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Lone Developer Stands Up To Grand Theft Auto DMCA Claim, Wins

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Image for article titled Lone Developer Stands Up To Grand Theft Auto DMCA Claim, Wins
Image: Rockstar Games

Earlier this year fans reversed engineered the source code to Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. They released it to the web, but Grand Theft Auto copyright holder Take-Two pulled it offline via a DMCA claim. But one fan stood up to the publisher and has now succeeded in getting the reverse-engineered source code back online.

Deriving the source code through reverse-engineering was a huge milestone for the GTA hacking scene. Players would still need the original game assets to run either classic GTA title, but with accessible source code, modders and devs could begin porting the game to new platforms or adding new features. That’s exactly what’s happened this past year with Super Mario 64.


A week after the code went public on GitHub, Rockstar’s parent company, Take-Two Interactive, issued a DMCA takedown claiming that the reversed-engineered source code contained “copyrighted materials owned by Take-Two.” GitHub pulled the fan-derived code and all its related forks.

However, as TorrentFreak reports, a New Zealand-based developer named Theo, who maintained a fork of the removed code, didn’t agree with Take-Two’s claims and pushed back, filing their own counter-notice with GitHub last month. This counter-claim seems to have succeeded, as GitHub’s made the fan-derived source code available to download once more.


Theo explained in their counter-claim that the code didn’t, in fact, contain any original work created or owned by Take-Two Interactive, so it should not have been removed. They filed their claim last month after Take-Two removed over 200 forks of the reversed source, all built off of the original reversed-engineered code. That original repository and all the rest remain unavailable, as only Theo’s fork was restored by the DMCA counter-claim.

Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto III
Screenshot: Rockstar Games

In an interview with TorrentFreak, the dev explained that he believes Take-Two’s DCMA claim is “wholly incorrect” and that the publisher has “no claim to the code” because while it functions like the original source code that went into GTA III and Vice City, it is not identical.

While it might seem like GitHub has taken a side and decided that Take-Two was wrong, this isn’t accurate. DMCA rules state that content that is disputed must be restored within 14 days of a counter-notice being received. At this point, if Take-Two wants the source code removed again, it would become a legal battle. Theo says he understands the legal risk he faces, but doesn’t expect the publisher to pursue this to court any time soon.


While it’s possible Take-Two could challenge Theo’s counter-claim in court at a later date, this is still a nice win for the Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City modding scene. It’s also another reminder that modders, pirates, and fan developers are often the only ones doing the work to keep old games around in an easily playable form.