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Category — Copyright Cases

Activision Settles with Two Former Guitar Hero Executives

Categories: Controller CasesCopyright CasesEmployment Law CasesInjunctionsMisc. Contract CasesNon-Compete CasesSettlementsTrade Secret CasesTrademark CasesUnfair Business Practice Casses

In February, Activision launched a new lawsuit against The Ant Commandos (TAC), Reverb Communications and three former Red Octane executives/employees: former executive producer John Tam, brand manager [name removed on request] and hardware group member Jamie Yang. These former executives founded a new company with TAC – Loadstone Entertainment.

Activision has settled with John Tam and [name removed on request]. The two have consented to a permanent injunction restraining the two from:

  • distributing a demo created by TAM incorporating elements of Guitar Hero II;
  • using or disclosing any Activision trade secrets;
  • taking steps to develop drum, guitar or synthesizer-based games for the next year;
  • “working on” a guitar controller for the XBox 360 version of Guitar Hero II for six months after release; and
  • competing against an undisclosed list of peripheral devices for six months after Activision commercially releases them.

The two were also ordered to return all materials relating to Activision’s proprietary information.

As far as I’m aware, no settlement has thus far been reached with Jamie Yang, Reverb or TAC.

Dale’s Comment [written April 26, 2007]: On a personal note, I was one of the lucky one’s to pick up Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360 on launch day. The local Best Buy had about 100 of them on the morning of the launch. As I understand it, they sold out within hours and, to the date of this writing (owing partially to extreme demand and problems with some versions of the initially released guitar peripheral), I still can’t find them for sale anywhere in Toronto. I would like to purchase a second guitar peripheral. I’m having a blast with this game. As one of the commentators in a recent Joystiq Podcast pointed out, my fingers ache and want to stop playing long before the rest of me does! :)

Sources: GameSpot | Gamasutra | GameIndustry.biz | 1Up.com | CVG | Kotaku

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Nova’s Pool-Cue Game Mechanics Not Protectable by U.K. Copyright

Categories: Copyright CasesDecisions

Text of Decision , HTML version, RTF Version (UK Court of Appeal – March 14, 2007)
Text of Decision , HTML version, RTF Version (England & Wales High Court – Chancery Division – January 20, 2006)

In what seems to be little more than another “look and feel” decision specific to the video game industry, the U.K. Court of Appeal upheld a prior Chancery Division decision ruling against Nova Productions in finding, yet again, that general ideas behind computer games, or in this case specific game mechanics, and other programs are not protectable under U.K. copyright:

“Merely making a program which will emulate another but which in no way involves copying the program code or any of the program’s graphics is legitimate,”

In this case, the court found no copyright in the “imagery” relating to either: (i) lines of dots indicating the direction of a pool shot; or (ii) an “in-time” mechanic that permits the player to alter the power of a simulated pool shot by timing the shot relative to a pulsing power level – see the images in the Annexes of the HTML version of the Chancery Division decision. Providing similar, but different, “imagery” to depict the same game mechanic idea is not infringing.


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Mid-Way Sued over Psi-Ops

Categories: Copyright CasesRoyalty DisputesTrademark Cases

Midway Games is being sued by William L. Crawford III, a Los Angeles County screenwriter, over its Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy sci-fi stealth-action game. Crawford claims the premise, plot and characters were stolen from a screenplay he wrote in 1998 – also called Psi-Ops.

Crawford claims that Midway should have known about his screenplay and its premise because:

  • he had set up websites with concept art;
  • he attended the 2001 E3 to promote it.
  • his company, Mindshadow Entertainment, had received media coverage for a possible  Psi-Ops movie project.
  • he had registered “Psi-Ops” with the U.S. Copyright Office six years prior to Midway’s registration.

Crawford seeks an accounting and share of revenue made from “Psi-Ops” sales in an amount no less than $1.5 million.

Dale’s Comment: On a personal note, immediately following its release I purchased this game for the original Xbox. It was unplayable. Like several games of its era, it made me nausious within five minutes of firing it up. Too bad. It looked like a fun game.

Sources: GameSpot | gameindustry.biz | SoftPedia | Yahoo! Games | Kotaku | IGN | 1Up.com

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Blizzard/Vivendi Countersue WowGlider ‘bot Creator

Categories: Antitrust/Competition CasesBotsCheatingCopyright CasesDMCA-TPM CasesGold FarmingHackingTortious InterferenceTrademark CasesUnfair Business Practice Casses

Case Management Summary (March 27, 2007)
Text of Blizzard’s/Vivendi’s Answer & Counterclaim (Feb 16, 2007)
Text of MDY’s (Donnelly’s) Complaint (Oct 25, 2006)

Michael Donnelly created a ‘bot’ program called WowGlider (since renamed to simply “Glider” in response to Blizzard’s trademark complaints) that allows players of the wildly popular World of Warcraft (“WOW”) MMORPG to automate their game play and keep their character “playing” 24/7.

Using this bot the player can continue to level up and harvest gold 24/7 without actually having to play the game – an activity widely considered to be cheating. The use of such “bots” circumvent Blizzard’s security/anti-cheating measures and are prohibited by WOW’s EULA and terms of use.

In the fall of 2006 Blizzard (and its parent Vivendi) demanded Donnelly cease selling the bot. In response, On October 25, 2006 Donnelly’s company MDY filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Arizona seeking a Declaratory Judgment that it is not infringing any rights, copyright or otherwise owned by Blizzard and Vivendi.


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Activision Sues Ant Commandos and Former Guitar Hero Executives

Categories: Controller CasesCopyright CasesEmployment Law CasesMisc. Contract CasesNon-Compete CasesTrade Secret CasesTrademark CasesUnfair Business Practice Casses

In a new Guitar Hero related dispute, Activision (Guitar Hero publisher RedOctane’s parent company), has filed a fresh lawsuit against guitar peripheral maker The Ant Commando (TAC), Red Octane’s PR firm Reverb Communications and three former Red Octane executives/employees: former executive producer John Tam, brand manager [name removed on request] and hardware group member Jamie Yang. The former executives founded a new company with TAC – Loadstone Entertainment.

The complaint alleges:

“copyright infringement, trademark infringement, misappropriating trade secrets and confidential information, breach of contract, interference with contractual relations, and more. “

GameSpot is reporting that Activision has already obtained a temporary restraining order against the defendants restraining them from:

  • distributing a demo created by TAM incorporating elements of Guitar Hero II;
  • using or disclosing any Activision trade secrets, including: music licensing contract terms, in-game advertising, sales figures, marketing plans, product designs, and possible future songs and artists to be featured;
  • developing a guitar controller for the XBox 360 version of Guitar Hero II for three months after release;
  • soliciting Activision employees, partners or Asia-based manufacturing partners; and
  • taking any steps to develop, market, manufacture, sell, or distribute any guitar or drum based video games.

As recently as December 27, 2006, Activision and Red Octane had settled a different dispute with TAC concerning the sale of unlicensed guitar peripherals. See here for details.

Sources: Gamasutra | GameSpot | Kotaku

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RedOctane & The Ant Commandos Settle Guitar Hero Controller Dispute

Categories: Controller CasesCopyright CasesProduct PackagingSettlementsTrademark CasesUnfair Business Practice Casses

As expected, on December 22 The Ant Commandos and RedOctane settled their Guitar Hero controller/peripheral suit and countersuit. 1Up.com summarizes the dispute in this amusing way:

Anyway, so RedOctane sued the Ant Commandos, claiming rights infringement on their popular Gibson SG brand of guitar controllers. The Commandos fired back claiming that the SG stepped all over their existing patents on technology for 3-button Guitar Freaks! guitars. Everybody was fingerpointing, it sucked.

While details of the settlement have not been disclosed a representative of Ant Commandos confirmed to GameSpot that its products would continue to be distributed. Jack Black and the Rightous Gods of Rock will be happy with this outcome!

Dale’s Comment: Until I discovered that neither the Ant Commando nor the RedOctane controllers will work with the PS3, one of the primary reasons I wanted to purchase a PS3 was to play Guitar Hero. I had hoped that like most PS2 games, it would be playable on the PS3. Happily, Guitar Hero 2 is coming to the XBox 360 so I won’t need to purchase a PS2 in order to finally play this game.

Sources: Gamasutra | GameSpot | 1UP.com | GameIndustry.biz

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XFire Sues GameSpy Over Battlefield 2142′s Buddy Sync Feature

Categories: Copyright CasesTrade Secret Cases

Viacom-owned XFire has sued News Corp subsidiary IGN alleging the GameSpy Comrade "Buddy Sync" feature included with the hot title Battlefield 2142, infringes its copyrights. Comrade Buddy Sync accesses a user's friends lists from third party instant messaging programs (including XFire and AOL Instant Messenger) thereby allowing the gamer to see which friends are online and facilitating friend invites into games – a feature that is directly competitive with XFire's core functionality. District Court Judge Susan Illston denied Xfire's request for a preliminary injunction.

Dale's Comment: I haven't found the pleadings online. As I understand it the case alleges copyright infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. Proving copyright infringement is difficult because a successful case requires a finding of significant copying of underlying source code – something that is highly unlikely to have occurred. Noting about how XFire works seems to be a trade secret. How XFire works is common knowledge in the industry. If it was a trade secret then how did GameSpy find out about it? Barring some kind of fiduciary or contractual duty to keep XFire's trade secrets secret, I don't know how XFire can make out a case on this basis. 

Sources: GameSpot | GameIndustry.biz

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RedOctane & The Ant Commandos in Settlement Discussions

Categories: Controller CasesCopyright CasesTrademark CasesUnfair Business Practice Casses

The Ant Commandos and RedOctane are negotiating a settlement according to a motion filed by both companies on October 26

Sources: GameSpot | Xbox 360 Net | Yahoo! Games

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Jack Thompson Misfires with Mortal Kombat Cease & Desist Letter

Categories: Cease & DesistCharacter License CasesCopyright CasesHumourJack ThompsonTrademark Cases

The new Mortal Kombat Armageddon game has a built-in character editor. Gamers can mix and match clothing, body types, hairstyles and facial characteristics to create original characters to be played/fought in the game. The enterprising e-zeen Gaming Target posted this story providing character editor formulas for gamers to use to create famous, and infamous, characters including a formula for creating anti-game-violence crusader Jack Thompson.

Jack Thompson, apparently not quite understanding the character editor distinction, sent off a cease and desist letter to Midway, the game’s publisher, with the following contained therein:

“It has today come to my attention that the newly recently Mortal Kombat: Armageddon contains an unauthorized commercial exploitation of my name, photograph, image, and likeness within the game.”

“You are commanded to cease and desist immediately from the distribution of this game because of this unauthorized, illegal content…”

“It would appear that your company has done this at least in part because I sued you all in the Paducah school massacre case and further because I appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 when your company came out with your profane, violent, and idiotic Blitz: The League.”

To be clear, there is no crusading Florida lawyer character that is shipped with the game. On the presumption that Jack Thompson is aware of the Marvel v. NCSoft decision (see linked posts below) which is on point, this demand will likely just fade away once Mr. Thompson realizes what has happened here. The mere inclusion of a character editor does not, in itself, infringe anyone’s IP or personality rights any more than the manufacture and sale of Etch-a-Sketches does.

Sources: GamePolitics.com| Gaming Target | Gamasutra | joystiq | The Inquirer | GameSpot | EuroGamer | GWN | Pro-G | igniq.com

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The Ant Commandos Coutersues RedOctane for Trade Dress Infringement

Categories: Controller CasesCopyright CasesTrademark CasesUnfair Business Practice Casses

The Ant Commandos (TAC) is countersuing RedOctane, alleging the guitar controller was first designed by TAC’s part owner Topaway and its trade dress later copied by RedOctane after RedOctane’s CEO visited its Chinese factory and subsequently purchased several hundred of its controllers. In addition TAC has filed for an injunction asking that Activision and RedOctane be prevented from infringing on the “trade dress” and that Guitar Hero software be unbundle from SG controller to allow for fair competition.

Sources: GameSpot | Gamasutra | Next Generation | Kotaku | Joystiq | IGN | Silicon Era | GameDaily.biz

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Redoctane Sues The Ant Commandos over Peripheral

Categories: Controller CasesCopyright CasesProduct PackagingTrademark CasesUnfair Business Practice Casses

RedOctane, the developers of the popular Guitar Hero PS2 video game, have sued The Ant Commandos alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition and copyright violation among other claims in connection with the sale of The Ant Commandos’ unlicensed line of guitar-like controllers.

Sources: GameSpot | Gamasutra | Next Generation | Kotaku | ars technica | joystiq

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Judge Rules Sports Statistics are Not Intellectual Property

Categories: Copyright CasesPersonality Rights Cases

Text of Decision
CBC Distribution was denied a new licensing agreement with MLB’s players’ association. CDC sued them for the right to use the player profiles and statistics. U.S. District Court Judge Mary Ann Medler has concluded that “The names and playing records of major league baseball players as used in CBC’s fantasy games are not copyrightable. Therefore, federal copyright law does not pre-empt the players’ claimed right of publicity.” The MLBPA is appealing.
Sources: Sports Illustrated  |  L.A. Times  |  ars technica  |  New York Times  |  San Jose Mercury News (AP)  |  USA Today  |  BBC  |  Contra Costa Times  |  Reuters  |  Washington Post  |  PC Magazine  |  MLB Player’s Association Statement  |  IPTABlog  |  William Patry  |  Cathy Kirkman

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Blizzard/Vivendi Settle WOW Unofficial User Guide DMCA Dispute

Categories: Copyright CasesDMCA-TPM CasesSettlements

Text of Complaint
In an out-of-court settlement, a 24 year old Florida man, Brian Kopp, who claimed last March that he’d been unlawfully blocked from selling copies of his unofficial “World of Warcraft” guide by the Blizzard and Vivendi, can resume his sales on eBay. The settlement does not provide for monetary compensation for Kopp. Blizzard and Vivendi agreed to withdraw their previous take-down notices and to drop their infringement claims. They also agreed to refrain from filing future DMCA take-down notices against the same items Kopp had already disputed through counter-notices. Kopp agreed to retain the book’s disclaimers about its unofficial nature and agreed not to include links or instructions on how to locate ‘cheats’ in the game.

Sources: CNet | Kopp’s Press Release | GameSpot | USA Today | Kotaku | GameDaily.biz | Gamasutra | EuroGamer | GamePolitics.com

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Cheatcc.com and Crave Online Media Settle Cheat Codes Dispute

Categories: Copyright CasesSettlements

Davis & Co. report that Cheatcc.com and Crave Online Media have settled their dispute. In a rather novel dispute, Cheatcc had alleged that Crave Online Media had violated its copyright in its user submitted cheat codes. As noted by D&C, this would have been an interesting case to determine whether a court would find that a company has an enforceable compilation copyright or other proprietary claim in information submitted by its users. Details of the dispute have not been released.

Source: Davis & Company LLP

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Burger King Threatens Game Blog/News Site Kotaku over Concept Art

Categories: Copyright CasesTrademark Cases

In this story Kotaku broke the news that Burger King was considering a promotion featuring Burger King-branded XBox 360 games using Burger King’s cartoon characters. The story included mockups, concept art and a description of the promotion. The general counsel of Burger King’s market research company, Greenfield Online, contacted Kotaku, and demanded the removal of the images and text regarding the game concepts alleging that Kotaku was participating in infringement of Burger King’s confidential, proprietary and copyrighted information. In its characteristic irreverent manner, Kotaku responded: “We’re not taking down the post, but we will take some of those scrumptious breakfast sandwiches the King has been pedaling. We’ll gladly trade in our claim of Fair Use for a bag full of delicious sausage Croissan’wiches.”
Sources: Kotaku  |  1Up.com  |  Addict3D  |  Gamespot

Related: Joystiq  |  BK Promotion FAQ  |  Xbox 360 Fanboy

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Blizzard/Vivendi Sued for Blocking Sales of Unofficial ‘WOW’ Guide

Categories: Copyright CasesDMCA-TPM Cases

Text of Complaint
In a complaint filed in a California federal court, 24 year-old Brian Kopp alleges that Blizzard and Vivendi were wrong to order eBay to terminate auctions of his book, “The Ultimate World of Warcraft Leveling & Gold Guide“.

Sources: CNet | MMORPG Blog | ZDNet | ars technica | Common Dreams | Public Citizen | Gamasutra | Gamespot | Next Generation | Joystiq

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Marvel and NCSoft Settle Character License Dispute

Categories: Character License CasesCopyright CasesSettlementsTrademark Cases

Marvel and NCsoft did not disclose terms of the settlement, but the result appears to allow NCsoft’s games to continue to allow players to create characters without restriction.

Sources: Gamasutra | GameSpot NextGen.biz | 1Up.com | GameDaily | IGN | Houston Chronicle

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Cheatcc.com and Crave Online Media in Cheat Codes Dispute

Categories: CheatingCopyright Cases

A Colorado man who is an expert video-game cheater is accusing another video-game expert of — what else? — cheating. Ultimately, it’s a straightforward copyright-infringement action that raises the interesting question of whether copyright can subsist in cheat codes submitted by a website’s user base.

Sources: Casper Star Tribune | Davis and Co. LLP | Net Boulevards | Jackson Holes Star Tribune
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Namco, Sony Music Settle Over Pac-Man Samples

Categories: Copyright CasesMusic/Audio CasesSettlements

Namco America and Sony BMG Music Entertainment have announced that the companies have settled a complaint filed by Namco alleging that sounds from its video game Pac-Man were used in the song of a Sony BMG artist. Namco’s complaint alleged that the sampled portions were not cleared. The terms of the settlement were not revealed.

Sources: Gamasutra | Gamespot | AllHipHop.com’s Earlier Sept 24, 2004 Report on Lawsuit

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City of Copies: Marvel vs. NC Soft

Categories: Character License CasesCopyright CasesPolice ActionsTrademark Cases

In this GirlAdvance article, Steve Bowler includes photos of the characters in question and the discusses Marvel’s character copyright infringement case against NC Soft.

Source: GameGirlAdvance.com

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3D Realms Shuts Down Duke Nukem Based Mod Project

Categories: Cease & DesistCharacter License CasesCopyright CasesDMCA-TPM CasesModding CasesPolice ActionsTrademark Cases

Those working on the mod were informed by 3D Realms that it does not allow any of its intellectual property to be used in conversions or mods for other game engines, forcing the project to be shut down.

Source: GameIndustry.biz

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Marvel sues NCSoft over City of Heroes Player Characters

Categories: Character License CasesCopyright CasesPolice ActionsTrademark Cases

Comic book giant Marvel has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Korean publisher NCsoft, alleging that players in the firm’s MMORPG City of Heroes are creating characters in the likeness of Marvel heroes.

Sources: gameindustry.biz | Wired | EFF’s Marvel v. NCSoft Page | City of Hero’s Developer, Cryptic Studios, Responds

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Sony Wins U.K. Mod-chip Ruling Against Channel Technology

Categories: Copyright CasesDMCA-TPM CasesImport/Export CasesModding CasesPiracy CasesPolice ActionsRegion Coding Cases

Channel Technology imported mod-chips from Russia that when installed in PS2′s to play games from all regions. Importantly, the chip also allows users to play pirated games. The U.K. High Court found Channel Technology in violation of a provision in the UK. Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 that prohibits knowingly making, importing or selling any device specifically designed or adapted to circumvent copy-protection. Judge Jacob awarded Sony damages of £15,000 and costs of £45,000. Channel Technology has since closed.

Sources: The Register | ZDNet | Out-Law.com

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eGames, MVP Software and Webfoot Settle Hasbro Litigation

Categories: Copyright CasesSettlements

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, eGames agreed to pay a one time settlement fee of $205,000.

Sources: Gamasutra | PRNewswire

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Hasbro Files Suit

Categories: Copyright CasesMisc. Cases

Hasbro Interactive, and its subsidiary Attari Interactive, have filed suit against several game companies over unauthorized versions of some well-known video games.

Sources: Gamasutra | About | PRNewswire | EVG Nexus | Hasbro Press Release | Adrenaline Vault | CNNMoney
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