Atari Whips Indie Apps for Copyright Infringement

Atari Whips Indie Apps for Copyright Infringement

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Atari is paving the way to reissue its catalog with the dreams of independent developers.

Classic Atari games like Battlezone and Asteroids are what many of us envision when we think of old school gaming. The Atari brand has gone through some rough times since those days, but the company is positioning itself to start taking advantage of Apple's App Store by reissuing some of those classic games. Atari has already successfully relaunched Asteroids: Gunner and Breakout: Boost and more are apparently on the way. We know this because today independent game developers who created apps bearing any similarity to Atari intellectual property have been forcibly removed of Apple's App Store. At least, that's what has happened to Black Powder Media - the developers of Vector Tanks, which bears too close a resemblance to Atari's Battlezone - and they claim hundreds of apps have been affected.

"Anything that has even a passing resemblance to an Atari classic has been issued a copyright infringement claim," reads Black Powder Media's Kickstarter page.

"Thanks to their special relationship with Apple - Atari has successfully scrubbed the app store of their perceived competition. It looks as though Apple complied without so much as a rebuttal or independent evaluation. Tank games, asteroid shooters, and so on have all been pulled," the post continued.

Atari responded quickly to say that they must defend their IP now or risk losing the right to do so. "For companies like Atari, our intellectual property portfolio is our most valued asset," said a representative from Atari. "While we have great respect for the indie developer community and greatly appreciate the enthusiasm that they have for our renowned properties, we need to vigorously protect our intellectual property and ensure that it is represented in highly innovative games."

While it certainly sucks for a small-time developers to get smacked down like this, Atari kind of has to be a jerk. Like the Bethesda vs. Mojang kerfuffle, the way IP law is written means that you have to defend your property or you lose it. Apple could have notified the guys at Black Powder Media instead of just yanking the app, but that's just how things fly in Cupertino.

Black Powder Media is taking the setback in stride though, focusing their efforts on expanding the Vector Tank game concept as part of a larger game called The Visceral Adventures of Vic Vector - which has got the right amount of alliteration to be a hit.

Source: Kickstarter and Joystiq

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Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Okay, I've never played Vector Tanks, but I think I've got enough history to comment on this one.

Greg Tito:
While it certainly sucks for a small-time developers to get smacked down like this, Atari kind of has to be a jerk. Like the Bethesda vs. Mojang kerfuffle, the way IP law is written means that you have to defend your property or you lose it. Apple could have notified the guys at Black Powder Media instead of just yanking the app, but that's just how things fly in Cupertino.

Well, if they have to defend them or lose them, then they lost them long ago. Damon Slye made a career out of his Battlezone clones like Stellar 7 and Arcticfox. Copyright law hasn't gotten more onerous for copyright holders in the past 30 years (quite the opposite) so whatever reasoning has kept them from losing Battlezone to Damon Slye and countless others still applies.

They're just clearing the field of competition.

imageimageimage
Battlezone, 1980, AtariStellar 7, 1982, (???)Arcticfox, 1986, Electronic Arts

Formica Archonis:
Well, if they have to defend them or lose them, then they lost them long ago. Damon Slye made a career out of his Battlezone clones like Stellar 7 and Arcticfox. Copyright law hasn't gotten more onerous for copyright holders in the past 30 years (quite the opposite) so whatever reasoning has kept them from losing Battlezone to Damon Slye and countless others still applies.

They're just clearing the field of competition.

I agree, and Apple is not helping in this situation by taking down hundreds of indie games from their store just because a corporation like Atari wants to move in.

However, this just raises the question on what kind of content is infringing the copyright Atari has over their IP. Was it the aesthetic graphics? Core mechanics? Controls? Should Nintendo take a lesson from this and file a cease & desist order to other companies for making a 2D platformer that has no similarity at all Mario (like Sonic or Rayman)? I haven't seen these games (or barely remember the Atari ones), but a hundred games being pulled off?

I'm pretty sure "tank game" and "space ship game" aren't trademark-able genres. Were they using code from atari? Or names? Or if this just big guys picking on little guys again?

Oh, Atari, you used to be so cool. Now you've joined the bully crowd. :(

"For companies like Atari, our intellectual property portfolio is our most valued asset,"

That's like saying comedians need to vigorously sue people to protect their jokes. What you used to be good at is telling new jokes, not just changing the language.

(E.T. was one of the funniest jokes around)

What does copyright law have to do with this? Did Apple become a government when I wasn't looking?

Redlin5:
Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Copyright can not be lost by not protecting it, a copyright owner can enforce their rights at any time, as I understand it. Trademarks and patents, those can be damaged without proper and prompt protection.

Even if copyright was losable, Atari could have been much less a jerk about it by offering cheap licenses to worthy games. So this is clearly all about removing competition for their games from products that might or might not actually infringe. Apple should have waited for a determination on that before pulling them.

I'm amazed anyone develops for Apple willingly. They can and will yank your app at any time they choose, and you can do frak-all about it. Insanity.

Royas:

Redlin5:
Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Copyright can not be lost by not protecting it, a copyright owner can enforce their rights at any time, as I understand it. Trademarks and patents, those can be damaged without proper and prompt protection. [ ... ]

Almost correct. Patents also do not "decay" with neglect. Only trademarks need to be vigorously defended against all infringement, lest they be considered abandoned. This is one reason why Xerox get particularly put out when someone uses their company name as a verb.

Formica Archonis:

image
Arcticfox, 1986, Electronic Arts

I own a copy of EA's Arcticfox, and it didn't look anything like that... Oh, wait. I was playing the Amiga version:

image

...Not that I'm significantly defending Arcticfox. Even on an Amiga, the frame rate was utter crap. (The most impressive version of Arcticfox I ever saw was a time-lapse version that Allen Hastings shot on his 8mm movie camera back in the 1980's.)

Voltano:
I agree, and Apple is not helping in this situation by taking down hundreds of indie games from their store just because a corporation like Atari wants to move in.

Depends on who you imagine they're helping.

Voltano:
However, this just raises the question on what kind of content is infringing the copyright Atari has over their IP. Was it the aesthetic graphics? Core mechanics? Controls? Should Nintendo take a lesson from this and file a cease & desist order to other companies for making a 2D platformer that has no similarity at all Mario (like Sonic or Rayman)? I haven't seen these games (or barely remember the Atari ones), but a hundred games being pulled off?

They never brought Sonic to court, but they got The Great Giana Sisters pulled off shelves. If I knew more examples I could provide a better picture, but that gives you an idea of precedent.

Little guy runs around colorful side-scrolling world and collect precious objects: Not infringing.
Italian siblings run around colorful side-scrolling world and collect precious objects by hitting boxes with their heads: Infringing.

(The monsters in GGS were also quite similar. Different look but a fairly close match in mechanics for the Super Mario monsters.)


ewhac:
I own a copy of EA's Arcticfox, and it didn't look anything like that... Oh, wait. I was playing the Amiga version:

image

Oooh, fills.:)

Formica Archonis:
They never brought Sonic to court, but they got The Great Giana Sisters pulled off shelves. If I knew more examples I could provide a better picture, but that gives you an idea of precedent.

Little guy runs around colorful side-scrolling world and collect precious objects: Not infringing.
Italian siblings run around colorful side-scrolling world and collect precious objects by hitting boxes with their heads: Infringing.

(The monsters in GGS were also quite similar. Different look but a fairly close match in mechanics for the Super Mario monsters.)

I guess you could argue that game would be infringing on Nintendo's rights, but how 'different' should a game be from the original to be considered a different work? Plus based upon that Wiki link, that game was being sold on the Amiga and not the Nintendo (assuming they were released in the same time-period).

So I'm wrong in my first post, based on what you told me: Atari is taking *lessons* from Nintendo. :-/

Voltano:

Formica Archonis:

(The monsters in GGS were also quite similar. Different look but a fairly close match in mechanics for the Super Mario monsters.)

I guess you could argue that game would be infringing on Nintendo's rights, but how 'different' should a game be from the original to be considered a different work?

It depends. What makes a genre and what makes a game? To keep beating on my Giana Sisters metaphor, while that game ran afoul of Nintendo, its sequel Hard & Heavy, did NOT.

The game mechanics are almost identical (the head bounce has been replaced with a projectile attack), while the theme has been changed from mushroom-land-fantasy to SF. Game changed little, but the theme changed a lot.

But I am muddying the waters here. With Battlezone there are almost NO art assets. How does one make a wireframe tank comprised of about a dozen polygons look substantially different from any other wireframe tank comprised of about a dozen polygons?

Voltano:
Plus based upon that Wiki link, that game was being sold on the Amiga and not the Nintendo (assuming they were released in the same time-period).

1987. There was effectively zero intersect, as Giana was on home computers, a market that Nintendo shunned. That year Nintendo released SMB2 (or Doki Doki Panic, whatever) on the NES. Around the same time, for the C64 they licensed "Mario Bros. II", an incredibly cheap cash grab - it was a port of a Game & Watch title of all things!

Someone made a proper SMB knockoff for the systems Nintendo was ignoring or releasing bait-and-switches on and got smacked down. That someone then revamped the assets to be less Mario-derived and didn't get smacked down.

Royas:

Redlin5:
Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Copyright can not be lost by not protecting it, a copyright owner can enforce their rights at any time, as I understand it. Trademarks and patents, those can be damaged without proper and prompt protection.

Even if copyright was losable, Atari could have been much less a jerk about it by offering cheap licenses to worthy games. So this is clearly all about removing competition for their games from products that might or might not actually infringe. Apple should have waited for a determination on that before pulling them.

I'm amazed anyone develops for Apple willingly. They can and will yank your app at any time they choose, and you can do frak-all about it. Insanity.

If Atari really wanted to be jerks about it, they could have had all the apps pulled and then taken lawsuits on the profits of all the games.

So instead of taking the high road and nodding with respect at all of these indie developers that are making games based on your games, you are taking the low road and blocking out everything that looks remotely like your games and saying it is for the sake of copyright.
I mean... If it was a copyright of your super awesome crazy best seller that was just released, and they are stealing away your market, then have at em. But I was under the opinion that you guys stopped making games some 10 years ago, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that...
This is like freaking out that the name of someone else's game bears a passing resemblance to yours and taking them to cour-...
Yeah nvm.

The_root_of_all_evil:
Oh, Atari, you used to be so cool. Now you've joined the bully crowd. :(

"For companies like Atari, our intellectual property portfolio is our most valued asset,"

That's like saying comedians need to vigorously sue people to protect their jokes. What you used to be good at is telling new jokes, not just changing the language.

(E.T. was one of the funniest jokes around)

Well, in Atari's defense, we are talking about Battlezone here, and not E.T. Battlezone is an awesome game(even today), and does deserve the title IP. The game E.T., does not.
However, unless the people at Atari have alzheimer's or dontgiveafuckitis, they seemed to have already missed the ball on this play:

Formica Archonis:
Okay, I've never played Vector Tanks, but I think I've got enough history to comment on this one.

Greg Tito:
While it certainly sucks for a small-time developers to get smacked down like this, Atari kind of has to be a jerk. Like the Bethesda vs. Mojang kerfuffle, the way IP law is written means that you have to defend your property or you lose it. Apple could have notified the guys at Black Powder Media instead of just yanking the app, but that's just how things fly in Cupertino.

Well, if they have to defend them or lose them, then they lost them long ago. Damon Slye made a career out of his Battlezone clones like Stellar 7 and Arcticfox. Copyright law hasn't gotten more onerous for copyright holders in the past 30 years (quite the opposite) so whatever reasoning has kept them from losing Battlezone to Damon Slye and countless others still applies.

They're just clearing the field of competition.

imageimageimage
Battlezone, 1980, AtariStellar 7, 1982, (???)Arcticfox, 1986, Electronic Arts

Atari has quite the notoriety for missing the ball. The most famous being their botched chance at reviving games along with Nintendo.

Greg Tito:
Black Powder Media is taking the setback in stride though, focusing their efforts on expanding the Vector Tank game concept as part of a larger game called The Visceral Adventures of Vic Vector - which has got the right amount of alliteration to be a hit.

That name alone has enough awesome in it to win. Hopefully they learn from this and take the game to the Android and PC crowd and skip Apple altogether. Apple does seem to have quite the talent to be a kiss-ass in the interest of those who cry copyright foul. That or their communication abilities suck.

Formica Archonis:

Hmm it is clearly an homage at least. The sounds and handling are very close. The graphics are of course far better but in many ways the aesthetics are just upgraded. In this way Atari seems in their right.

And thus we move to the problem of copyright law or custom in many ways. Atari was not on the ball. They did not capitalise on an emerging market, while others did. They either a) were not foresighted enough to see the chance and so are hitting people over the head with copyrights so they themselves can cash in on their success. B) they did see it but were unwilling to commit to a new market, afraid of the potential for loss. When the market showed its worth they again ran in a waved their copyright around or c) They deliberately kept the hands off to let others test the waters for them to see if it is safe for them to enter and then when they knew it was safe, they waded in and throttled the ones that took the risk.

And so we come back to them now being on the ball. There is no way their claim is not held up in court or anywhere else, BUT it is very much a dickish thing to do just because they are stuck in their comfortable little world.

Baldr:
If Atari really wanted to be jerks about it, they could have had all the apps pulled and then taken lawsuits on the profits of all the games.

Not really, that'd just be chaotic stupid. The lawyer would cost more than an indie is worth, and there's the chance that they'd lose. They're content to just hire Apple's gun to kill their competitors without risking themselves by sucking the marrow.


JakobBloch:
And thus we move to the problem of copyright law or custom in many ways. Atari was not on the ball. They did not capitalise on an emerging market, while others did. They either a) were not foresighted enough to see the chance and so are hitting people over the head with copyrights so they themselves can cash in on their success. B) they did see it but were unwilling to commit to a new market, afraid of the potential for loss. When the market showed its worth they again ran in a waved their copyright around or c) They deliberately kept the hands off to let others test the waters for them to see if it is safe for them to enter and then when they knew it was safe, they waded in and throttled the ones that took the risk.

The hell of it is that copyright, originally meant to encourage innovation by letting creators profit from what they made, is now stifling innovation, particularly with the rise of copyright trolls. (This is why when Sony, Nintendo, WB, and their ilk talk about SOPA encouraging innovation I can't help but laugh, bitterly.)

Spider Robinson called it decades ago.

Redlin5:
Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Floodgates known as progress.

A very dangerous thing.

I'd say that hordes of copies are stagnation, not progress. Isn't that why everyone these days worships indie games?

theultimateend:

Redlin5:
Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Floodgates known as progress.

A very dangerous thing.

There is progress then there is being too close to an original concept.

Redlin5:

theultimateend:

Redlin5:
Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Floodgates known as progress.

A very dangerous thing.

There is progress then there is being too close to an original concept.

You assume I meant with the replicators.

If you make something and it does well and then everyone else starts copying it because its easy to replicate the challenge falls upon you to make something better.

If a product is so devoid of unique qualities that it can be stifled by the masses then its only saving grace was being the first horse to the chutes.

Copyright laws were once a tool that would help artists profit from their works, its been muddled in the software world to lead to endless stagnation and stilted progress.

theultimateend:

Redlin5:
Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Floodgates known as progress.

A very dangerous thing.

I hate agreeing with Redlin, but he's correct here. You can't be soft on anyone and then successfully be tough on anyone else later down the track.

Formica Archonis:

Baldr:
If Atari really wanted to be jerks about it, they could have had all the apps pulled and then taken lawsuits on the profits of all the games.

Not really, that'd just be chaotic stupid. The lawyer would cost more than an indie is worth, and there's the chance that they'd lose. They're content to just hire Apple's gun to kill their competitors without risking themselves by sucking the marrow.

Actually Atari owned by Hasbro has full time legal team that works for them. It wouldn't cost anything for legal fees, just court fees.

Baldr:
Actually Atari owned by Hasbro has full time legal team that works for them. It wouldn't cost anything for legal fees, just court fees.

Still risks losing the case for the pittance of profit an indie makes, and they would likely sooner utilize those lawyers on their bigger properties. Battlezone ain't no My Little Pony.

ewhac:

Royas:

Redlin5:
Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Copyright can not be lost by not protecting it, a copyright owner can enforce their rights at any time, as I understand it. Trademarks and patents, those can be damaged without proper and prompt protection. [ ... ]

Almost correct. Patents also do not "decay" with neglect. Only trademarks need to be vigorously defended against all infringement, lest they be considered abandoned. This is one reason why Xerox get particularly put out when someone uses their company name as a verb.

Actually, my understanding is that under the doctrine of laches, if you know, or should have known of an infringement, but failed to act, you can lose the right to act at all. This applies whenever there is an unreasonable length of time between discovery and action. Reasonableness, in this case, is naturally left up to the views of the judge of the case, there doesn't seem to be any "hard and fast" rule for exactly how much time is unreasonable in this type of thing.

I was going to say how this is good because it is taking action against shameless ripoffs on a platform that allows casual and convenient purchase from a marketing demographic that doesn't know any better and doesn't respect original works. Then I noticed it was Atari asserting the claim. Since atari has no real brands and the games were essentially green thing shoots the white thing I find it hard to think that morally they are in the right. This is akin to suing someone because it is the same genre. Like if cod sued battlefield for being a military shooter. atari's ip's are so base because of the videogame era its from that competitition in the same genre is now synonymous with infringement. You own a game not a genre, but because there are no aesthetics or story in said game its like a template for a genre rather than a game at all.

ResonanceSD:

theultimateend:

Redlin5:
Protect it or lose it. It's the way its gotta be I guess. Cause if you let one guy off for copying a concept to closely, you open the floodgate.

Floodgates known as progress.

A very dangerous thing.

I hate agreeing with Redlin, but he's correct here. You can't be soft on anyone and then successfully be tough on anyone else later down the track.

Doesn't really have anything to do with what I said though :P. Surprised you quoted me quoting him instead of just quoting him.

Wow, lawyers make the BEST public relations representatives. Atari, get your geriatric attack dogs under control before it hurts you alot worse than a $2.99 indie release.

Seriously? What damnage can Atari show? Are they selling or attempting to sell a competing product? NO, then they should shut up.

I also agree with everyone who has pointed to the slippery slop issue of when are too games simular enough to be an issus. I mean if you showed me 10 minutes of game play I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between COD:MW3 and Battlefield 3 and I'm not saying that to be troll, but they are simular enough that one is not immediately different from the other to me.

Heck is Assassin's Creed close enough to Hitman? I mean they share a number of aspects. What about Skyrim and Arcadia?

Heck there are probably 2 to 3 dozen physic puzzle flash games that could claim that angry birds is a rip off with a different skin.

I mean I'm all for protecting the inventer, but things have gotten out of hand. Companies were never ment to be able to own copyrights and copyrights where never ment to outlive their owners. They exist to give a author/creator a reasonable period to proffit from their creation before it bacame part of the public domain, not a permenant ability to block and/or sue other author/creators.

Lets restore the intent and require that only people can own copyrights and they can only own them for 10 years before loosing all rights.

Also this is nothing like bethesda vs minecraft. The Elder Scrolls is an active and used trademark not something they used once 40 years ago and decided last week to sue over.

Wait Atari are only now defending their ip? Similar games have been made on various platforms for years now. If the law is defend it or lose it, where is the cut off point for getting of your backside and defending it before it becomes free game because atari must cutting it close. Also I would have to agree with other posters this seems akin to sueing someone for making a game in the same genre as another. By that logic the makers of Wolfenstein could make fortune sueing the makers every fps ever.

 

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