We've written previously about the game Evony, for which we received a number of spam comments last July. We've also written about Bruce Everiss, the UK blogger who runs the site Bruce On Games, and the threat by Evony, LLC, a Delaware corporation which claims to be the maker or owner of the game, to sue Bruce for libel. That threat has now come to pass.
Despite indications that, at the time Bruce began posting about Evony, stung by the same spam comments that hit us, Evony was owned by a Chinese gold-farming company known as UMGE, the suit against Mister Everiss is being pressed in New South Wales, Australia of all places. When we wrote about the situation earlier, we speculated as to whether Australian libel or defamation laws are even more lax than those prevailing in the United Kingdom, which is notorious for its plaintiff friendliness.
We have short attention spans, and let the matter go. But today Bruce Everiss returned to our humble site, posting a link asking for help against Evony, LLC. (Whether you wish to help him or not is up to you.) But Evony, LLC's press release about the suit raises a few concerns. Who actually owns Evony, the game, and who on earth is Benjamin Gifford?
We think that computer and videogames are a trivial hobby, of little importance in the grand scheme of things, but consider free speech, potential legal forum abuse, and corporate quashing of potentially legitimate criticism to be very important indeed. In virtually all press coverage of this story, about a corporation suing a blogger who criticized its product, this quote from Benjamin Gifford, a director of Evony, LLC , has appeared:
Mr. Everiss' attempts to spread his patently false charges to others in the online community cannot be allowed to go unanswered," said Benjamin Gifford, vice development director for the legal IP strategic division for Evony LLC. "In the digital age in which we now live, online journalists and bloggers – and the traditional media outlets that may rely upon them as sources – must strive for a higher standard of integrity and accuracy. Mr. Everiss' complete disregard for even the most basic tenets of journalistic responsibility have left our company no alternative but to take these legal actions. We hope now, in facing the full light of day before the Supreme Court, that Mr. Everiss will finally come clean and clear the record.
Like Bruce Everiss, we thought that Evony, the game, was owned by UMGE, a Chinese company that specializes in selling "virtual gold" to players of World of Warcraft and similar games, rather than Evony, LLC, which has been described elsewhere as a Delaware corporation. Chinese "gold farmers" are notorious internet spammers, one of Mister Everiss's principal complaints about Evony. And as it turns out, at the time Everiss made his allegedly defamatory statements about Evony, the game, Evony, LLC, the American corporation which now claims to own the game, didn't even exist. Everiss's allegedly defamatory statements were made on July 10, 2009.
According to the records of the Delaware Secretary of State, Evony, LLC wasn't a corporation on July 10, 2009. The corporation was formed on July 22, 2009.
Now, it may be pure coincidence that Evony, LLC, an American corporation, formed twelve days after Bruce Everiss allegedly defamed Evony, the game. Products change hands and new owners form corporations all the time.
Or it may not be a coincidence. Delaware is the forum of choice for incorporation around the world for a reason. Its laws are notoriously friendly to corporations that really have nothing to do with Delaware, and getting records or discovery from a Delaware corporation can be very difficult indeed. In an Australian court, doing so might be even more difficult, as that would require transnational court orders, prohibitively expensive for a hypothetical defendant in the United Kingdom who might be required to retain lawyers in Australia and Delaware if he wished to know who was really suing him.
And then comes the question of why this Delaware corporation has a vice director, Benjamin Gifford, who appears to be jointly employed by Evony, LLC, and another, sort of murky entity, known as Assist Strategic Business Solutions, which has a mailing address at PO Box 126, Miranda, NSW, Australia, 2228.
According to his Linkedin profile (no longer available but cached here), Benjamin Gifford, in the greater Sidney Australia area, is indeed the "Vice Development Director" of Evony, LLC, the Delaware corporation formed twelve days after Bruce Everiss allegedly defamed Evony the game.
And if one searches Google for "Benjamin Gifford" and Evony, one finds Benjamin Gifford's Facebook page.
Note that Benjamin Gifford's "services" include Assist Strategic Business Solutions Pty Limited. According to Facebook, again, Assist Strategic Business Solutions has exactly one fan, and that fan is Benjamin Gifford.
So we'll take it as read that Benjamin Gifford works for Evony, LLC, the Delaware corporation, in computer games, and Assist Strategic Business Solutions, also in computer games. Except that Assist Strategic Business Solutions isn't a computer gaming company. It's a … well, I'm not sure what it is.
And I'm not sure what Benjamin Gifford does. He certainly doesn't seem to have a background in computer and videogame development.
While a military background in problem-solving may be as valued in the gaming industry as proficiency in, say, PERL or Visual Basic, most game industry job postings tend toward the second category. Although Assist Business Solutions is very close to Evony's law firm and its principal lawyer, Dean Groundwater. Just down the road, in fact:
So that may explain why Evony, LLC, which incorporated a world away twelve days after Bruce Everiss allegedly defamed its product, chose to sue Everiss in New South Wales, rather than Delaware, or the United Kingdom, or China for that matter. The game was purchased by Australians from … somebody … not a Chinese "gold farming" and spamming operation, nosirree.
Except, wait, Assist Business Solutions, and Benjamin Gifford, were working with something called Evony, LLC before the corporation ever formed.
Now, I'm no cynic, and only a cynic would suggest this, and so I'm not suggesting it: But a cynic might assume that the real owners of Evony, the game that according to Bruce Everiss advertises itself through tasteless breast shots and spam, chose to sue Bruce Everiss in Australia on the advice of Benjamin Gifford, a consultant employed to help the company develop its tasteless marketing and to quash criticism from journalists and bloggers like Bruce Everiss. Of course, I don't suggest that. And I don't suggest that Evony, LLC, which formed twelve days after Everiss's alleged defamation, has nothing to do with Delaware, or Australia, and that the sole purpose of this suit is to bankrupt Everiss by requiring him to fly around the world in order to defend himself from baseless allegations of libel and defamation by Evony's real owners, who pardon me, may not speak English so well, wherever they may be.
I don't suggest that at all.
Update: On the spam front, this depicts the top results from a Twitter search for Evony conducted at 2:15 pm, Eastern time, today:
That link, by the way, does not point to this post. I wouldn't enter it into my browser for all the tea in China.