Jing Zeng, a former employee of gaming company Machine Zone, Inc., was acquitted today in federal court of the last remaining criminal charge against him for purportedly damaging his Machine Zone computer in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Machine Zone is known for its popular “Game of War: Fire Age” video game and its celebrity advertisers, including Kate Upton and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Zeng was arrested by the FBI in August 2015 after being accused of stealing trade secrets from Machine Zone. He was initially charged with stealing Machine Zone’s trade secrets and attempting to use them in China. The arrest and the subsequent arraignment was widely covered in the media.
After more than a year of legal motions and negotiations with the government, most of the charges, including the trade secret theft, were dismissed. However, the government maintained a single felony charge under the damage provision of the CFAA (18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)).
Foley Partner Thomas Carlucci defended Zeng at trial in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California before U.S. District Court Judge James Donato. At trial, Carlucci argued that the government was adopting an extraordinarily aggressive interpretation of the scope of the CFAA’s damage provision.
Carlucci argued that such a broad interpretation of the provision would render everyday activity commonly pursued by employees throughout the country on their work computers as federal crimes. Other portions of the CFAA have also recently come under scrutiny for their breadth in high profile matters involving Facebook and David Nosal, a former employee of Korn Ferry. Those cases have commented on the CFAA’s potential to be misused by employers and government prosecutors.
Zeng was also represented at trial by Foley associate Jaime Dorenbaum, as well as Dennis Riordan and Ted Sampsell-Jones of Riordan & Hogan.
The case is USA v Zeng, no. 4:16cr172