245: Send In the Lawyers

Send In the Lawyers

The Phoenix Wright series aside, videogames and lawyers don't make the likeliest of bedfellows. But major lawsuits have had a huge impact on the game industry's development. Dave Cook examines some of the most prominent videogame legal battles in the last 25 years.

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An interesting look at a fascinating topic. It can be easy to forget that legal wranglings are often an intrinsic part of all companies' strategic planning - both offensive and defensive.

Nice quick overview of some of the great legal battles of the industry. Sad to not see Tetris, although I guess that one is hard to summarize. It's a huge and amazing story.

Some of these are terribly interesting when looked at in more detail. The Donkey Kong suit for example was much more sinister than it sounds on the surface. Nintendo got the royalties payout because Universal was essentially bullying third parties into not working with them. Universal, especially at that time, was a feared behemoth and it's legal team was infamously powerful, you just straight up did NOT mess with it. They were threatening Nintendo partners and killing business for them. While most companies would cave or attempt to settle, the Japanese-based Nintendo went in head-first to defend its honor. Them winning that suit was a real victory for the little guy, Universal was supposed to be undefeatable.

Ironically, over the years Nintendo is now the one with an infamously powerful legal team. They have the gods of justice on their side or something, they've won a lot of cases over the years that did not look favorable going in. Nintendo's legal history, especially in the NES period, is quite interesting and I encourage anyone who's remotely interested in the topic to read up on it.

I was expecting the world vs. GTA, Interplay vs. Bethesda over the Fallout MMO rights, and the whole train wreck that was Duke Nukem Forever. Oh well.

I'll never understand legalities when it comes to video games. We can't get Earthbound on the virtual console because the game has pop culture references in it, but Sony can come out with a Wii knockoff no questions asked. Nintendo will shut down fan projects and litigate against fan translations of games they refuse to localize, but every Christmas, a guy sells bootleg Nintendo systems in my local mall with no problems. You can find flash versions of Nintendo properties all over the internet. I'm harping on the big N a little too much, but it's frustrating because I'm a fan.

zelda2fanboy:
I'll never understand legalities when it comes to video games. We can't get Earthbound on the virtual console because the game has pop culture references in it, but Sony can come out with a Wii knockoff no questions asked. Nintendo will shut down fan projects and litigate against fan translations of games they refuse to localize, but every Christmas, a guy sells bootleg Nintendo systems in my local mall with no problems. You can find flash versions of Nintendo properties all over the internet. I'm harping on the big N a little too much, but it's frustrating because I'm a fan.

Such is the life of an industry based on ripping off everyone else's ideas. "Hmm...how close can we get to completely copying X game without actually risking a lawsuit." That about sums it up.

"Cryptic Studios was held liable for infringing trademarks by supplying the character creation kit to its users"

Eh? That's like suing a car dealer because someone ran over someone else in a car that they got from that particular dealer. If someone ran me over I would go after them (assuming I didn't come over all dead in the collision) and if someone shot me (ditto) then I wouldn't be banging on Beretta's door.

Character customisation is becoming very popular now and a game gains kudos for having it as it adds to the user-immersion. If someone then uses that freedom to create a likeness of someone else, who then gets uppity, then going after the game dev. rather than the actual offender makes no sense. Funny that when someone illegally downloads an MP3 "they" go after the downloader rather than the Rollin Stones for making the music in the first place!

Wardy

Dave Cook:
Forums quickly lit up with spleen-venting attacks from players demanding to know why their stages had been deleted without warning.

That just made me laugh...

Dave Cook:
One wonders where the next pivotal victory or loss for the industry will come from.

My vote goes to Eve Online.

An "anything goes" type of MMO where you can turn real life money into in game currency, then see it get stolen in the middle of "gameplay"...my guess is the first person to put in and lose a boatload...who then manages to somehow ascertain the real life identity of the thief.

And one does wonder...with people sometimes stealing billions under the noses of so many...what would happen if real life identities were somehow made public...

Eh. I personally think laws could stand to be a lot simpler in a lot of ways, but the only ones who could figure out how are the lawyers and judges who'd stand a lot more to lose if laws were simpler. But with videogames it's usually not the case, since copyright laws created to protect any little creator can become deadly in the hands of massive corporations, and who is 'right' or 'wrong' is rarely clear-cut.

Varrdy:
"Cryptic Studios was held liable for infringing trademarks by supplying the character creation kit to its users"

Eh? That's like suing a car dealer because someone ran over someone else in a car that they got from that particular dealer. If someone ran me over I would go after them (assuming I didn't come over all dead in the collision) and if someone shot me (ditto) then I wouldn't be banging on Beretta's door.

Character customisation is becoming very popular now and a game gains kudos for having it as it adds to the user-immersion. If someone then uses that freedom to create a likeness of someone else, who then gets uppity, then going after the game dev. rather than the actual offender makes no sense. Funny that when someone illegally downloads an MP3 "they" go after the downloader rather than the Rollin Stones for making the music in the first place!

Wardy

Yeah, that part made me sad about the state of IP laws. I mean, Marvel sued Cryptic over options in character creation?! Was that because they had ownership over wearing pants on the outside, bold primary colours, and/or spider-web patterns? It's just bullshit, and another indicator that makes me yearn for a revision of IP laws for a digital age.

"Despite its solid EULA, Cryptic Studios was held liable for infringing trademarks by supplying the character creation kit to its users, rather than the creators of the offending material itself. "

Actually, the only trademark question that survived the motion to dismiss was whether Cryptic/NCSoft's Statesmen character infringed on Marvel's unregistered trademark rights in the Captain America character. All of the vicarious and contributory trademark infringement claims were dismissed because the Court found that the players' use of trademarked characters to play CoH was not "use in commerce."

From the decision:

"Thus, Plaintiffs have failed to allege an infringement on the part of the game users for which Defendants could be contributorily liable. See Lucasfilm Ltd. v. High Frontier, et al., 622 F. Supp. 931 (D.D.C. 1985). (holding that use of trademark not affixed to any good or service for sale did not constitute infringement.); and see Felix the Cat Prods., Inc. v. New Line Cinema Corp., 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21763, 54 U.S.P.Q. 2d 1856, 1857 (C.D. Cal. 2000) (holding that use of trademark within a movie did not qualify as use of the mark in connection with sale of goods or services in commerce). Therefore, Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for contributory infringement of a registered trademark."

I read EULAS, but only that parts that matter, you can ignore all the usual jargon. Read a few and they all contain the same boiler plant warnings. But there are a few sections with information relating to only that particular product, thats the stuff you should read. Its usually only a couple of paragraphs.

No mention of Jack Thompson? Slow to die, quick to forget.

No mention of the two current legal battles that may kill Atari?

hansari:
my guess is the first person to put in and lose a boatload...who then manages to somehow ascertain the real life identity of the thief.

Someone already got killed over a sword in an MMO.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/technology/4397159.stm

Edit: Never mind, read the actual article and have nothing to say.

We need more laws just dealing with the game industry, I am going into law and would love to work on legislation for these types of laws

008Zulu:
I read EULAS, but only that parts that matter, you can ignore all the usual jargon. Read a few and they all contain the same boiler plant warnings. But there are a few sections with information relating to only that particular product, thats the stuff you should read. Its usually only a couple of paragraphs.

Never reads them, they do not hold up to the law in Denmark anyway. In order for them to do that, they have to be signed before money changes hands rather than after you got the game home and starts to install.

matrix3509:

zelda2fanboy:
I'll never understand legalities when it comes to video games. We can't get Earthbound on the virtual console because the game has pop culture references in it, but Sony can come out with a Wii knockoff no questions asked. Nintendo will shut down fan projects and litigate against fan translations of games they refuse to localize, but every Christmas, a guy sells bootleg Nintendo systems in my local mall with no problems. You can find flash versions of Nintendo properties all over the internet. I'm harping on the big N a little too much, but it's frustrating because I'm a fan.

Such is the life of an industry based on ripping off everyone else's ideas. "Hmm...how close can we get to completely copying X game without actually risking a lawsuit." That about sums it up.

That's it right there? Sure some self regulation is needed to keep the government (especially the US government which loves to waste time on stuff like this) out of it but how stringent are they going to make these restrictions? I'll be very disappointed if R* is the only company able to make 3rd person sandbox crime games; Especially now that Saints Row seems to be doing a better job of it in this generation.

Xaryn Mar:

008Zulu:
I read EULAS, but only that parts that matter, you can ignore all the usual jargon. Read a few and they all contain the same boiler plant warnings. But there are a few sections with information relating to only that particular product, thats the stuff you should read. Its usually only a couple of paragraphs.

Never reads them, they do not hold up to the law in Denmark anyway. In order for them to do that, they have to be signed before money changes hands rather than after you got the game home and starts to install.

Denmark sounds like a forward thinking country.

008Zulu:

Xaryn Mar:

008Zulu:
I read EULAS, but only that parts that matter, you can ignore all the usual jargon. Read a few and they all contain the same boiler plant warnings. But there are a few sections with information relating to only that particular product, thats the stuff you should read. Its usually only a couple of paragraphs.

Never reads them, they do not hold up to the law in Denmark anyway. In order for them to do that, they have to be signed before money changes hands rather than after you got the game home and starts to install.

Denmark sounds like a forward thinking country.

Unfortunately only on that point. Our current government seems dead-set on copying the worst from Australia and the American DMCA.

 

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