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In Plain English: Bassett vs Electronic Arts

Columns By Connor Wack on June 24, 2015

In Plain English: Bassett vs Electronic Arts

I run a segment on my home website MMO Fallout called In Plain English, for the sake of giving updates on recent court proceedings. My reasoning is pretty simple: The news tends to stop reporting on legal matters once they have started, and when cases can go years without a resolution, tend to forget about them. Lawsuits are long, complicated, and when it comes to news headlines, 99% of the time they're just plain boring. A lot of motions, responses, and applications.

And getting hold of legal documents can be a major pain, not to mention expensive. In some of these jurisdictions, you have to be a lawyer just to get access to court dockets, and in other cases you have to specifically register and explain why you're even interested to get approval. Factor in fifty states, each with its districts and courts, with different rules for seeking information, and you're looking at a few hours just to look over one case.

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One case we need to look at is Bassett V Electronic Arts because it's a case I see indirectly, and incorrectly, referenced by users on this website when discussing games being shut down and someone inevitably saying that EA was sued for it. The plaintiff, Justin T. Bassett, sued Electronic Arts back in 2013 on the grounds that the company mislead customers on the ability to use EA's online platforms to play their games.

In short, the online advertising on the packaging is misleading when EA shuts down their servers. More specifically, EA was accused of violating California's Consumers Legal Remedies Act, False Advertising Law, Business and Professions Codes, Unfair Competition Law, and New York General Business Law, as well as engaging in unjust enrichment.

The major point of contention in the lawsuit right now is that EA forces arbitration in disputes rather than taking them to court, which Bassett is fighting on the grounds that the provision was not included in the agreement presented at the time of purchase. EA argued that since the terms and services are subject to change, which the plaintiff agreed to by clicking "I Agree," and since the plaintiff agreed to the most recent version when he created his EA Online account, that the arbitration clause is enforceable.

Since I last covered this lawsuit, the judge has ruled in favor of Electronic Arts, meaning the dispute will be decided by binding arbitration rather than a court battle. It's important to understand that this doesn't mean EA has "won," rather it means that the decision will not be carried out by a judge and jury. Arbitration could rule that EA owes Bassett some kind of compensation, or it could rule in favor of EA and say that Bassett has no case.

It also doesn't mean that the case will never see its way to court. Of his three rulings, Judge Gold threw out EA's motion to transfer venue to the Northern District of California, should there be further litigation after the arbitration ruling.

By challenging the contract as a whole based on specific provisions, Bassett probably lead his case down a self-defeating road since such the law states that challenges in themselves must be decided by arbitration.

Incidentally Bassett's challenge of the arbitration must, itself, be decided by arbitration. As stated in the docket, a challenge to the arbitration clause itself would have carried the possibility of judgement by a federal court, but since Bassett challenged the agreement in its entirety, that doesn't apply.

As far as the legal obligations of the parties involved, the court has not made a decision. Whether EA was obligated to provide online access to the plaintiff is a matter that will need to be handled in arbitration, again with the possibility of there still being further litigation.

Unfortunately if this does get settled in arbitration, this is where the story ends as far as you or I are concerned. Unlike court rulings, arbitration results are not made available to outside parties.

Connor Wack / Connor is the man behind MMOFallout.com, a site dedicated to the business happenings in and around the MMO industry. He writes a regular column here at MMORPG.com about the ups and downs of the MMO world.

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