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如何在不破坏公司声誉的前提下保护游戏IP?

发布时间:2013-08-15 13:58:55 Tags:,,,,

作者:Stephen McArthur

今年世界上共有10亿多人投入650亿美元玩电子游戏,推动着电子游戏产业超越好莱坞电影产业,甚至比音乐产业规模大2倍。而这些数字也吸引着大量抄袭者的眼球,所以才会出现那么多复制《俄罗斯方块》的手机应用,甚至每周还会跳出无数《英雄联盟》的复制品,如《300英雄》,更让人担忧的是,甚至连精品工作室的作品也未能逃脱抄袭的侵蚀,如Spry Fox的《三重小镇》。

我将通过本篇文章为那些想要保护自己的品牌,创作和其它知识产权的游戏开发商们提供一些建议。我将解释电子游戏公司在面对自己的IP存在风险时需要考虑的6大选择:给媒体写公开信,礼貌的禁止涵,强制性的禁止涵,DMCA(数字千年版权法)关闭通知,仲裁,以及最后的诉讼。对于每个选择我都会提供一些现实案例,即关于公司是如何处理现实情况以及最后所面临的结果。

游戏设计是一种艺术。因此,所有游戏都是由一些IP组合在一起,并将受到版权,商标,甚至是商业秘密或专利技术的保护。游戏中的软件代码,插图,音乐和脚本都是受到版权的保护。标题,logo,角色,标语,特殊音效或颜色,甚至是独特的武器或道具等是受到商标的保护。而专利能够保全新且独特的游戏功能,规则,或使用算法。对于源代码,目标代码以及其它商业信息和方法都必须对外界和竞争者保密,这是受到商业秘密法的保护。

很多人对IP和商标保护的一大误解是,它们既昂贵又需要消耗大量时间。但却并非总是如此。有时候只要采取一些积极的方法,并且无需消耗公司资源便能做到这些。

最佳方针是既能阻止大多数游戏复制和品牌侵权,同时也能够让用户基础和消费者无需担忧任何报复而自由地修改游戏并在社交媒体上进行推广。在Twitter和Reddit的社交媒体时代加强IP既是一种平衡公共关系的做法,同时也是一种法律决策。游戏开发者必须足够敏感且从政治角度去应对这种执行:你既需要保护自己的权利,也不希望被当成欺凌弱小者,或者因为骚扰一些小公司或关闭某些组件和游戏内容而疏远用户基础。

举个例子来说,在2013年,任天堂便因为采取较为激进的方法去面对这种知识产权保护而疏远了其在YouTube上的部分用户基础。粉丝们经常会在YouTube上观看任天堂游戏的视频,同时也会将一些视频传到该平台上。观看视频也包括观看用户评价,教程,综述等等内容。很多用户甚至将创造并上传游戏视频当成自己的全职工作,并会获得视频播放前所刊登的广告的费用。

任天堂对YouTube提出了大众版权索赔,要求对方关闭所有用户广告收益,并将所有所得方转向自己。即所有的这些游戏视频所获得的收益(都是合理且由任天堂最大的支持者和粉丝所创造的)现在都是属于任天堂。

不出所料,任天堂因为此次的肤浅决定遭遇了重大打击。游戏玩法视频是粉丝创造的一种病毒营销方式,并不会带给任天堂任何损失。但他们竟为了几美元而牺牲了这些忠实粉丝的好意。愚蠢的IP保护策略将会伤害到消费者,并不可避免地造成市场营销重创。

2011年,暴雪使用DMCA关闭通知要求YouTube删除粉丝创造的一个名为《星际世界》的视频。尽管这是他们保护自己的《魔兽世界》和《星际争霸》品牌的合法权利,但也因此遭到了公众的嘲笑。不过暴雪非常巧妙地回应了这一情况。他们发表了一封公开信解释了该情况并赞许了创造者,甚至邀请他们前往暴雪商讨游戏事宜。而今天这位粉丝的创作便开花结果了,也就是我们所知道的《星际争霸:宇宙》这款游戏。

开发者还必须确保允许粉丝和第三方从游戏中寻找灵感以及确保品牌的完整性受到保护之间的平衡。你不应该过激地关闭粉丝通过游戏所创造出来的作品。即使你能够成功地让他们放弃该项目,但最终却会破坏你们与公众间的关系。

1.不带法律诉讼的公开信

2011年,只有3名成员的小型公司NimbleBit发行了一款手机游戏《Tiny Tower》。这是一款具有独创性和强大吸引力的游戏,深受玩家喜欢。所以在游戏发行后不久,苹果就为它挂上了iPhone年度游戏的标签。而带有数百名员工的Zynga也在之后发行了一款与《Tiny Tower》及其相似的游戏,《Dream Heights》。

NimbleBit有绝对的理由向Zynga发送一封禁止涵,但似乎这家巨头公司不会轻易让步。然后NimbleBit就需要面对一个艰难的决定,即是否应该花费巨额资金与Zynga打一场版权侵犯诉讼。不过NimbleBit所采取的做法是直接呼吁媒体和公众舆论。它创造一封半玩笑式信件去比较了这两款游戏,并感谢Zynga竟然这么看得起《Tiny Tower》,还邀请他们去复制自己今后的游戏。

zynga(from gamasutra)

zynga(from gamasutra)

该信件很快传播开来。在许多新闻报道中都能看到它的身影,许多游戏博客也在讨论着这一情况,从而很大程度地影响着Zynga的声誉和公共关系。而NimbleBit所获得的不只是公共的胜利:《Tiny Tower》的销量因此出现了急速上升。出尽风头的NimbleBit继续使用媒体报道去推广自己今后的游戏,如《Nimble Quest》,但却未像之前的游戏那般突出了。也许NimbleBit并未赢得与Zynga之间的版权之战,但是它却采取了有效的方法赢取了媒体和推广之战。

关于成功吸引公众注意的另外一个成功案例便是Twisted Pixel的首席执行官使用Twitter斥责Capcom所发行的《MaXplosion》与Twisted Pixel的《爆炸人》非常相似。比起使用公开信,他选择了用Twitter进行攻击:“《MaXplosion》的游戏视频让我非常难过。如果你正在窃取一款游戏,你至少也需要理解它的乐趣是什么。”“我们不得不继续进行创作,如此Capcom才有机会在明年继续窃取我们的作品。”最后他表示,他们并不会提起法律诉讼,因为“他们创造了《洛克人》,所以这是我们欠他们的。”

与NimbleBit一样,Twisted Pixel也赢得了这场公众之战。因为种种新闻舆论,Capcom不得不发表声明,希望“重拾粉丝的信任并挽留游戏社区中的朋友们。”

这种社交媒体之战适用于一些付不起巨额诉讼费用的小型初创公司,即通过公开信,Twitter或者其它公开信息途径向公众阐述其它公司窃取自己游戏或品牌的事实。但是如果你是带着愤怒的心情去写这些内容,或使用了不恰当的措辞,你便会给自己摊上一些不必要的麻烦,甚至可能招来对方的诽谤诉讼。你最不想看到的结果便是复制你们游戏的公司反倒赢得了诉讼,所以你更需要谨慎地编写这些信息。

2.礼貌的禁止函

禁止涵是一种正式的信件,即要求某些人停止侵犯你的知识产权,如果他们未能遵守的话便会惹来法律诉讼。禁止函并非私人或保密的。你必须做好该信件会被刊登在博客上的准备。如果你在一家大公司并向一家小公司发送禁止函,这便会演变成“欺凌弱小”的故事。所以你必须清楚粉丝们有可能看到这封信,而你就应该想办法让自己处于积极的一面。

缓解风险的最简单的方法便是确保你的禁止函足够礼貌,友善。友好的方式总是能够更快速且更廉价地解决问题。Jack Daniel(游戏邦注:著名的美国威士忌品牌)在面对一位作者在自己的书籍封面使用了与Jack Daniel的logo非常相似的图像这一情况时便成功使用了这种友善的方法:

book(from gamasutra)

book(from gamasutra)

在他的信函中,Jack Daniel解释了他们想要捍卫自己的品牌,并赞扬了那位侵犯了自己商标的作者,礼貌要求对方改变封面,并且未提出诉讼威胁:

“我们很高兴你对我们品牌的厚爱,虽然对于Jack Daniel得到普及这一点我们感到欣慰,但是我们也必须想办法保证Jack Daniel商标使用权的合法性。考虑到该品牌的普及,对于遇到这些的情况我们也并未感到惊讶。但是如果我们允许你们继续使用该logo,我们便会给自己招致一些不必要的风险,即我们的商标公信力便会大大被削弱。作为品牌的拥护者,我敢肯定你们也不希望看到这种情况的出现。,因为你们也在路易斯维尔,并且是我们品牌的爱好者,所以我们只希望你们能够在书籍再版时改掉封面设计。如果你能够更快做出改变(包括电子版本),我们愿意为所需成本贡献一份力量。”

Jack Daniel的这封信函起到了很大的作用,并获得了媒体对于该公司的广泛认可。并且,在未引起任何不好的反响以及诉讼前,书籍作者也更改了封面设计。

3.强制性信函

扮演好人并不总是奏效。有时候,如果对方并不打算立刻停止使用你的游戏或品牌的话,你便需要采取较为强硬的态度并表示将此事带向法庭。这种信函是保证侵权人立即停止使用你的知识产权的有效且相对昂贵的方法。

表面上看来这些信函也很普通,但是游戏公司却会在此遇到许多常见的陷阱。首先,你必须清楚你的信函并不是保密的,即使你做出相应标记。你应该假设自己所写的一切内容都会被刊登在社交媒体网站上,并被各种媒体和粉丝所看到。所以不要写出一些让别人觉得你欺凌弱小的内容。

其次,不要发送不带法律依据的信函。当你向一些并未违反法律或侵犯你的作品的人发送这类型信函时,你要知道自己也在冒险,即对方有可能反过来对你提出诉讼。也就是说你所发送信函的对方有可能为了获得主动权而将你拖到国家另一边的法庭上。就像如果你的公司在加利福尼亚,而你的发送对象是密歇根,并且他对你提起了确认判决诉讼,那么你便糟糕了。你肯定不愿意面对这一费时又费钱的问题。

2012年,独立游戏开发商RC3发行了一款名为《Joustin’s Beaver》的手机游戏。这款游戏突出了一只身穿紫色T恤的海狸。它将与“Phot-Hogs”对抗,签订“Otter-graphs”并遭遇“成功的漩涡”。而Justin Beiber向RC3发送了一封措辞不当的强制性信函。

该信件表明RC3“公然侵犯了Justin Beiber的权利”,并威胁RC3做出法定赔偿。该信函要求RC3必须“对Justin Beiber所造成的伤害支付赔偿金”,并申明如果他们不能在两个工作日内给予回应便会控告他们。

RC3面向公众公开了这封信函,希望能够得到公众的支持,然后通过提出确认诉讼而予以反击,将拥有加拿大国籍的Justin Beiber带到本属的佛罗里达的法庭上。而因为自身欠缺思考且太过激进的禁止函,Justin Beiber不得不接受来自佛罗里达的昂贵的诉讼费。今天,也是距离诉讼1年后,我们仍然能在苹果的App Store中看到《Joustin’ Beaver》这款游戏,并且其价格也从0.99美元提升至1.99美元。

4.面向服务提供者的DMCA关闭通知

数字千年著作权法案(DMCA)允许版权所有者告发版权侵犯的服务提供者。随后该服务提供者必须“迅速删除或禁止范围该内容。”版权拥有者可以将DMCA通告发送到文件共享网站中要求侵权者删除相关游戏。这对于苹果等大公司来说特别有效,即能够强迫他们从iOS App Store中撤销侵权手机游戏。

DMCA通知是一种便捷的做法,举个例子来说吧,如果有人复制了你的游戏或品牌并开始在苹果的App Store上进行销售,你便可以无需将对方告上法庭或发送影响恶劣的信函而让他们删掉游戏。DMCA通知必须包含一些特定的信息,否则对方的服务提供者(游戏邦注:如苹果,谷歌等)便会直接忽视它。就像谷歌每个月会收到大约2千万份的DMCA关闭通知,所以他们的关闭过程主要是自动化的。自然过程是自动化,那么只要你能遵循规则,你便能够成功地移除侵权内容。你可以与律师商讨,并让他们发送DMCA信函以确保遵循了正确的规则。

雅达利便使用了DMCA关闭通知让苹果删除App Store上一款名为《Vector Tanks》的游戏,因为它复制了雅达利早前的《终极战区》。

Battlezone(from gamasutra)

Battlezone(from gamasutra)

Vector_Tanks(from gamasutra)

Vector_Tanks(from gamasutra)

值得注意的是,在这个例子中,雅达利是在1980年发行的《终极战区》,这是在《Vector Tanks》诞生并发行于App Store的30年前。而为了回应雅达利的DMCA通知,苹果永久性地将《Vector Tanks》从App Store中移除。

5.仲裁

在仲裁的时候,一位与双方都没有关系的专家将帮助他们达成协议并解决彼此的冲突。他便是仲裁者。仲裁者通常都是由双方所选择的,是受他们尊重的,并需要获得双方的报酬。仲裁者就像一位临床医学家,他并不是为了决定哪一方获胜而存在的。相反地,他会始终保持中立,并帮助双方理解自己的弱势,推动着他们找出共同点,从而有效地解决问题。

花几天时间通过仲裁解决问题可比诉讼纠纷便宜得多。仲裁是种相对较省时的方法,可以在几周时间内便规划好,并在半天时间或几天时间内达成共识。同样,与诉讼不同的是,仲裁是完全保密的,所以不管是媒体还是竞争者都不会知道最终结果,并且基于这种方法,你还能拥有较多的权利,而无需将所有事情都交给法官做判决。仲裁双方可以通过创造性的解决方法去化解冲突。

1998年,世嘉申请了U.S. Patent 6,200,138,希望能够获得《疯狂出租车》(你将在游戏中搭载着乘客尽快千万目的地)中箭头导航系统的专属权。该专利理念包含跟着箭头的指引在城市里环绕着并最终到达了目的地。而在今天,《疯狂出租车》的箭头导航专利已经倍当成电子游戏历史上最重要的专利之一。

road_rage(fromgamasutra)

road_rage(fromgamasutra)

2001年,艺电发行了《辛普森:疯狂大道》,并被认为是模仿了《疯狂出租车》的游戏元素。

simpsons(from gamasutra)

simpsons(from gamasutra)

随后世嘉并对其提出了专利和版权侵犯诉讼。那时候有人认为这是世界上两大最厉害的电子游戏开发商之间一场持久且昂贵的战争。但是比起耗费几年时间以及上百万美元的官司费,他们最终选择让私人仲裁者帮助协调问题。在仲裁过程中,他们最终达成了协议,并完全放弃了诉讼。不过因为仲裁的保密性,我们并不清楚解决条件中是否包含金钱的交易。

6.诉讼

你可能已经尝试了礼貌的电话询问,愤怒的禁止涵等等方法了。但却没有一项奏效,侵权者仍猖狂地使用着你的电子游戏或品牌。所以你别无选择只能将其告到法庭了。这也是《三重小镇》的创造者Spry Fox在6Waves的《Yeti Town》复制了其游戏后所采取的方法。

triple(from gamasutra)

triple(from gamasutra)

yeti(from gamasutra)

yeti(from gamasutra)

在Spry Fox提出诉讼后6个月,6Waves最终妥协,表示《Yeti Town》的所有知识产权都归属于Spry Fox。根据Spry Fox的首席执行官David Edery在2013年游戏开发者大会上的演说,这次的诉讼给他们公司带来了很多积极影响。因为他们能够向其它电子游戏复制者发送信件,而不再是傻傻地看着别人抄袭自己的游戏了。所以尽管诉讼非常昂贵,但除了能够带来胜利外,还能创造出其它积极的结果。

最后,我想说IP存在的目的便是为了鼓励人们的创新,奖励那些富有创造性的人们,从而推动着他们不断创造出更多优秀的作品。选择有效的维权方法才能帮助你更好地创建并保护公司的品牌和资产。但同时你也需要确保不会让公司变成是欺凌弱小的罪魁祸首,并避免疏远一些重要的用户基础。

本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,拒绝任何不保留版权的转载,如需转载请联系:游戏邦

Responding to Intellectual Property Theft: How to Protect Your Game Without Damaging Your Company’s Reputation

by Stephen McArthur

Over one billion people worldwide will spend a total of $65 billion this year playing video games.[1]  That makes the video game industry bigger than the Hollywood film industry and twice the size of the music industry.  These lucrative numbers are highly attractive to copycatters looking to grab even a tiny slice of that market share.  We’ve seen it with mobile apps copying Tetris[2], the countless League of Legends clones that seem to pop up every week, such as 300 Heroes[3], and more worryingly, even the boutique studios often have their work ripped off, such as Spry Fox’s Triple Town[4].

In this article I’ll provide guidance to game developers who need to protect their brands, creative work, and other intellectual property (“IP”).  I will explain six options a video game company should consider whenever its IP is at risk: an open letter to the media, a polite cease and desist letter, an aggressive cease and desist letter, a DMCA takedown notice, mediation, and, finally, litigation.  For each of those options, I will provide real life examples of how a company handled the exact situation and what the result was.

Game design is an art.  Consequently, all games comprise some combination of IP and will be protected by copyrights, trademarks, and perhaps even trade secrets or patented technology.  The underlying software code, artwork, music, and script in a game can be protected by copyright.  The title, logo, characters, slogans, distinctive sounds or colors, and even unique weapons or items can be protected by trademark.  Patents can protect the new and unique gameplay functionality, features rules, or applied algorithms, among other things.  Source code, object code, and any other business information or methods that are kept secret from the public and competitors may be additionally protected by trade secret law.

One misconception about IP and brand protection is that it is extraordinarily expensive and time consuming.  But that does not always have to be the case.  It can often be done in a few proactive steps that do not have to drain your company’s resources.

The best policy is generally to find an equilibrium between shutting down the most egregious game clones and brand infringers, while leaving your fan base and consumers alone to have the freedom to modify your game and promote it through social media without the fear of retribution.  Enforcing IP in the social media age of Twitter and Reddit is as much a public relations balancing act as it is a legal decision.  Game developers must be sensitive and political with their enforcement: while you must protect your rights, you don’t want to be perceived as a bully or alienate your user base by making the shortsighted decision of harassing smaller companies or shutting down mods, mash-ups, and fan art.

In May 2013, for example, Nintendo alienated part of its YouTube fanbase by being too aggressive with its intellectual property enforcement.  Fans frequently make “playthrough” videos of Nintendo’s games and post them to YouTube.  The playthrough videos include original user commentary, walkthroughs, tutorials, and reviews.  Many of those users create and upload their playthrough videos as full time jobs, receiving revenue generated by advertisements that play before the videos.

Nintendo made mass copyright claims to YouTube to shut down all users’ advertising revenue and instead redirect the money to itself.[5]  Any revenue from those playthroughs, which are arguably fair use and created by Nintendo’s biggest supporters and fans, would now belong to Nintendo.

Unsurprisingly, Nintendo was lambasted for this short-sighted move.  The gameplay videos are a form of fan-made viral marketing that costs Nintendo nothing.  But for a few dollars, Nintendo sacrificed its goodwill with some of its biggest fans.  A ham-fisted IP enforcement strategy that doesn’t keep your consumers as its number one priority will inevitably lead to these kind of marketing gaffes.

In 2011, Blizzard used a DMCA takedown notice to force YouTube to remove a video of a fan creation called World of Starcraft.  Despite its legitimate interest in protecting its World of Warcraft and Starcraft brands, it was still pilloried in the gaming media for shutting down a fan’s creation.  Blizzard reacted to the situation skillfully.  It released an open letter explaining the situation, praising the developers, and even inviting them to Blizzard to discuss the game.[6]  Today, the fan’s creation has come to fruition and is known as StarCraft Universe.[7]

There is always an important balance that must be observed between allowing fans and third parties to be inspired by your work, and making sure that your brand integrity is protected.  You must be very sensitive about not aggressively shutting down creative works generated by fans of your game.  Even if you can get away with forcing them to abandon their project, it can be a public relations mess.

1. Open Letter With No Legal Action

In 2011, NimbleBit, a small company of only three people released the mobile game, Tiny Tower.  It was an original game, addictive, and very well received.  Shortly after it was released, Apple named Tiny Tower the iPhone Game of the Year.  Zynga, a company with hundreds of employees, released Dream Heights, a mobile game extremely similar to and clearly inspired by Tiny Tower.

NimbleBit could have sent Zynga a cease and desist letter.  But it is unlikely that the much larger company would have backed down.  Then, Nimblebit would have been faced with the decision of whether to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars going to war with Zynga in federal court for copyright infringement.  Instead, NimbleBit appealed straight to the press and the court of public opinion.  It created an illustrated, tongue-in-cheek letter comparing the two games side-by-side, thanking Zynga for being such big fans of Tiny Tower, and inviting them to copy their future games as well.[8]

The letter was a viral hit.  It was covered in the press, reposted by legions of game bloggers, and was a blow to Zynga’s reputation and public relations.[9]  But it was more than simply a public victory for NimbleBit: Tiny Tower saw a significant spike in sales.  NimbleBit, now in the spotlight, continued to get media coverage for its future game releases, such as Nimble Quest, that it probably wouldn’t have otherwise received.  NimbleBit may not have won a copyright infringement lawsuit had it brought one against Zynga, but it found a way to win the media and publicity battle regardless.

Another example of the successful appeal to public opinion is Twisted Pixel’s CEO receiving positive press by using Twitter to lambast Capcom for releasing MaXplosion, a game very similar to Twisted Pixel’s ‘Splosion Man.  Instead of using an open letter, he engaged in a Twitter attack: “MaXplosion gameplay video makes me sad. If you’re going to outright steal a game, you should at least understand what makes it fun.”  “We just need to keep our heads down making the next thing so that Capcom has something to steal next year”.  Ultimately though, he said that they would not pursue legal action because “we owe them one for inventing Mega Man, so we’ll let them slide”.

Like NimbleBit, Twisted Pixel also won the battle of public opinion.[10]  The press was so bad for Capcom that it was forced to release a statement that jait hoped to “rebuild the trust of [its] fans and friends in the gaming community.”[11]

Though these social media battles can often work for small startups that may not be able to afford full-fledged litigation, always first clear with an attorney any open letter, tweet, or other public message about another company allegedly copying your game or brand.  A letter written in anger and not carefully worded will quickly land you in hot water with anything from a libel to an intentional interference with contractual relations lawsuit.  The last thing you want is for the company that copied your game to then win a defamation lawsuit against you, so be very careful with what you write.

2. Polite Cease & Desist Letter

A cease and desist letter is a formal letter requesting that someone stop infringing your intellectual property and that they will face legal action if they do not comply.  Cease and desist letters are not private or confidential.  You must assume that the letter will get posted to a blog.  And, if you’re a large company sending the letter to a tiny company, the recipient will try to make it into a David vs. Goliath story.  So, always assume the letter will be read by your fans and could be used to present you in a harsh light.

One of the easiest ways to mitigate that risk is to make the tone of your cease and desist letter as flattering, polite, and nice as possible.  The nice approach does often solve things faster and cheaper.  Jack Daniel’s successfully used that approach when an author published a book with a cover that resembled the famous Jack Daniel’s logo:

In their letter, Jack Daniel’s explained their need to defend their brand, praised the author who was allegedly infringing their trademark, politely requested that the cover be changed, and did not threaten to sue:

“We are certainly flattered by your affection for the brand, but while we can appreciate the pop culture appeal of Jack Daniel’s, we also have to be diligent to ensure that the Jack Daniel’s trademarks are used correctly. Given the brand’s popularity, it will probably come as no surprise that we come across designs like this on a regular basis. What may not be so apparent, however, is that if we allow uses like this one, we run the very real risk that our trademark will be weakened. As a fan of the brand, I’m sure that is not something you intended or would want to see happen. . . . In order to resolve this matter, because you are both a Louisville ‘neighbor’ and a fan of the brand, we simply request that you change the cover design when the book is re-printed. If you would be willing to change the design sooner than that (including on the digital version), we would be willing to contribute a reasonable amount towards the costs of doing so.”[12]

The Jack Daniel’s letter was well received and won a great deal of positive press for the company.  Further, without any bad feelings or contentious litigation, the author changed the book cover to one that was not similar to the Jack Daniel’s logo.[13]

3. The Nastygram.

Playing the nice guy doesn’t always work.  Sometimes, yourisk of have to set the tone that you are ready to take the infringer to court if they don’t immediately stop using your game or brand without your permission.  This kind of cease and desist letter can often be an effective and relatively inexpensive way to scare an infringer into immediately discontinuing the use of your intellectual property.

These letters on their face may appear to be simple, but there are many common pitfalls game companies make with them.  First off, you want to be extremely sensitive to the fact that your cease and desist letter is not confidential, even if you label it as such.  Assume anything you write will be posted online to social media sites and read by the press and your fans.  Don’t write anything that makes you look like a bully.
Second, don’t send a cease and desist letter with no legal basis.  When you send a cease and desist to someone for acts that aren’t illegal or infringing your work, you run the risk that the recipient of the letter may file a complaint seeking “declaratory judgment”, suing you in their own jurisdiction.  This means that the person you sent the letter to can drag you into court on the other side of the country in order to get a ruling from the judge that they aren’t actually infringing.  So, even though your company is in California, that’s too bad. Now you have to defend an action in Michigan since that’s where the recipient of the letter lived and that is where he filed his declaratory judgment action.  You don’t want that expensive headache on your hands.

In 2012, indie gamer developer RC3 released a mobile game called Joustin’ Beaver. The game features a beaver with a purple shirt and mop hair floating down a river on a log.  The beaver battles “Phot-Hogs”, signs “Otter-graphs” and encounters the “whirlpool of success”.  Justin Beiber’s attorneys sent RC3 a poorly worded and aggressive cease and desist letter. [14]

The letter accused RC3 of “flagrant and conscious infringements of [Justin Beiber’s] rights” and threatened that RC3 would be liable for statutory damages in addition to all of RC3’s profits.  The cease and desist then asked for RC3 to settle by paying “compensation for the severe harm that your actions have caused to [Justin Beiber]”, and stated that they would sue them if they didn’t hear back within two business days.

RC3 published the cease and desist in an effort to win over public opinion, then counterattacked with a declaratory judgment, forcing the Canadian Justin Beiber into a court battle in RC3’s home state of Florida where they asserted a “parody” defense.  Thus, because of his ill-advised and far too aggressive cease and desist letter, Justin Beiber was forced to defend an expensive lawsuit in Florida.  Today, over a year later, Joustin’ Beaver is still available in Apple’s App Store and has even raised its price from $0.99 to $1.99.

4. DMCA Takedown Notice to Service Provider.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) allows a copyright owner to notify a service provider of copyright infringement.  The service provider must then, “act expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material”.  DMCA notifications can be sent to file-sharing sites to force them to remove your video game after a user has uploaded it.  This is especially useful to send to companies like Apple to force them to take down an infringing mobile game from their iOS App Store.

DMCA notices are handy because if someone copies your game or your brand and starts selling it on Apple’s App Store, for example, then you can get it removed without taking the offender to court or sending a nasty letter.  A DMCA notice must contain certain very specific information, or else the service provider (Apple, Google, etc.) can simply ignore it.  Google, for example, receives about 20 million DMCA takedown notices per month, so their takedown process is largely automated.[15]  Since the process is automated, as long as you follow the rules, you should successfully get the infringing material removed.  Talk to your attorney and have them send the DMCA letter to make sure the rules are correctly followed.

Atari used a DMCA takedown notice to Apple to remove from its App Store a game called Vector Tanks that copied Atari’s earlier game, Battlezone.[16]

Battlezone:

Vector Tanks:

What’s noteworthy about this case is that Atari released Battlezone in 1980, thirty years before Vector Tanks was created and released in the App Store.  In response to Atari’s DMCA notice, Apple permanently removed VectorTanks from the App Store.

5. Mediation.

In mediation, a knowledgeable professional with no connection to either party assists them in coming to an agreement and settling their conflict.  The mediator is usually someone highly respected by both parties, chosen by them, and paid by them. The mediator is like a therapist; she is not there to come to a binding decision on which side should “win” the conflict.  Instead, she neutrally helps each side understand the weaknesses of their case, and tries to find common ground on which the parties can come to a fair settlement.

Solving the conflict in a couple of days of mediation is generally much less costly than litigating the dispute through trial.  Mediation is relatively fast, can be scheduled within a few weeks and completed in anywhere from half a day to a few days.  Also, unlike lawsuits, mediations are completely confidential, so the result will never be known by the press or your competitors.  It also leaves a great deal of power in your hands rather than placing it all in those of a judge or jury.  The parties are free to creatively fashion their own solutions to the conflict.

In 1998, Sega applied for U.S. Patent 6,200,138[17], granting it a monopoly over an arrow navigation system for Crazy Taxi, a game where you pick up passengers in a taxi and drive them to their destination as quickly as possible.  The patented concept consisted of driving around a city with an arrow that hovers over the automobile guiding it to its ultimate destination.  Today, the Crazy Taxi arrow navigation patent is considered one of the most important patents in video game history.[18]

In 2001, Electronic Arts released The Simpsons: Road Rage, generally considered a knock-off of Crazy Taxi, closely paralleling its gameplay elements.

Sega sued for patent and copyright infringement.[19]  The litigation was predicted to be a long, expensive battle between two of the largest video game developers in the world.  Instead of spending years and millions of dollars battling each other tooth and nail through trial, however, they hired a private mediator to help negotiate a solution.  At the mediation, they came to an agreement and dropped the lawsuit in its entirety.  We don’t know if the terms of the settlement included the exchange of money between Sega and EA because of the privacy and confidentiality inherent in mediations.

6. Litigation

You’ve tried polite phone calls, angry cease and desist letters, and everything else you can think of.  But nothing has worked, and the infringer continues to use your video game or your brand without permission.  Sometimes, you have no options left except to take them to court.  That’s the position Spry Fox, creator of Triple Town, was in when 6Waves allegedly copied its game with Yeti Town.

About eight months after filing the lawsuit, 6Waves settled and granted all of Yeti Town’s intellectual property to Spry Fox.  According to Spry Fox’s CEO David Edery at his 2013 Game Developers’ Conference presentation, simply filing the lawsuit had a surprising number of peripheral positive effects for the company.  He was able to send a message to every other video game cloner that Spry Fox fights for its rights and won’t stand idly by while people copy its game.  So, litigation, though expensive, can send a strong message and have other positive results beyond a simple victory in the case at hand.

As a final thought, the purpose of IP is to encourage innovation by rewarding artists and creative people so they will continue to produce great works of creativity.  Enforcing it correctly is an incredibly important part of building your company’s brand and assets.  But be smart about it and don’t let your company fall into the trap of overzealously acting as a bully and alienating your most important fanbase.(source:gamasutra)


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