Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

December 10, 2004

Marvel Suit Vs. Game Companies On-Line

Someone e-mailed me the link to this PDF file of the suit Marvel's appropriate companies filed against NCSoft Corp. and Cryptic Studios Inc., the companies behind the on-line role-playing game City of Heroes -- a nasty shot in a usually benign Clash of Nerd Cultures, and more proof that Marvel plans to be very aggressive in protecting what it thinks are its interests. Heidi had it, and I assume it's been spread far and wide.

imageThe suit has led to much hatred from gamers and comics fans and outright derision from most professional observers -- Wired ran a story with a lot of quotes from informed spectators. I noted when this suit was first publicized how peculiar it might be if Marvel were to apply this definition of their characters to copying that goes on in other comics and in movies like The Incredibles. It seems to me they've never, ever tried to define their characters as a bundle of attributes.

Still, I don't think the entirety of the suit as baseless as those decrying it seems to be -- maybe it is legally, I wouldn't know that and lots of smart people say it is stupid, but I can sort of see the idea behind it. I kind of get the argument that putting together a bunch of attributes on a TV screen isn't a creative endeavor as much as a rote assembly process. I wouldn't agree with that statement, but I wouldn't laugh it out of the room. It doesn't seem all that different than saying that you're not selling a certain kind of gun when you sell all the parts and the modification kits, just in different piles at your gunshow booth. At any rate it's slightly more complicated than the notion that Marvel might sue pencil-makers for giving people the avenue with which to draw the Human Torch.

Where this all gets sticky, of course, is that Marvel can't own things like "big" and "green," and at some point you can't be responsible for what people assemble out of such broad concepts. But I could certainly seeing Marvel pushing for the companies to mitigate the intensity of suggestions players ape certain characters in support materials, and to maybe forbid the use of certain names unless severely modified. I don't know.

Mostly I'm baffled that they think this is worth the time and the tons of bad publicity.

By the way, one lawyer filing this suit seems very familiar to this corner of the legal world, but the other seems not. Does anyone have information on the second Marvel lawyer? I always like to hear about these lawyers.

Picture from an ad used to publicize the game.
posted 7:18 am PST | Permalink

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