Video game piracy is a moral gray area, but there’s often nothing gray about it from a legal perspective. It’s illegal. Along those lines, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a statement that leaders of the piracy group Team Xecuter have been arrested for developing and selling illegal devices that hacked consoles including Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, NES Classic, PlayStation Classic, and Xbox. Notably, none of those charged are American, as they are Max Louarn, 48, of Avignon, France; Yuanning Chen, 35, of Shenzhen, China; and Gary Bowser, 51, a Canadian national of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Louarn and Bowser specifically are cited as Xecuter leaders, whereas Chen’s specific role is not as clear.
The full DOJ statement is pretty lengthy and packed with quotes from people in the Justice Department basically trying to discourage anyone else from ever doing this. But here is a relevant excerpt that better articulates what the piracy group was doing:
The indictment alleges that due to the illegal nature of its business, Team Xecuter continuously sought to evade enforcement efforts by victim companies, financial institutions, and law enforcement. Notably, Team Xecuter attempted to protect its overall business by using a wide variety of brands, websites, and distribution channels, according to the indictment. From approximately June 2013 through August 2020, Team Xecuter used a variety of product names for its devices, such as the Gateway 3DS, the Stargate, the TrueBlue Mini, the Classic2Magic, and the SX line of devices that included the SX OS, the SX Pro, the SX Lite, and the SX Core.
According to the indictment, Team Xecuter at times cloaked its illegal activity with a purported desire to support gaming enthusiasts who wanted to design their own videogames for noncommercial use. However, the overwhelming demand and use for the enterprise’s devices was to play pirated videogames. To support this illegal activity, Team Xecuter allegedly helped create and support online libraries of pirated videogames for its customers, and several of the enterprise’s devices came preloaded with numerous pirated videogames. According to the indictment, Team Xecuter was so brazen that it even required customers to purchase a “license” to unlock the full features of its custom firmware, the SX OS, in order to enable the ability to play pirated videogames.
That’s as illegal as video game piracy gets. It’s not a simple case of downloading a NES ROM of The Little Mermaid by any means. Right now, each defendant is charged with 11 felonies, including wire fraud and “conspiracy to circumvent technological measures and to traffic in circumvention devices.” The piracy group is described as having over a dozen members globally though, so it remains to be seen if anyone else will be charged.