Character design under threat: Marvel launches suit

Test case looms for custom player edits

Posted by Staff
Character design under threat: Marvel launches suit
The future of customisable gaming content is hanging in balance right now, following Marvel launching a lawsuit against South Korea-based NCSoft: alleging copyright infringement in the Online action game City of Heroes.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles, states that City of Heroes enables players to customise their characters, with many predictably opting to play as Hulk and X-Men, with both properties being specifically referenced. Marvel singles out a game feature for creating "Öa gigantic, green, 'science-based tanker'-type hero that moves and behaves nearly identically to the Hulk.Ē

SPOnG believes that Marvelís suit is likely to fail, although City of Heroes isnít shy about pushing players towards the copying of existing characters. However, if the suit succeeds, the development community will be forced to drop player-customisable content from future game projects.

The implications could be dire. Right now there could be a whole host of similar cases being filed, with car manufacturers, athletes and celebrities able to argue that their likeness and/or properties are being used by players without permission.

The defining aspect of this case is the simple fact the players are using Marvel likenesses on a wide scale.

The timing of the suit is somewhat cynical and reflects what could be Marvelís anxiety concerning its own online MMO title: which is to be a co-project with Vivendi that has gone off the radar of late.

Whatever the outcome, weíll let you know.

Companies:

Comments

Joji 15 Nov 2004 16:55
1/12
I heard about this, and if you ask me Marvel haven't got a leg to stand on but I'm sure those legal devils out there will see it differently.

In some cases I think there is some envy at Marvel that they didn't come up with the idea of CoH themselves and sell it to the masses. The game has done well with no licensing ties to any comic publisher (and this was most likely done to avoid the likes of Marvel and DC), and given the developers and more so the customers that chance to be a superhero themselves.

For Marvel to do this is very lame and american (no offence intended but you lot do love to sue people as a hobby for just about anything), the first CoH game was out ages ago with the second on the way. Why wait for that amount of time to act?

I'll think I'll sue Marvel for featuring spiders in Spiderman when the often also appear in my bathtub and have been doing so for years. Why don't Marvel take comic fan artists to court for drawing their favourite X-Men character? This is so weak it should be thrown out of court, and things could have an effect on all MMO or MOD content if it doesn't.

Marvel, you scum, I hate you. Stop looking for a cheap arse meal ticket and concentrate on making some decent comics. Have they never considered that some players of CoH might be their same readers? Perhaps that explains their greedy motivations against NCsoft. Dollar signs and envy because NCSoft got there first. Greedy yanks bitches, hope you lose big time. SCUM!

Just because all the japanese and korean manga are nickng your potential Marvel sales stateside and they react like this.

Speaking of which where did Marvel get the idea for Blade from? Vampire Hunter D was what I heard, so perhaps the japanese creators of D should be taking Marvel to court next.
almondVanHelsing 15 Nov 2004 19:29
2/12
This was on Slashdot over the weekend and many people have replied on the forums, clearing up some of the issues in the case.

SPOnG wrote:
City of Heroes isnít shy about pushing players towards the copying of existing characters.


They have terms in their EULA that means you can't create character names or team names that violate other people's IP.

They threaten to ban players who make characters that look like other people's characters.

This is what I have found in the above boards, I have not played COH myself.
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SorelissLarethian 15 Nov 2004 21:52
3/12
"City of Heroes isn’t shy about pushing players towards the copying of existing characters."

i don't think marvel will win the case but it could happen. In a very clever way Marvel's character fame status was exploited.And that is a fact.

No you can't sue marvel because you have spiders in your tub and they created spiderman. Because there is a huge diference.

But if i make a guy throwing spiderwebs around doing acrobatics and is a journalist in his real life.
and present him as my own Arachnid-Man well there *might* be a case.

But in CoH since the company didn't make any character like that.. there should be no case.

The solution would be for Marvel to work with the other company and make a super cool Marvel MMORPG. that gives you PVP and the chance to make it in that world as an invincible villain.

you can't sue chrysler for making the car that run over granny; nor victorinox that made the knife extra sharp and didn't tell you how much sharp it was.(Hot Coffee law suit anyone?)
Alan is my first name 15 Nov 2004 22:30
4/12
All I'm saying is just because my character in City of Heroes happens to be red and coincidently shoots webs to swing from building to building doesn't mean I had any intention of modeling it after a character that may or may not have an affiliation with Marvel.
SorelissLarethian 16 Nov 2004 21:52
5/12
Alan Is my first name wrote:
All I'm saying is just because my character in City of Heroes happens to be red and coincidently shoots webs to swing from building to building doesn't mean I had any intention of modeling it after a character that may or may not have an affiliation with Marvel.


good god thankfully he doesn't coincidentaly got a spider sign on his chest and he's not called spiderman then :)

noooo you had absolutely no intention to make your character like spiderman.. or in any case one that is affiliated with marvel... i'm sure :D
Rod Todd 17 Nov 2004 08:27
6/12
Joji wrote:
In some cases I think there is some envy at Marvel that they didn't come up with the idea of CoH themselves and sell it to the masses.


No, the idea was created by (I think) Psygnosis, in about 1993. They had a game in the pipeline for the Amiga that enabled users to create their own superheroes. It was canned, and at the time, the rumour was that it was canned for its likelihood to piss off Marvel.

For Marvel to do this is very lame and american (no offence intended but you lot do love to sue people as a hobby for just about anything), the first CoH game was out ages ago with the second on the way. Why wait for that amount of time to act?


Typically, we Americans don't wait to sue over anything. Any delay is probably because Marvel had never heard of this game, and once they did hear about it, they couldn't find Koprea on the map. OK< we knwe where it was in the 50s, but as soon as we stop bombing somewhere, unless they keep sending us oil, we forget it exists again.

I'll think I'll sue Marvel for featuring spiders in Spiderman


Joj, I had no idea you owned the intellectual property in spiders. I thought god or evolution invented them... but turns out it was you. Kudos.

Why don't Marvel take comic fan artists to court for drawing their favourite X-Men character?


Give 'em time...

In reality, they don't because these guys don't make money from what they are doing, nor prevent Marvel from making money. If they did... it'd be litigation time.

This is so weak it should be thrown out of court, and things could have an effect on all MMO or MOD content if it doesn't.


Everey bone in my body WANTS me to agree with you, but the big grey organ in the head bone just can't. I HATE the creeping copyrighting and patenting of EVERYTHING, but SPiderman, the Hulk etc are real genuine creative works, and people should nbot be allowed to rip them off. Jeez, let people come up with their own, original super heroes, not just imitate ones that Stan made earlier.

Marvel, you scum, I hate you. Stop looking for a cheap arse meal ticket


Dude, if ever a sentence required a hyphen, that was it.

Greedy yanks bitches, hope you lose big time. SCUM!


Whoa! Hold on there. THis has very little to do with Marvel being American. Corporation of all colours and creeds are intent on wrecking ourr quality of life. Can we keep the racism out of it please?

SPOnG wrote:
if the suit succeeds, the development community will be forced to drop player-customisable content from future game projects.


This is simply garbage. It's like saying that because Coca "Murdering" Cola actively protect their trademarks no-one will ever be able to paint their car red again. Just reactionary drivel.
Joji 17 Nov 2004 09:19
7/12
Just needed to vent my anger. I don't care if they are american or from timbuktu. I'm not saying that Marvel shouldn't protect their stuff, but where do you draw the line after this if it goes in Marvel's favour?

Though I used the perhaps bad 'spider' example think you understand what I mean. Marvel encourage fans to draw their favourite characters or create their own on paper etc (even at comic conventions all the time too), but then turn around and do this. Sure comics and games are different media but both entertain. Games have been more about freedom for the player within a world. Marvel like the controlled world of comics, and they have been in control for so long they fear anything that even remotely challenges their power and wealth.

If I used the case between the RIAA VS Kazaa as a better example, you'd understand what I mean and why this should get chucked out of court. Like that (though a different media) NCSoft just provide the software, what characters people choose to create with it is not up to NCSoft but the players (same goes for Counter Strike and lots of modifiable games), all of which Marvel know would be much harder to take to court. Taking your customers to court will turn them against you, but this is likely to have the same effect, more so because Marvel want their own MMORPG. (this is not about character copyright and they know it) Long live lovely capitalism.

I do suspect lot of CoH players will be Marvel readers or fans too, so I hope Marvel won't win much support on this one. They have pissed fans off plenty of times before this.

I'm gonna go away now and draw some Wolverine pics, in 2D and 3D, and put them on my website, come and sue me Marvel mofos. Marvel are the EA of comics clearly.

They are just bitter they didn't get there first, plain and simple.
tyrion 17 Nov 2004 09:57
8/12
Joji wrote:
Like that (though a different media) NCSoft just provide the software, what characters people choose to create with it is not up to NCSoft but the players (same goes for Counter Strike and lots of modifiable games), all of which Marvel know would be much harder to take to court.

There is a clause in the Ts&Cs of the game, I am led to believe, that states that any characters you, as a player create, become the property of the company that publishes the game and runs the servers. This effectivly puts them in the firing line when it comes to Marvel suing.

Imagine, if you will, a gallery that ran exhibitions of Marvel-inspired fan artwork and charged an entrance fee, but didn't give any mention of Marvel or clear it with them first. There might be grounds for Marvel to sue there too. Especially if the gallery claimed ownership of the pictures once they were displayed.

Not that I approve of suing left right and centre, but there are reasonable reasons here why Marvel should be able to come down on the publishes of CoH. For example, there is a "claws" power which is modled 100% after Wolverine's claws. Toss in a quick healing power and a yellow suit, done.

Then there's these guys;

They look a bit familiar, don't they? That "Thing" texture should be easy to strip out, and really shouldn't have been in there in the first place.

It's obvious that although they might try to ban people who make infringing characters, the character generation system allows, nay encourages it.
Joji 17 Nov 2004 12:45
9/12
I hear what you is saying Tyrion. If NCSoft have such a thing in their CoH paper work perhaps they'll adjust that policy and also put out a disclaimer saying the likes of

"all characters created by players with this software, that bare any resemblance to globally established and trademarked super hero characters of other companies are not ours, we are not responsible for players actions in the creative part of the game if they produce similar or same characters for their own personal use in CoH"

I suppose putting something like this would help NCSoft a bit.

Like I said in FPS people have been doing this kind of thing for ages when the program went out to allow you to create your own characters and content. Whos to say that the player didn't create some of those textures, people are very smart with computers these days.

Even if NCSoft did provide the rock texture that same texture can be applied to a female characters (we all know The Rockman is a male) or a perhaps younger or animal characters if those options are there to use, so again where do you draw a line, and say no u can't do that to players, when they are capable of writing their own part of a game, within or without the software creation limits?

Perhaps it won't get to court, but I hope it gets sorted out anyway, maybe they can meet each other half way or something.
tyrion 17 Nov 2004 13:31
10/12
Joji wrote:
Like I said in FPS people have been doing this kind of thing for ages when the program went out to allow you to create your own characters and content.

Oh yeah, it's been going on for ages, you only have to go to planetquake and check out polycount to see some serious IP infringing skins. Most of those skins require a modeller and an artist to work together to produce a mesh and textures, certainly in QuakeIII, for example. However these are not produced or supported by the game publisher or developer.

Where you get a "construction kit" in games, these things become harder. You used to be able to do a pretty accurate Lara Croft in Tony Hawk's 3, but in 4 and THUG 1+2 you can't get very close, even though the construct a skater section is much more detailed.

The problem here is a very good construct a character system that allows you to make someone that looks like a Marvel character, backed up by a skills/powers system that allows the player to perform like the character. The first can't be easilly made bulletproof, but the second can be.

Now most powers are pretty generic, flight, strength, etc. but the claws example (only one I've heard about as I've not played the game) sounds like a direct rip off of Wolverine's claws, three metal claws that retract into the back of your hand. That was only added so gamers could make Wolverine-like characters, and that's the sort of thing that gets you sued.
SorelissLarethian 17 Nov 2004 16:55
11/12
Exactly that is what i had in mind.Players are of course not liable if they make their favorite characters for a mod as they do not sell them afaik. But if a company is using those characters to boost their own product sales they have a problem. As if CoH wouldn't sell if you couldn't make Spiderman or Wolverine in game.

CoH is a great game and the developers are creative enough to create their own super hero powers and style so that was most probably a marketing decision. I wouldn't believe that the company wasn't thinking of Marvel fans as a target group when they started this game.

As for "the thing" well i don't really think that he looks that much like him he's not orange enough and the head and eyebrows are of different shape and proportions but WotCoast could sue them for copying a Rock Golem :) The other two do look like Sue and Mr Richards.

Well... let's just wait and see what will happen.
Joji 17 Nov 2004 17:37
12/12
LOL, I got his name wrong. You can tell I don't read F4 then?

Guilty as charged, it's a fair cop guvnor.

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