Another day, another drama bomb over at Activision Blizzard. This time, thankfully enough for Blizzard, the drama comes from the Activision side. The games industry is no stranger to leaks, but that doesn’t mean publishers don’t hate whenever that happens. Some pretty big news concerning Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was on the way in 2020, but some folks on ye olde internet got wind of it ahead of time. Naturally that means it leaked, and Activision did what any big publisher would do and waved its DMCA stick around. But this time, Activision went a bit further and issued a pretty serious legal order towards Reddit. Now, people are angry, confused, and in some cases amused. Can Activision actually do this sort of thing and get away with it or will it be a PR disaster?
So according to underground tech scene news site Torrent Freak, Activision filed a Subpoena for Reddit, the original source of the leak. This particular leak was what appears to be an upcoming Battle Royale addition to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare called Warzone. The leak came in the form of a promotional image, so it seems like the cat just barely got out of this bag ahead of schedule. What made this leak even funnier, though, is that regular-ass gamers were able to use an exploit to see various in-game options for Warzone once Modern Warfare’s Season Two content got rolling. Leak or no leak, this getting out early was destined to happen apparently.
It seems a bit egregious regardless; it isn’t like Activision made a huge deal out of Black Ops 4’s Battle Royale mode or anything. Modern Warfare shipping without one seemed like a huge point of confusion, and if one didn’t come shortly after launch, I imagine fans would’ve been pissed. So by virtue of the rule of “duh,” here’s Warzone. I’m sure once Warzone officially launches, most of this drama will be behind us. Except for the people it directly impacts; for them it could be huge. That said, while Reddit is being “commanded” by a court order to provide information, there’s no guarantee that information even exists.
Reddit, as a platform, is built to support some degree of anonymity. There’s no email verification or personal information requirements. People use fake and burner emails all the time, and people savvy enough to post illicit materials on Reddit are savvy enough to use VPNs. Unless the person who distributed the original image is extremely stupid, all Reddit will be able to give is an IP address. Activision’s legal flexing here is mostly all show, and whoever passed out the materials internally is probably safe, barring some serious goofery.
That said, this whole ordeal is an unfortunate precedent, one that makes Activision look like a giant bully. Civil litigation is meant to help people and organizations recuperate from damages, not slap people on the wrist for perceived slights to the tune of life-ruining financial duress. It’s abuse of a system propped up by a digital copyright law from the 90s. Not a great look.
This isn’t the first time media companies have used legal girth to bully smaller bodies of dissent. Epic Games has sued people who use and distribute cheating software, Nintendo has gone after ROM sites and fan game developers, so on and so forth. Those two examples are a little more legally cut and dry, but this one feels more like music production companies suing teenagers who downloaded MP3s from Napster. Regardless, depending on how things go with Reddit, this could end up being a bigger deal than some legal documents quietly shuffling around, and when things blow up, people get loud. Hopefully the original leaker covered their tracks appropriately.