Richard Newsome is the plaintiff’s attorney in Hernandez v. IGE, a lawsuit recently filed against the notorious real-money trade company. The Escapist‘s own Alexander Macris, a Harvard-trained lawyer who’s written on virtual reality law, spent some time on the phone yesterday with attorney Newsome discussing the lawsuit.
The Escapist: What’s your background, Richard?
Richard Newsome: I was a federal prosecutor and then worked for a civil litigation law firm. I defended DuPont, Ford Motor Company and other large corporations. Eventually I decided my heart was on the other side, and that I wanted to represent consumers. I’ve been doing that ever since. My firm represents consumers in complex litigation on a contingency fee basis. We’ve done product liability, class action, multi-district litigation. RMT [real-money trade] seemed like an area that none of the consumer lawyers had waded into. It seemed like a worthy cause and we decided to jump in and see if we could help out.
TE: So what is the actual lawsuit – in layman’s terms?
RN: The actual lawsuit is Hernandez v. IGE. We filed it in Miami, where IGE has offices. In layman’s terms, the core of the complaint is a consumer class action for unfair trade practices. Guys like Tony [Hernandez, the plaintiff] have paid their $15 for some entertainment, and IGE is polluting that entertainment. It’s kind of like, if someone pays for a ticket to go see a movie, and if someone else comes in behind them and kicks their seat, you can get them to stop doing that. We’re just trying to get IGE to stop kicking the seats. This is not unlike other consumer complaints where someone has paid for a service, and someone else is interfering with it. It’s really very simple.
TE: What do you hope to achieve with this lawsuit?
RN: We want to make IGE stop kicking the seat – stop polluting the service that’s been paid for. We’re going to get an injunction. We pleaded for money damages, but the No. 1 goal that we really want is to make them stop. And that’s obviously going to be an intense fight.
TE: No doubt about it. What makes you think this will work?
TE: So then why haven’t the industry firms or other consumer law firms done this?
RN: That’s a very good question. I think the consumer law firms are simply unaware of the problem. And I think, with respect to the industry, there are pros and cons of filing a lawsuit when your business model could be affected by the outcome, and the uncertainty of that is causing them pause.
TE: That being the case, do you expect the industry to get involved? And if so, as an ally or as an enemy? Or not at all?
RN: I am obviously hopeful that the industry will get involved one way or another as an ally. What I’d like to do is reach out to them to see if we can’t get some support, even if it’s behind the scenes. But publicly it’d be nice to know that Blizzard was behind us. Clearly their resources are getting gobbled up by this. The time CS has to spend chasing down gold farmers, banning accounts and dealing with angry customers – those are huge resources. And to the extent this action can lessen those problems, we’d like them to support us. Our clients love the game and love Blizzard.
TE: Even if you get no help from Blizzard, do you have the resources to win this?
RN: Yes, we do. The bulk of my practice is handling complex litigation for catastrophically injured people. We handle class actions and complex product liability, and we go to trial. The folks on the other side of us on these cases know this. We don’t think twice about putting a million dollars in costs and thousands of hours of attorney time on a contingency fee basis. So if we can’t work out some deal to the benefit of players, we are prepared to go to the mat. And even if we lose, they will spend a ton of dough fighting us.
TE: What if they want to settle, pay you off?
RN: Well, if there’s a way that we can resolve this case quickly so that players have a way to play in a pollution-free environment, then that’s really what we want. If IGE said, “We’re going to agree to stay out of WoW,” then that’d be great. We’re not in this for a settlement that’s only about money. This is about them needing to be a good public citizen.
But if they make us go to trial, then we will collect. A consumer case takes money. My client doesn’t have the money to pay for this. We’re spending our own money and time on this. We’d like to see some of that money recovered, and if they make us go the distance, let’s recover the damages.
TE: How can you enforce this against a Hong Kong company?
RN: You follow the money. Everything goes through the pipeline of Paypal and credit card companies. They have to go through legitimate institutions to further their conspiracy. So we can hit them in the pocketbook. We would take our injunction and enforce it against the payment companies so they can’t do business. That’s a real means to get them where it hurts. If we win, it’s Armageddon for them.
And IGE will try to claim they aren’t liable, that they are just facilitators. But as a former Federal prosecutor, I’ve handled this before. We had drug dealers say, “Hey, I never touched the drugs, so you can’t touch me!” Although it’s usually used by prosecutors in the criminal context, civil conspiracy is a recognized cause of action that lets us get past the shell game. IGE facilitates gold farming, and that’s the conspiracy. And we think the evidence will prove to a jury that they’re liable for it.
TE: So you feel you have precedent on your side?
RN: There’s no other case that’s been filed like this with respect to gold farming, but there is a ton of precedent with consumer protection law that has been created to protect consumers from illegal conduct. The law says you have to be fair and follow the rules, and when you don’t, and you adversely affect other consumers, you’re subject to a law suit being filed against you. It’s very straightforward consumer protection law.
All of the lawyers who’ve approached this have looked at RMT from the jurisprudence of intellectual property. That’s not what this is about. This is about a consumer who makes $8 an hour and for whom $15 a month is his whole entertainment budget. It’s for guys like him that we’re bringing this suit.
TE: What do you think the ramifications of winning this suit would be for the MMOG business overall? Does it introduce concerns over taxes, property ownership, EULAs?
RN: As I said, we are approaching this from a consumer protection standpoint. I don’t have an opinion on IP or tax jurisprudence. For me to give a legal opinion on those issues, I’d have to study them. But from a consumer protection standpoint, we think we can demonstrate that if you’re paying your subscription fee, you have a right to enjoy that experience unpolluted by people who are breaking the rules. I think that’s something everyone can feel good about. I think the players of these games will support us, because this is for them.