I was at work when a colleague came over to my desk.

“Looks like Marvel is sticking it to your game,” he said. I had no clue what he was talking about. A little research later and I was simultaneously sad and incensed.

Here’s a little on the EULA for City of Heroes:

Para 4, Section E – You may not select as your Character Name the name of another person, or a name which violates any third party’s trademark right, copyright, or other proprietary right, or which may mislead other players to believe you to be an employee of NC Interactive, or which NC Interactive deems at its sole discretion to be vulgar or otherwise offensive.

The same restrictions have been put on the naming of Supergroups and even the use of battlecries in section F of the same paragraph.

This is one subscriber who hopes that the EULA alone will cause Marvel to leave CoH alone. But I doubt it. So instead of arguing the prospect legally (as I am not qualified) I’ll argue it ethically and add in some reasoning for you.

Here’s a little bit on Marvel. Based in New York, Marvel is best known for its stable of super heroes: Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, Blade, Daredevil, Captain America and the Fantastic Four are just a few of the company’s cast of 4,700 characters. Marvel has published comic books since 1939. Today, that business today brings in about 15% of sales, while toys bring in 44% and licensing fees for things like movies and video games account for 41%. Trailing-12-month sales for Marvel total $498 million.

Marvel pulled down half a billion dollars in the last twelve months. Their stock has never been stronger and CoH has been out since April, spanning more than half the time period of Marvel’s record and “unexpected” earnings.

Hmm… But didn’t Marvel say the game threatens their “existing and future” business prospects? That seems strange in light of their record earnings. I wonder how many of the 180,000 players in CoH have had renewed interest in the superhero genre. I know I hadn’t bought a comic book since 2000 or so yet I find myself regularly picking up the X-Men and Avengers lately.

Marvel argues that the game allows you to create a giant, green-skinned science-based tanker-type hero that moves and behaves nearly identical to the Hulk. The same with Wolverine.

Ignoring that I doubt Marvel knows how the Hulk moves (he’s a two dimensional character for Pete’s sake), I have two points to make about this: giant, green-skinned science-based tanker type could equal the Martian Manhunter, Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, or anyone who’s big, green and a superhero. It could equal the Jolly Green Giant of vegetable fame, but I don’t see any of these companies rushing to sue City of Heroes. The fact is if a game allows you the kind of flexibility CoH does in its character creation, players will be able to imitate whomever they want with creative combinations.

I’ve seen the Ambiguously Gay Duo, former presidents, several Masters of the Universe, Thundercats, Dragonball Z fighters, manga knockoffs, DC heroes, Valiant heroes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jedis by the score, rock stars, movie stars, professional wrestlers, and even an homage to Magical Trevor.

What gives, Marvel?

Second, if you’re going to sue a company because it “allows you to create” a character “similar” to one under copyright then you had better file the same action against everything from colored pencil companies to Kinko’s.

What is Marvel really saying? Well, since it’s pretty clear that CoH was not built on the back of the Marvel Universe having its own 500+ pages of history and Marvel isn’t losing money over the deal, Marvel must be saying that all those kids who dreamed of being superhero’s better not pretend to be a Marvel owned one.

Young Jeff who read the Hulk when he was seven on up to the time when he turned twenty-five and now plays a bulked up emerald-colored brawler should kiss his enjoyment and love of the character good-bye.

What’s his alternative, Marvel? Play one of your lame console games? Is this about Marvel wanting to put a competitor out of business? Is Marvel going to put out its own MMORPG?

Why do companies like Marvel build themselves on the imaginations of children around the world and then squash those same kids once they find a way to enjoy it? What’s next? Will Marvel sue HeroMaker? Will they sue Adobe Photoshop? How about filing against anyone who makes a Flash cartoon and posts it on their web site? Fan fiction? How about my Spiderman skin I use on WinAmp? Watch out Marvel RPG sites… you never know who MarvelCorp is going to level the barrels at next!

Marvel is trying to harm a creative tool. They are attempting to take an imaginative outlet that is not costing them a cent because they have no competing products and crush it under their half-billion dollar weight.

I dreamed of being Rogue or Warbird when I was a kid. Now I can’t even have a similar costume if Marvel gets its way. I put money in their pockets from my 10 year old allowance and now they want to take away my enjoyment. How is this right? Legal hocus-pocus aside, how is this right conceptually?

I’m sure there are a lot of you asking, “what can I do?” I’ve asked WarCry, being a community based site, not to turn their backs on this issue and they haven’t. Hopefully that will give you some hope that an entity built on a fan base will not turn on that same base once it has the chance. What WarCry has allowed me to do is post a form letter here. Instead of posting in the forums how outraged you are, cut and paste the letter below, buy a stamp, and mail it off. It will take 20 minutes out of your life and send a little message to the Marvel Machine.

Some of you no doubt believe it won’t make one bit of difference if you mail a letter to the company. If so, what can it hurt for you to try? If 90,000 letters flood into Marvel they will have to at least note it in a board meeting. And all it costs you is a stamp.

I’m sure the Development staff at CoH knows you’re unhappy about this. Posting to their forums won’t make a bit of difference to Marvel. The problem is with Marvel. Let Marvel know what you think.

You play a game where you get to be a superhero and now someone is trying to take away your powers. Ask yourself these questions: What would Captain America do? What would Superman do?

The answer is obvious. They would stand up and fight.

Marvel’s mailing address:
Marvel Enterprises, Inc.
10 East 40th St.
New York, NY 10016

If you have purchased a Marvel Comic you are considered a customer and can call Marvel Enterprises, Inc. Customer Service line at 212-576-4000, press 2, 2, and 1 at each appropriate menu.

Or you can email Marvel at [email protected]. Though the address is subscriptions, it is the sole email contact listed under Customer Service.

Personally, I have already done all three options. I have written, called, and emailed; covered all the bases. I invite you to do something similar and stand up for what you feel is right.

Here is the letter I sent along. Feel free to use it as your own or make changes as you wish.

November 12, 2004

Allen Lipson, President and Chief Executive Officer
Marvel Enterprises, Inc.
10 East 40th St.
New York, NY 10016

Subject: MARVEL LAW SUIT VS CITY OF HEROES

Dear Mr. Lipson:

I am writing to express my outrage over your company’s rough handling of Cryptic Studios and NCSoft. It is clear to any customer who reads the End User License Agreement that these companies discourage the use of copyrighted material in their game. It is also clear through your twelve-month record earnings during City of Heroes eight-month life span that your company is in no jeopardy whatsoever.

Further, the implication your customers draw from the filing of this lawsuit is that Marvel does not care for the base of people who support it. These people read your products, watch your movies, and buy your toys out of imaginative inspirations that something good and just exists in this world. They translate that purity into an on-line gaming experience and become a community. Your lawsuit directly impacts and deteriorates that community and that unique feeling of good will.

I find your company’s actions reprehensible. I believe you are harming the imagination and enjoyment of adults and children alike. I also, regretfully, will not be purchasing any more Marvel products in the future.

I buy your comic books and watch your movies not only to be entertained, but to feel good, to feel that sense of hope and wonder. I cannot watch or read them knowing you are trying to stamp out that enjoyment.

Please cease this action immediately. There is no shame in doing what is right over arguing your rights by the letter of the law.

Sincerely,

YOUR NAME HERE

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