Makers Of 'Spore' Get Hit With Lawsuit

The new PC game Spore has drawn heavy criticism for the copy protection its maker, Electronic Arts, installed on the game without consumers' knowledge. A lawsuit has been filed in California and the case is reminiscent of the Sony BMG "rootkit" case three years ago.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block. The new computer game Spore has sold more than a million copies since its release earlier this month. But not everyone is raving. Thousands of users have complained about copy protection software that they say is crashing their computers. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, today attorneys in California filed a class-action lawsuit against the game's publisher.

LAURA SYDELL: Spore was one of the most highly anticipated games in history. Its creator, Will Wright, also made the immensely popular Sims and Sim City games. In Spore, players create their own creatures that eventually evolve into a species that creates its own society. Shortly after the game became available, complaints started to appear on Web sites. Consumers who had purchased the game charged its publisher, Electronic Arts, with secretly installing digital rights management, or DRM, software.

The software limits how many times a user can copy the game to another computer. The federal class-action suit filed today charges Electronic Arts with installing potentially damaging software on consumers' computers. The plaintiffs' attorneys did not get back to NPR. Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the concern is that the restrictive software will limit legitimate uses.

Mr. FRED VON LOHMANN (Electronic Frontier Foundation): It may not be a problem today, but in a year or two years' time, after we've changed computers, maybe updated the operating system, people who are perfectly legitimate purchasers will get caught by these restrictions.

SYDELL: This isn't the first time that consumers have challenged DRM software. Sony BMG faced a lawsuit over DRM on its music CDs. In that case, the software actually made users' computers more vulnerable to attacks from hackers. The Spore DRM doesn't seem to present that kind of problem. Copyright attorney Jim Berger thinks the real problem is a public relations one.

Mr. JIM BERGER (Copyright Lawyer): When you look on Amazon and it got really bad ratings, despite the fact that people play the game, say the game's wonderful.

SYDELL: Electronic Arts will not comment on an ongoing lawsuit, but in response to the complaints, the company has increased the number of computers on which players can use the game. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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