Published by LawTechie - August 7, 2012 - LawTechie

Video Game LitigationSome breaking news from the video game industry over the weekend: EA has announced that it is suing social games developer Zynga for copyright infringement of EA’s Sims franchise.

Electronic Arts today announced that it has filed suit against Zynga, alleging that the latter company’s The Ville is so close to EA’s own Sims Social that it represents an act of copyright infringement.

“When The Ville was introduced in June 2012, the infringement of The Sims Social was unmistakable to those of us at Maxis as well as to players and the industry at large. The similarities go well beyond any superficial resemblance. Zynga’s design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social. The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable.”

Most industry professionals, and attorneys who work in this field, would agree that EA is setting a potentially dangerous precedent. The term “clone” has been around in the game industry for over a decade, perhaps most popularly used to describe the legion of 3D isometric “hack-and-slash” games that followed the popular release of Diablo in the mid-90s. It was fairly common to hear such games described as Diablo clones and there were no lawsuits by Diablo developer Blizzard claiming infringement of their game.

Tracking the evolution of video games, it is fairly easy to see how such evolution progresses by means of “clones” mirroring but slightly improving over their popular predecessors. Setting aside the quite likely identical features of Zynga’s game with EA’s Sims franchise (and yes, there probably is some copyright infringement, on some level there), EA’s attempt to shut down what has been a very common trend in game development would not bode well for the industry.

Read Gamespot’s coverage of this issue for Prof. Eric Goldman’s excellent explanation of the idea/expression dichotomy with regard to certain elements of both games (I will not go into it here as he did a great job in that article).

LawTechie is a blog focusing on trends in tech and digital media. Areas covered include intellectual property, cyberlaw, venture capital, transactions and litigation as they relate to the emerging sectors. The blog is edited by the firm's partner Tim Bukher with contributions from the firm's experts in their respective areas of law.

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