.
“The John Does use online aliases including Callow (‘John Doe Callow’), Belizardd (‘John Doe Belizardd’), Witch God Solael (‘John Doe Solael’) and others that are unknown to HoYoverse but known to Taiga and each other,” HoYoverse notes.
Defendants Undermine the Genshin Impact Business Model
HoYoverse goes into considerable detail to explain why Genshin Impact’s TPMs are crucial to the smooth functioning of the game. In essence, the game is a finely balanced environment supported by a business model that relies on the game being just that.
When the alleged members of ‘Akebi Group’ and ‘Crepe Team’ inject their own code into the mix, that enables players to cheat, upsetting the balance of the game and the underlying business model.
“Since at least as early as August 2022 and continuing, the Defendants, have individually, collectively and/or acting in concert developed, advertised and marketed, distributed, offered for sale and sold hacking tools for Genshin Impact, including hacks referred to as ‘Akebi GC’ (short for ‘Genshin Cheat’), ‘Acrepi’ (a free version of Akebi GC), and ‘Genshin XYZ’,” HoYoverse informs the court.
A fraction of the cheat code
“The Akebi GC, Acrepi and Genshin XYZ tools operate to inject malicious code into the Genshin Impact code during loading, to modify the game contrary to the Genshin Impact TOS. The Akebi GC, Acrepi and Genshin XYZ tools do not function without Genshin Impact and therefore have no commercial significance or legitimate purpose and are only useful for illicit use in hacking the Genshin Impact game and code.”
HoYoverse claims that the founder of the Akebi GC project is John Doe Callow while Taiga is the “self-proclaimed ‘main developer and updater’ of Akebi GC, and the creator of Genshin XYZ. It’s alleged that around August 2022, Taiga and the defendants made the Akebi GC code available for public download, including via Taiga’s GitHub and UnknownCheats repos.
HoYoverse Takes Action
According to the complaint, HoYoverse filed a DMCA takedown request against Taiga’s Akebi GC GitHub repository in November 2022, alleging infringement of Genshin Impact copyrights.
HoYoverse claims that a “defiant and undeterred” Taiga responded via a publicly-posted message. That message remains on GitHub today.
HoYoverse goes into detail describing what happened next, but in summary, the Discord channel allegedly became the jump-off point for the ‘Akebi-Private Shop’ from where it’s alleged the defendants have been selling subscriptions to Akebi GC; 7 days for $7.99 and 30 days for $19.99.
HoYoverse says it responded by sending a cease-and-desist letter to Taiga on March 31, 2023, alleging copyright and trademark infringement, plus offenses related to the circumvention of Genshin Impact TPMs.
“In an email response, three days later, [Taiga] acknowledged that the unauthorized use of HoYoverse’s intellectual property was a mistake and took full responsibility for his actions,” HoYoverse reports.
“[Taiga] indicated that he had removed all infringing material from his website and his other platforms. [Taiga] also indicated that he had instructed his team and relevant partners not to use HoYoverse intellectual property.”
Cease-and-Desist Ignored, Lawsuit Ensues
HoYoverse’s assessment of what happened next can be summarized as follows: the John Doe defendants continued to develop, advertise, market and sell the Genshin Impact cheats, and Taiga continued to support Akebi GC, help gamers find and use Akebi GC, while maintaining the Akebi Discord server.
HoYoverse claims that Taiga also has a new cheat in production for a game it also owns, Honkai: Star Rail.
The company’s key claims are as follows:
Defendants have individually, collectively and acting in concert:
– (a) circumvented, (b) offered or provided services to the public to circumvent, and (c) distributed, offered for sale, or provided technologies, devices, and/or components to circumvent the HoYoverse TPMs, [contrary to] s. 41.1(1)(a)-(c) of the Copyright Act;
– infringed the copyright in the HoYoverse Works contrary to s. 27(1) of the Copyright Act;
– infringed the copyright in the HoYoverse Works contrary to s. 27(2) of the Copyright Act;
– provided services primarily for the purposes of enabling acts of copyright infringement of the HoYoverse Works by means of the Internet or another digital network contrary to s. 27(2.3) of the Copyright Act;
The company is seeking interim, interlocutory, and permanent injunctions to restrain the defendants from circumventing its Technical Protection Measures, and/or distributing, selling or any type of similar dealing in respect of its copyrighted works, in whole or in part.
HoYoverse further seeks an order directing the defendants to deliver up “all goods, articles, works, technologies, devices, components, or other materials” in connection with their infringing activities.
There’s also a request for damages, statutory damages, and/or an accounting of the Defendants’ profits, as the plaintiff may elect, in excess of $50,000. The company further requests punitive and exemplary damages, pre- and post-judgment interest on all monetary relief, plus costs “on the highest possible scale.”