Update: Rockstar has dismissed the idea that single-player mods for Grand Theft Auto have become the target of legal action.
In a statement issued to PC Gamer, Rockstar confirmed that Take-Two's cease-and-desist letter was not significant of a change in policy around GTA mods. Rather, it was motivated by a specific issue with OpenIV.
"Take-Two's actions were not specifically targeting single player mods. Unfortunately OpenIV enables recent malicious mods that allow harassment of players and interfere with the GTA Online experience for everybody. We are working to figure out how we can continue to support the creative community without negatively impacting our players."
Original Story: The popular Grand Theft Auto modding tool OpenIV will no longer be distributed, a "hard decision" taken by its creator after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Take-Two Interactive.
In a post on the GTAforums - spotted by Eurogamer - OpenIV's lead developer GooD-NTS said the team had "decided to agree" with a takedown letter it received from Take-Two. "We feared that this day would come," GooD-NTS wrote. "And now it's here. The day when GTA modding was declared illegal."
GooD-NTS conceded that GTA mods, which have existed since Grand Theft Auto III, have always been a "gray zone" and "a battlefield between lawyers and PR." However, OpenIV has been in development for nearly a decade, and its team had "tried to play as nice as possible" to avoid legal issues.
"Strictly following of Civil Code of Russia (only reverse engineering for interoperability), only clean-room reverse engineering, no distribution of original data and code, and absolutely no messing with [GTA] Online," were the measures listed by GooD-NTS. However, on June 5, the OpenIV team received Take-Two's cease-and-desist letter, which claimed that the modding tools would, "allow third parties to defeat security features of its software and modify that software in violation Take-Two's rights."
"Spending time just to restore status quo is really unproductive, and all the money in the world can't compensate the loss of time"
GooD-NTS criticised the letter as "illiterate both technically and grammatically," but the OpenIV team is not willing to go to court "yet again" to prove that modding is a legal, fair use activity.
"Going to court will take at least few months of our time and huge amount of efforts, and, at best, we'll get absolutely nothing," GooD-NTS wrote. "Spending time just to restore status quo is really unproductive, and all the money in the world can't compensate the loss of time.
"It was a hard decision, but when any modding activity has been declared illegal we can't see any possibilities to continue this process, unless top management of Take-Two company makes an official statement about modding, which can be used in court."
The response to the OpenIV team's decision sparked an immediate outpouring of surprise and anger at Take-Two on GTAforums. The (at the time of writing) 27 pages of comments criticised the publisher for greed and a short-sighted view of the value of mods to Grand Theft Auto's PC community.
However, Take-Two has some form in this area. In November 2015, modders working with GTA's multiplayer reported being visited by private investigators working on the publisher's behalf. However, Rockstar has made it clear that it appreciates the work of modders, and that its modding policy for both GTA IV and GTA V - the two games OpenIV was created for - allowed the practice.
"Our primary focus is on protecting GTA Online against modifications that could give players an unfair advantage, disrupt gameplay, or cause griefing," Rockstar said in a statement back in 2015. "It also bears mentioning that because game mods are by definition unauthorized, they may be broken by technical updates, cause instability, or affect your game in other unforeseen ways."
According to GooD-NTS, avoiding GTA Online was one of the rules the OpenIV team lived by in order to avoid trouble. It isn't clear whether Take-Two's actions signify a change in policy, but we have reached out for clarification.