5 Stupid Lawsuits in the Gaming Industry
Ah... lawsuits? Where would modern society be without them? Not that they're a bad thing. I think it's great that citizens and businesses have legal recourse when contracts are breached, violated, or abused. In a perfect world, the courts would only be used for legitimate claims and concerns. In the real world, however…
Give people a system, and there are going to be a few who abuse it, occasionally with hilarious results.
Game development, like any other field, has its fair share of head-scratchers. Let's have a look at some of the most historically pointless, drawn out, or just plain absurd legal battles in the history of the gaming industry.
5. The Scrolls Debacle: Mojang vs. Zenimax:
We'll start with one that's fresh on everyone's minds. A few months ago, Zenimax / Bethesda sent a fifteen page manuscript to Notch of Mojang, developer of the smash hit indie title Minecraft. Notch had recently announced he and his studio were working on a new digital collectible card game known as Scrolls. Someone at Zenimax apparently didn't like that name (something to do with their The Elder Scrolls series), so they presented Mojang with an ultimatum: Change the name, or we'll see you in court.
Not surprisingly, Mojang won the Interim Injunction, because, well…you can't really copyright a word. While the legal battle's still ongoing, I'm not expecting Bethesda's lawyers to emerge victorious from this one. Pete Hines responded to the suit, stating that:
"Mojang's public comments have not given a complete picture, as it relates to their filings, our trademarks, or events that have taken place… nobody here enjoys being forced into this. Hopefully it will all be resolved soon."
4. Something for Springer: Silicon Knights vs. Epic Games
So, who here doesn't remember the long, drawn-out legal battle between Silicon Knights and Epic Games? We're not going to go too in-depth on this one, because I could honestly write an entire article (scratch that, an entire manuscript) about the proceedings in this case, which have been going on for four years now, with no end in sight, though things have recently turned in Epic's favor.
From what I understand, the suit involved Silicon Knights claiming that Epic Games was withholding game-specific enhancements to the Unreal 3.0 Engine from Silicon Knights, delivering the technology too late, which effectively derailed SK's development and E3 2006 schedules. They pointed to Gears of War as evidence of Epic's shenanigans.
Whether this suit is an attempt to cover for Silicon Knights' own inadequacies or a genuine case against Epic for shoddy service remains to be seen. The jury's still out, and it probably will be for some time.
3. And Your Little Dog Too: Ultimate Pointer vs. Nintendo and Retailers
The recent actions of Ultimate Pointer against Nintendo more or less perfectly fit the definition of "patent trolling". Apparently, they looked at Nintendo's Wii-mote and decided that it looked mighty similar to its own motion-controlled laser pointer tech. Their executive proceeded to do what any group of sane, rational individuals would.
They sued Nintendo. But they didn't just stop there. They also sued pretty much every retailer that ever carried the Wii-mote in stock. They claimed that the Wii-mote infringed on a patent they filed back in 2003. While they may well have a legitimate claim, it seems a touch suspicious that they also sued every retailer that carried the hardware, doesn't it?
2. My Face, My Rules: The Guitar Hero Lawsuits
So many people have sued Activision for the Guitar Hero franchise that I'm starting to lose track. For their use of artists' likenesses in their games (most of which were actually licensed), Activision has been sued by Maroon 5's Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Kurt Cobain's wife Courney Love, Axl Rose (who wasn't even in the game - his lead guitarist, Slash was), and more. Oh, and Gibson tried to pull a suit out of thin air when they realized they had some legal ownership of the fake guitar, which they'd actually discussed with Activision beforehand. Unsurprisingly, their lawsuit failed, and they filed out of court.
1. We Own It, But We Don't: Universal Media vs. Nintendo
We'll finish with something of a blast from the past. Everyone knows about Nintendo's game Donkey Kong, the now-famous classic that was the starting point for one of the most iconic characters in video game history. Nintendo made millions on the game, which cemented their position in the gaming industry for decades to come. What many might not know is that MCA Universal originally looked at the character of Donkey Kong and decided that it infringed upon King Kong.
They came at Nintendo with a rather nasty order: they were to turn all profits from Donkey Kong over to MCA and destroy all unsold Donkey Kong products within the next forty eight hours. According to them, Donkey Kong infringed on King Kong. The kicker? They didn't even own the copyright. By their own actions, the property was public domain.
Nintendo asked MCA Universal to give them a bit of time to prepare for the mass destruction, and set to work gathering information about King Kong. After a month, the two sides reconvened and ate a civil dinner together, after which Nintendo's counsel Howard Lincoln stated simply that they were not settling.
Things got decidedly less civil, with MCA Universal's Sid Sheinberg throwing a bit of a temper tantrum and dragging them to court. Nintendo pushed for a dismissal, and MCA Universal was ordered to pay $1.8 Million in damages and return all the money it had taken from various Donkey Kong affiliates during the whole brouhaha.
Moral of the story? Don't go around bullying licensees, because there's always a bigger -and smarter- fish in the sea.
A gamer at heart, Nick started writing when he was a child. He holds a BA in English, works as a freelancer, and loves every minute of it. One day, he hopes to net himself a career in game design - but that's something for the future.
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