ByteDance’s Moonton Opens Game Copyright Lawsuit Against Tencent

A software copyright infringement case leveled by ByteDance-owned game developer Moonton against Tencent opened for court sessions in Shanghai on November 29, attracting significant attention from the broader market.

Moonton was established in 2014 with an initial team of only 20 people. Due to China’s fierce gaming market, the firm later turned its attention to overseas markets. In November 2016, multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang,” independently developed by Moonton, went live. This title has become one of the best-sellers in Southeast Asia, even entering regional markets such as North America, the Middle East and Japan, which were once regarded as “MOBA deserts.”

The rapid rise of Moonton attracted considerable attention. Tencent and ByteDance, two of China’s leading internet giants, once expressed interest in acquiring Moonton, setting off a high-stakes race for an acquisition. In the end, ByteDance spent $4 billion to bring the rapidly expanding gaming firm into its fold.

In the ongoing lawsuit, Moonton is demanding that Tencent immediately stops infringing on the right of authorship, reproduction and information network dissemination of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.

One lawyer in Shanghai told China Star Market that “computer software copyright disputes generally have complicated details and intertwined technology and law, so trial periods tend to be long. This trial between Moonton and Tencent may only be the first court session. In order to clarify the case, the possibility of second and third court sessions is not ruled out.”

The most obvious manifestation of infringing computer software copyright is infringing game reproduction rights. During the trial, the court will generally consider the software unit price, infringement period, infringement scope and quantity, subjective malice and other factors to make a judgment.

The dispute between Moonton and Tencent has a long history. In 2017, Tencent accused Xu Zhenhua of violating a non-compete clause and setting up Moonton without authorization. Xu finally paid Tencent 19.4 million yuan ($2,716,592). In 2019, Moonton sued Tencent on the grounds of unfair competition. Moonton claimed that Tencent had fabricated and disseminated false information, which hindered the cooperation between Moonton and its partners. Tencent was then required to compensate Moonton 220,000 yuan.

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With competition in the game market accelerating, infringement disputes among top enterprises are increasing. “Mini World” and “Milkcraft” developed by smaller firms have seemingly copied NetEase‘s Minecraft, so more than 40 million yuan was paid to the industry leader. Tencent has also been compensated for more than 25 million yuan due to an infringement on its “CrossFire” title.

China’s State Press and Publication Administration approved 70 new games in November – the fifth batch of certifications issued this year. These highly coveted approvals have become a key resource in the industry, meaning that game R&D will become highly concentrated and the sector will see even fiercer competition.