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Marvel Sues City of Heroes Makers

Zonk posted more than 9 years ago | from the you-wouldn't-like-me-when-i'm-angry dept.

Censorship 186

Walkiry (and many, many others) writes "In yet another copyright bickering lawsuit, Marvel is suing NCSoft and Cryptic Studios over their MMORPG City of Heroes due to copyright infringement, apparently because of the costume creator. "Marvel argues that the game's character creation engine easily allows players to design characters that are virtual copies of its own superheros, including 'The Incredible Hulk'. Marvel seeks unspecified damages and an injunction against the two companies to stop using its characters." There are quite a few people suspicious that this is nothing but an effort by Marvel to undermine Cryptic Studios' successful game to prepare for the launch of their own comic book based MMORPG." USA Today has the story as well.

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186 comments

A new low. (5, Insightful)

dprust (316840) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798600)

A new low in using the courts to unethically hurt the competition. It makes me scared to innovate. For example, I'm writing a music description language. If someone uses it to create music that is significantly similar to a copyrighted piece of work, am I going to get sued? This abuse of the courts is killing this country.

Re:A new low. (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799579)

Not just nitpicking here, the dispute is over trademark, not copyright.

Re:A new low. (1)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799904)

Yes, you CAN be sued!

In America, you can be SUED for basically anything. You can sue me for having grey eyes, and the fact that my eyes are blue won't stop you until the case gets to court (or before a judge who can throw your case out). Suing people is easy.

CHARGING people with a crime is a different ball of wax.

Re:A new low. (2, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800411)

A new low in using the courts to unethically hurt the competition. It makes me scared to innovate.


That might be a little harsh.

Without knowing how the characters are generated (TFA is a little vague), if there are macros which will use the same patterns as the X-Men stuff, that might be a little dodgy ... especially since unless you accept that there are certain visual cues which automatically mean X-men.

For example:

The company singles out a game feature for creating ``a gigantic, green, 'science-based tanker'-type hero that moves and behaves nearly identically'' to the ``Hulk.'' Players can also create a ``mutant-based'' hero powers and a costume nearly identical to Marvel's ``Wolverine,'' according to the suit.


If there is a button/feature/whatever which seems to treat a Hulk-like character as a 'generic superhero', then I can definitely see Marvel defending against this. They don't want it to become utterly generic, they'd lose their right to defend their ideas.

Similarly, if the created uniforms use the same colour pattern as an X-Men uniform, that's a little too close to be accidental.

For example, I'm writing a music description language. If someone uses it to create music that is significantly similar to a copyrighted piece of work, am I going to get sued?


It would depend on wether or not you had a mode that allowed you to describe wanting a song that sounds like "Hard Days's Night" or not. In this case, a gigantic, green, 'science-based tanker'-type hero that moves and behaves nearly identically sounds an awful lot like the mode to make HDN soundalikes. As soon as you specifically write the macros to handle being that close to the other person's stuff, you might have gone over the line.

If the user would have to manually paint Wolverine's suit, it's not infringing. If they have a macro which makes an X-Men suit .... much grayer area.

Just my $0.02 CDN. =)

Re:A new low. (3, Informative)

UWC (664779) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800769)

The character creation process in CoH allows a LARGE amount of customization. When I created my character, there were no pre-set costumes or color schemes. You choose your origin, power types, and so on, a mix and match type deal. There's no particular "Hulk" power/appearance set to choose, though with the customizability I can see the allure of mimicking your favorite hero's power sets when you can.

Then you pick your character's appearance. There are a few body types including big bulky monster-sized guys (which I assume Marvel has not trademarked, Hulk being a Jekyll/Hyde homage/retelling already), which don't start out green or with purple pants. Again, there are people who use the engine's customization options to mimic their favorite hero, and of course the ones with simpler costumes (e.g. the Hulk wears... purple pants) are significantly simpler to copy than many other characters, the in-game copies of which are recognizable mainly because Marvel, DC, etc. have indeed done great jobs with making their trademarked costumes universally recognizable to the point where the in-game copes, which often have to improvise with incorrect patterns, equipment, and so on (because CoH does NOT actively try to allow creation of already trademarked characters) are still recognizable as the homages that they are.

Re:A new low. (3, Funny)

Mysticalfruit (533341) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801108)

Super Hero: Um, I want a costume with a cape...

Costume Creator: NO CAPES!

Re:A new low. (1)

Robotech_Master (14247) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801308)

The funny thing is, back before update 2, this would be hilariously accurate. :)

Re:A new low. (5, Informative)

Babbster (107076) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800774)

There are no "macros" per se. What happens during CoH costume creation is that you have three basic skeletons (male, female and "huge"), three body areas (head, upper body and chest) and multiple areas within those three areas to customize the look. Now, you can create, say, a character that looks exactly like Hulk by giving him the huge skeleton, green skin and hair, the closest face available and purple pants - that would be the absolute easiest ripoff to pull. You could make Cyclops by choosing the partial mask or mask with hair, a visor and his blue/yellow costume (with some tech accoutrements depending on which era you're shooting for) - again, a very easy one. The more complicated costumes could take a lot of time to build but you can get close to most of them.

Of course, all that being said, NCSoft does NOT provide templates for making ripoff characters easily (like being able to choose "Wolverine yellow/blue" or "Wolverine brown") and a player has to go to some effort to make a ripoff character - in most cases, it would be far easier to make an original design. Further, they specify in the terms of service that ripoff characters are not permitted, and when they are reported/caught they are forced to change names and/or costumes.

I don't know if Marvel is trying to shut CoH down or cripple it (like by making NCSoft remove particular costume traits so that customers can no longer make costumes that look like Marvel heroes). It seems to me that if Cryptic and company are making a good faith effort to police the ripoffs, that SHOULD be enough to get them off the hook. Of course, nobody ever said the law always made sense.

Re:A new low. (2, Interesting)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801408)

Shouldn't this be filed under OCILA? COH could be construed as an "access provider" hosting content for its uses, and if the Marvel people find them, they should file a takedown complaint against the individual user.

Oh noes! (5, Insightful)

Oncogene (708031) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798620)

This is akin to suing Bic because it allows users to draw pictures extremely similar to Hulk or Wolverine.

Mod Parent Up (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798636)

I was trying to think of an analogy that would perfectly describe the ridculousness of this suit. You found the perfect one.

Re:Oh noes! (1, Insightful)

jmays (450770) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798822)

Really? I am pretty sure I couldn't draw Wolverine or Hulk even with a Bic ... I could easily make their likeness in CoH though.

Re:Oh noes! (1)

snwcrash (520762) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799053)

So who is violating the copyright? You are the one that designed your character. The claim is that I can make a cigar smoking, yellow spandex wearing hero that has claws and regeneration capabilites. So who is violating the copyright? Do you have to get approval from Marvel before you create your new character? Let their lawyers verify I'm not to close to all of their IP? Or do you need to make all the costumes the same, so nobody is in violation?

I've probably logged a few hundred hours on COH and I hardly ever see comic book rip-offs. Simply because most of the people I see have much more creativity than that and it's a chance to express yourself.

Re:Oh noes! (1)

jmays (450770) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799329)

Your missing the point ... the original post implied the equality of suing Bic for drawing charcters similar to Wolverine and the Hulk. In that case you are correct in asking the question "So who is violating the copyright?" With a Bic I can draw whatever is in my brain (feasibly, although not well); an unending and infinite set of possibilities.

CoH, however, certainly provides mechanics for the production of a finite set of character combinations. I to have logged a few hundred hours in CoH and I agree with you .. hardly ever do you see a comic book rip-off ... but the mechanics are there ... and they are around. I suppose you could still argue "who is violating the copyright..." but the original analogy is wrong.

The elite may freely violate copyright? (4, Insightful)

cfalcon (779563) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800055)

Your argument is equivalent to saying that it's ok if the elite (in this case, those skilled in drawing) violate copyright, but to make that available to everyone is wrong.

In fact, neither case is correct, and the horrible nonlogic of damaging a general purpose system with the goal of restricting certain things is stupid.

To take this from the other side, if Marvel wins this terrible case, then that implies that creating a character in City of Heroes is akin to creating one in a comic book- so if your guy has an orange cape and yellow tights and black hair, maybe you can sue someone who introduces such a character in comic books. Meaning that, if you want to create a comic book with an entirely new character, you can't just check the history of comics, you have to access the CoH (and any other relevant MMORG) database to make sure you aren't "infringing" on a similar design that some kid in Kansas came up with at 2 AM on pot.

Re:Oh noes! (3, Informative)

dykofone (787059) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798858)

I was looking for a way to give Marvel some credit here, being that I've never seen the CoH character creation interface. Maybe there's presets that look all too close to Marvel characters? Certain outfits that are almost identical? I'd be like Bic making a stamp in the shape of Hulk or Wolverine: while you're still putting it on paper, Bic made it that much easier for you to recreate Marvel's IP.

And then I read this:

The New York-based company also took issue with the ability of players to go so far as to name their superhero creations after Marvel comic book characters.

And realized Marvel is completely out to lunch on this. They claim that CoH is infringing IP because they didn't disallow people from typing in the specific, trademarked names? Should CoH keep a database of every trademarked name and lock them out as character names? "Sorry, you can't be Kroger, that name is already taken. [krogers.com] "

Re:Oh noes! (4, Interesting)

Walkiry (698192) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799049)

>And realized Marvel is completely out to lunch on this. They claim that CoH is infringing IP because they didn't disallow people from typing in the specific, trademarked names?

It gets better, they actually do disallow them. Cryptic sent a request to Marvel, DC and others for a list of trademarked stuff they wanted banned, and you won't be able to name your character just "Hulk" or "Superman", because that's filtered.

Re:Oh noes! (5, Informative)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799050)

Well, the Terms of Service specifically forbid using any name for a character that is trademarked, copyrighted, etc. by a third party, with loss of your account as a penalty for doing so anyway.

Mind you, when I first started playing, there were a lot of comic-book clones, but they are extremely rarer now because most players, it seems, would rather make something that is uniquely theirs rather then be the 18th or 63rd Tick rip-off.

Kierthos

Re:Oh noes! (2, Insightful)

jessecurry (820286) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799092)

It's amazing that someone can sue b/c a character creatiion engine allows one to design a large character with green skin and pants.
I'll have to admit when I first started playing the game I made a DBZ character and there WERE a lot of wolverine clones out there, but none came anywhere close to the level of detail that Marvel characters have.
Also, if I'm not mistaken there are certain names that you cannot use even though there are no characters using them. One that comes to mind is "Lucky".
I hate that lawsuits like this are even allowed to see the light of day. Of course people playing a superhero themed game are going to create characters that remind them of superheroes that they are familiar with...people are too lazy to create their own, and to scared that someone might care think that their creation is stupid.
I hope that this lawsuit gets thrown out, or that Marvel at least loses. It's horrible that a company comes out with an innovative product that fill a request from the market(more differentiation in characters) and someone else decideds to sue.

I am personally going to boycott Marvel at least until this blows over.

Kroger(s) (1)

spleck (312109) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799257)

It's sad when a company has to buy the "krogers" domain name because so many people incorrectly add the "s".

Re:Kroger(s) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10799338)

You're right, that really is sad, splecks.

Re:Oh noes! (1)

illuminatedwax (537131) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799752)

This just in...

MARVEL SUES MUD USER
Disney today brought an IP lawsuit against user Wolverine179, who not only used Marvel's copyrighted character's name in an internet chatroom designed to facilitate roleplay, but also used many of that character's trademark lines.
...sigh.
--Stephen

Re:Oh noes! (1)

ssand (702570) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799948)

That is really stupid. It would be like Lucas Arts going after Sony for someone with LukeSkywalker as a name in EQ. What gets me is, the people naming their characters off of Marvel shows how much those people enjoy Marvel's characters, and are probably the ones more likely to go out and see their piss poor movies, and read their comic books.

Re:Oh noes! (2, Informative)

Robotech_Master (14247) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801265)

The funny thing is, City of Heroes does (or at least, they say they do [cityofheroes.com] ) have a filter that prevents the more obvious trademark names from being used.

I'm not sure whether that link will work for non-subscribers to the game, so here's the relevant bit:
Part of providing such a safe environment means we must ensure that all character names are created in a clean and positive light to meet the Teen Rating of the game while also following all copyright and trademark standards. In order to meet those ends, we have created a name filter to ensure that character names are acceptable for play within City of Heroes. This name filter is in place at character creation, meaning that each time a character is created and a name chosen, it must pass through this filter. Names that are included on this filter include certain copyrighted and trademarked characters, and also a slew of different categories (see below list) reflect derogatory names, foul language, ethnic slurs, inappropriate conduct, and referenced to body parts.
(I can't help but find that "referenced to body parts" bit amusing. Does that mean I can't name someone The Elbow?)

Of course, as anyone who's ever dealt with spam knows, no filter is foolproof and some names will always slip through the cracks.

The thing that particularly interests me, though, is that judging from that line about how they're also upset over the name thing, Marvel's main beef is with the ability to create look-alike/power-alike characters. And to a certain extent, this really can't be avoided. CoH's character design system includes a huge number of discrete costume elements--some of which, when taken together in specific combinations, can look reasonably similar to trademarked characters. (Sometimes it's not all that hard, either--big green muscular guy with purple shorts = Hulk.) But they can also be used in functionally infinite different combinations to create unique and original looks.

The interesting thing about this is that, though trademark names are verboten, creating look-alikes doesn't seem to be mentioned at all in the COH EULA [plaync.com] . For all I can see in the EULA, you could create a big, green, purple-shorts guy and name him "BigGreenGuy" with impunity, as long as you didn't call him something Hulky. And I think that could be a problem--I'm not a lawyer but I think that trademark isn't necessarily just name, but it also encompasses likeness.

Re:Oh noes! (1)

Elwood P Dowd (16933) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799093)

This is akin to suing Bic because it allows users to draw pictures extremely similar to Hulk or Wolverine.

WTF are you talking about? Ok, I can kindof see how giving yourself sideburns could be using a Bic to "draw pictures extremely similar" to Wolverine, but are you saying that every clean-shaven guy is infringing on the Hulk trademark??!

Or are you talking about lighting cigars? That's stupid!

Re:Oh noes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10799227)

They make pens too [bicworld.com]

Re:Oh noes! (1)

Elwood P Dowd (16933) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799551)

Thank you, I know.

Re:Oh noes! (1)

JonBob (556956) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799758)

Bic makes pens, not just razors and lighters.

Re:Oh noes! (2, Interesting)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799619)

No, it is actually a little different. The trick is that Bic cannot take the pen away, cannot review what you've drawn, and basically is not involved.

Think back to the Napster case and the Grokster case. Napster was destroyed in court, whereas Grokster has (so far) survived. The key difference was that Napster had centralized servers, and could therefore check to see whether infringement was occurring, and could act to stop it. Grokster could not since they made the software, but didn't have any involvement with the network.

CoH is centralized.

They should be taking this very seriously.

The contributory infringement case against them would be stronger than a vicarious infringement case, but so long as direct infringements are going on, they really are in some degree of trouble.

Re:Oh noes! (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800941)

But Cyptic studios did request from marvel a list of trademarked named they can ban. And they did ban them. Yes this is similar to the Napster case. The decision in the Napster case was that you need to notify Napster of specific things you want blocked. Has Marvel tried this and been ignored I would understand. From what I've seen they have not, and thus don't meet the basic requirement of napster which is willfull contribution.

Is this my fault? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10800004)

About two months ago, I sent an email to Marvel about a web comic artist that I despise who was making money off of their trademarks by using them to sell product in conjunction with CoH. Perhaps they misinterpreted my message and are going after Cryptic now? Who knows, either way, it's pretty funny.

In a parallel universe (3, Funny)

dtfinch (661405) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798627)

Disney sues Macromedia for failing to prevent customers from using their software to infringe upon Disney's Intellectual Property.

Re:In a parallel universe (2, Informative)

randalx (659791) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798999)

Windows Paint users should be safe since Microsoft has that wonderful customer idemnification now.

PUT DOWN THAT PENCIL!!! (5, Funny)

maskedbishounen (772174) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798639)

You're violating our IP rights.

Thanks,
You friends from Marvel

Honestly, though. Companies are taking IP far too seriously these days. Calm down, get over it. If anything, it shows whatever you're doing is working, because it's popular! Don't trash it by being a jerk.

Re:PUT DOWN THAT PENCIL!!! (1)

superpulpsicle (533373) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800456)

Ahhh... that explains the Marvel police I saw on Halloween arresting some little kid dressed up as Spiderman.

In other news... (0, Redundant)

Fished (574624) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798658)

In other news, Disney is suing crayola because, again and again, children have chosen to draw pictures of Mickey Mouse! Crayola's intransigent and prominent inclusion of the colors Black, White, and Red in its "super mega pack" make it far too easy for children, well-known to "love mickey", to duplicate him and infringe on Disney's copyrighted work.

Expect a DMCA complaint momentarily.

Next stop Carmack? (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798690)

I remember playing Quake II with half the cast of the X-Men present in the game - the idea of using player custom configuration to reproduce trademarked character designs is as old as modding.

This is a blatent attack designed to deal with the fact that no-one is interested any more in the (announced years ago) Marvel MMORPG game, because CoH does it all so well already.

Marvel - 100% original copies (5, Funny)

Japong (793982) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798694)

Ah yes, the Hulk - because BIG GREEN GUY with TORN PANTS is such a hugely original concept and - what's that Mr. Hyde? I wouldn't like you when you're...mad... no... wait NOOOOO!

Re:Marvel - 100% original copies (1)

lexxeh (692706) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799757)

hyde... green? Point that out in the original and I'll be impressed...

Re:Marvel - 100% original copies (3, Funny)

Zardoz44 (687730) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799836)

Myers: Okay, maybe my dad did steal Itchy, but so what? Animation is built on plagiarism!
[lawyer slaps his forehead]
If it weren't for someone plagiarizing the Honeymooners, we wouldn't have the Flintstones. If someone hadn't ripped off Sgt. Bilko, they'd be no Top Cat. Huckleberry Hound, Chief Wiggum, Yogi Bear? Hah! Andy Griffith, Edward G. Robinson, Art Carney.

Myers: Your honor, you take away our right to steal ideas, where are they gonna come from? Her?
[points at Marge]

Marge: Uh... Hmm... How about... Ghostmutt?

From The Day the Violence died [snpp.com]

Re:Marvel - 100% original copies (2, Funny)

jabber-admin (803332) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800075)

Please step away from that copy of "LXG".

Thank you.

Re:Marvel - 100% original copies (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801315)

"Ah yes, the Hulk - because BIG GREEN GUY with TORN PANTS is such a hugely original concept"

Solomon Grundy want pants, too!

In other news... (1)

Chris_Jefferson (581445) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798717)

In other news, Bic has been sued as someone used one to draw a copy of Wolverine..

Seriously however. I don't think that CoH is at all designed to allow people to rip off Marvel, unless marvel wants to claim it has copyright to a) people in stupid looking suits with a logo on them, b) women in skin-tight outfits or c) Huge hulking creatures.

AFAIK, these were all around long before Marvel. Also I would say CoH should be praised for making their system of character design as flexable as it is. Unfortunatly this was always going to lead to people making things that looked like other characters.

sad (2, Interesting)

randalx (659791) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798739)

This is really really stupid. It's like suing crayola cause kids can draw Spider-Man. The game provides the tools to create a character and it's up to the player to make him look how they want.

Is Cryptic supposed to keep a database of all colour schemes of all super heroes that ever existed (also the multiple costume variations they occasioanly pull out to boost sales) and prevent users from picking them. How many do you think there are? Probably over 10,000 from Marvel and then there's DC and all the rest. It's one thing if the game makers were to rip off Marvel but this is entirely different.

If they want to be asses they should follow the RIAA's lead and sue users. I hope somebody at Marvel comes to their senses and stops this BS.

Re:sad (2, Interesting)

bconway (63464) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799953)

Read the EULA. Cryptic owns and is responsible for its users creations.

Re:sad (1)

randalx (659791) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800269)

great point!!! i guess in trying to screw their users by taking ownership of their creativity they've actually screwed themselves. now i don't feel as bad.

Take a page from the RIAA (3, Funny)

davidwr (791652) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798751)

They should sue the end-users.

Then go bankrupt from the bad publicity.

Re:Take a page from the RIAA (1)

blueZhift (652272) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799405)

I can see it now. Marvels lawyers all sign up for CoH so they can fly around in the game looking for alleged IP infringers. Hmmm, I wonder what super heroes they would create?

Re:Take a page from the RIAA (2, Funny)

EddieBurkett (614927) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799810)

I can see it now. Marvels lawyers all sign up for CoH so they can fly around in the game looking for alleged IP infringers. Hmmm, I wonder what super heroes they would create?
So this is what the City of Villains expansion will be all about...

Re:Take a page from the RIAA (1)

Nephilium (684559) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800037)

Actually... There's already a hero named RIAA Lawyer on at least one server...

Nephilium

How to draw Marvel. (2, Interesting)

Coltman (623132) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798803)

I guess they forgot that they taught the world how to create these characters, right?? I remember having the "How to draw" books and having a couple of them dedicated to Hulk, She-Hulk, X-men, etc. Look out everyone, hide those books if you still gottem. It's Stan "Wannabe Elliet Ness" Lee comming to get you!

Re:How to draw Marvel. (1)

Drakin (415182) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798919)

Isn't there a video "How to draw the marvel way" with stan lee?

Re:How to draw Marvel. (2, Informative)

Valegor (693552) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799214)

You can't blame Stan Lee. He hasn't been anything more than a figurehead in a long time. To the best of my knowledge he does not work for the company in any way at the moment. Blame the company not "The Man."

Re:How to draw Marvel. (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799452)

This is slashdot, and everything MS does is Bill Gates fault even though he doesn't have a real hand in running the show there anymore.

Why should Stan Lee deserve better treatment, just because he's a personal hero of most of the comic book nerds around here?

Re:How to draw Marvel. (2, Insightful)

Valegor (693552) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799620)

Because he did not start or create the company, he just created the characters that helped it grow. Bill Gates founded MS, Stan Lee did not found Marvel. Gates also still has power at MS, even if he doesn't have his hands in everything they do. Stan Lee does not have power at marvel. It is argueable that he never really did.

They've Been Trying (2, Informative)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798912)

I know they've ben trying for months now.

If they detect user's with "Hulk" in their name, they will often reset that character's name to "Generic Hero x" and give them a day or so to pick a new one. This is even if the character looks nothing like the Hulk.

I mean, please. Some characters are just so friggin easy to copy. The Hulk is a big green (or grey) buy with torn shorts. Is it Cryptic's fault that Marvel isn't very original in their design?

Sure, a character like "The Punisher" or "Wolverine" would also be easy to duplicate in the game, but who cares! People aer building the character they want. They want someone with sharp metal claws and a ever-familar beard, then so be it. If they want to be big and green, so be it. If they want a red and gold armor suit of battle armor, let them.

Personally, I think DC would have more of a leg to stand on. They have tons of heros with pretty generic looking costumes (solid-color tights with an emblem). Many of Marvel's characters have hard to copy designs.

Shame on Marvel, or at least on their legal department.

Oh well, I stopped playing a few weeks ago anyway. It just stopped being fun.

This is nothing new (1)

RicochetRita (581914) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800729)

For about a year now, Marvel's legal department has been handing out C&D notices to "Freedom Force" mod & skins sites which feature likenesses of their heroes. It's, frankly, alienated a Lot of comicbook fans.

You'd think they'd appreciate the publicity, but protection of their trademarks seems more important than actual sales, these days.

R3

Re:They've Been Trying (2, Informative)

Phisbut (761268) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800760)

People aer building the character they want.

From the City of Heroes' End User Licence Agreement [plaync.com] (paragraph 6c):

Members can upload to and create content on our servers in various forms [...] you acknowledge and agree that such Member Content is the sole property of NC Interactive.

So by uploading a Wolverine-like character, NC Interactive claims ownership of the Wolverine-like character, so NC Interactive is in trouble for owning and using a trademarked character in their game.
However...

You shall indemnify and hold NC Interactive harmless from and against any claims by third parties that your Member Content infringes upon, violates or misappropriates any of their intellectual property or proprietary rights.

So basically it's the user who's in trouble. I wonder how many of those users will get sued by NC Interactive in order to indemnify them.

paper and pen (1)

alatesystems (51331) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798918)

If it is not a default and their open-ended character creation engine allows players to bring to reality envisioned characters, so be it!

I hope they don't realize that paper and pen will let me "design characters that are virtual copies of its own superheros, including 'The Incredible Hulk'.

They might seek unspecified damages against International Paper [internationalpaper.com] and Bic [bicworld.com] .

Quoth the Wolverine... (-1, Offtopic)

daeley (126313) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798966)

"'Scuse me for interruptin' your little shindig here, but I got a bone to pick with your boss-man and a couple of his pals." -- Wolverine

Die already, Marvel (3, Insightful)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 9 years ago | (#10798978)

The thing is, I wouldn't play a Marvel Comics based MMORPG even if they did have one out (which they don't, and I seriously doubt we'd see one before 2006).

I don't want to play a super-hero who is second banana to Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four or the Avengers. I don't want to have to deal with people wanting to be able to storm the Avengers Mansion because they think they should be able to.

I want to make a hero who is as unique as I can make him, and is not burdened down by years of comic book history, much of which is crappily written. (I refer you to the Clone Saga, in particular, and most titles that start with the letter 'X'.)

Kierthos

Re:Die already, Marvel (2, Interesting)

drmike0099 (625308) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799608)

They've been working on one for some time, or so I've been informed by someone in a position to know these things. There is a long delay between the idea stage and the release stage, though, so it probably won't be out for a bit. I'm guessing they've been keeping a low profile so that they don't inadvertantly confuse everyone into joining up with CoH thinking it's the "superhero game" they've been hearing about.

You don't see other companies doing this (1)

FortissimoWily (703397) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799195)

Pfft, shame on Marvel for trying to pull this nonsense. They're probably the only company doing this, and I can think of a few examples of fans recreating characters they like in City of Heroes. One that comes to mind is a group who have designed their characters to be a tribute to Capcom's Mega Man video games, amongst others.

This isn't about just the tool (3, Informative)

thenerdgod (122843) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799314)

Back when we were all creating our characters for our Communist supergroup, we had a bit of a back-and-forth with Cryptic over who, exactly, owned our ideas, especially if the characters we used were ideas we wanted to turn into a comic, or based on existing ideas we had used in a comic.


It came down to the EULA which states that your character and all derivations or representations thereof are property of Cryptic and NCSoft. To which I asked pointedly "What about the Fantastic Four [nerdgod.com] ?"

This was going to bite them in the ass eventually, as they allege to own everything you create, even if it's not yours to create.

My suspicion, as I've voiced elsewhere, is that they will be required to remove these characters from the game, and pay damages to Marvel, and probably DC and whoever else, in the end.

Then, of course, there's the obvious ownership issue of this guy [nerdgod.com] .

Re:This isn't about just the tool (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10799484)

Batman could so beat the crap out of Superman

Re:This isn't about just the tool (0)

thenerdgod (122843) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799682)

But Van Helsing could destroy a Monster moon, even if batman were on it.

Re:This isn't about just the tool (1)

startled (144833) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800333)

My suspicion, as I've voiced elsewhere, is that they will be required to remove these characters from the game, and pay damages to Marvel, and probably DC and whoever else, in the end.

Remove what characters from the game? Any character anyone's made that looks vaguely like the Hulk? The color green? Large characters? All characters with claws? Or just ban some strange list of combinations any IP owner anywhere in the world comes up with?

You can make Mario and Luigi with this tool. You can make Pink, for crying out loud. What're they gonna do next-- sue a pencil and paper, because some guy traced the Hulk?

Re:This isn't about just the tool (1)

thenerdgod (122843) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800755)

I was speaking specifically of the obvious Fantastic Four characters. I took that shot before they added UI screen-caps to the game, but I assure you their names matched the comic characters, and their powers were as similar as the game would allow.

The character in that screenshot, on the right, is a character I made based on my own comic book ideas. Technically, if I continued to play that character (I deleted her), I would be unable to create comics based on her as Cryptic would own the rights to the representation. From a legal standpoint, it seems to me their problem is one of rights. They assume rights to in-game content. This isn't, as others have pointed out, Marvel suing Bic (though I'd say something more like "Marvel suing Rotring", just to keep it realistic). This is more like Rotring saying that they own anything you create with their pencils, and then distributing a book of comic-book art with some Marvel fan art in it. Even if they give the book away for free, the art is still an issue.

Re:This isn't about just the tool (1)

Phisbut (761268) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800842)

What're they gonna do next-- sue a pencil and paper, because some guy traced the Hulk?

They won't sue just because some guy traced the Hulk. However, they will sue if some guy traced the Hulk and then used his drawn Hulk to do business (ads, posters, business cards, anything even remotely related to his business). In this case, they wouldn't sue the pen-company, they would sue the owner of the infringing drawing.

In this case, from the EULA, NC Interactive owns the character. They are using the character for doing business (it is being actively used on their MMORPG server with which they make money). Therefore, Marvel is not suing because it is possible to draw the Hulk with the game-tool, they are suing because the company owns and uses the character in their business, which is a totally valid reason to sue.

Re:This isn't about just the tool (2, Interesting)

Palarran (323825) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800967)

Which leads me to wonder... What happens when, say, Neil Gaiman, logs on to City of Heroes and creates "Dream"? (Gloss over the artist/author rights, please.)

If EULAs are binding contracts, has he just signed away his property rights?

Duh (1)

kenp2002 (545495) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799357)

I think God should sue DC for infringing on his intellectual property of humanoid figures that can articulate. Perhaps the Nazi party should also sue DC and Marvel for their use of the Swastika in many of there post 1940 comics. How often has Captain America battled the Nazi's in comic books? That would violate their IP and infringe upon their flag wouldn't it? I also think that Marvel and DC need to stop infringing upon the United States Governments IP including the American Flag colors. While we're at it I think that Mavel needs to change their name to "Corporate United Network of Totality" or C.U.N.T for short.

Meanwhile in a court near you (1)

cassidyc (167044) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799530)

The Tolkien estate will be sueing World of Warcraft and Everquest cos you can dress up as elves.

HG Well is suing Planetside for generic use of Sci-fi.

I fact I'm gonna sue the rest of humanity for looking vaguely like me (two arms, two legs head, torso)

You better start paying up...

CJC

Re:Meanwhile in a court near you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10800656)

I'm quadraplegic you insensitive clod!

(writing this with stylus between teeth)

Sign here to join Class Action lawsuit (2, Insightful)

FictionPimp (712802) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799686)

I am currently going to sue HP because I just realized the scanner I bought can be used to make perfect copys of my copywrited artwork. Plus, I'm also going to use sony because their dvd burners can make perfect copys of my copywrighted home movies. Who's with me? Millions of SCO lawyers are about to lose their job and are ready to work with us.

Re:Sign here to join Class Action lawsuit (1)

Phisbut (761268) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800932)

*sigh* How many of those stupid comments will we see now?

You couldn't sue HP because their stuff can let someone infringe your copyright/trademark. You can only sue the owner of the infringing material, so if you duplicate your artwork, you can sue yourself for owning and using a copy of your work.

Marvel isn't suing because there is a tool that allows people to make infringing characters, they are suing because NC Interactive owns the characters (as per the game EULA) and are using them to do business. There is not even a chance of it being fair use.

Good News: Court abuse will only hasten things... (1)

Big Sean O (317186) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799801)

As these ridiculous examples come to surface, you'll see more public momentum to freeing culture.

It's bad enough that only DC and Marvel can use the (obviously generic, but actually trademarked) term Super-Hero.

It was only 24 years ago that a wrestler took the name Hulk Hogan. Nobody seemed to mind back then. Why is it that we have to avoid 'hulking males with green skin and tattered purple pants' in our video games?

Any why doesn't Marvel sue the pants off of DC with their obvious Hulk-ripoffs Soloman Grundy and Bizarro Superman? Maybe because Marvel ripped [fanzing.com] off [superman.ws] DC?

And how about the similarities between the civilian careers of Peter Parker and Clark Kent?

The whole super-hero scene is so full of rip-offs, homages, and influences they ought to be ashamed of their action.

Actually, they really ought to be ashamed of the Hulk movie, the more time that passes, the more violated I feel.

Re:Good News: Court abuse will only hasten things. (2, Informative)

Valegor (693552) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800128)

WWF sued WCW for using "Hulk" when Hogan switched over. Marvel then sued WWF for using "Hulk" for all those years. To the best of my knowledge WCW decided to call him Hollywood Hogan at that point and WWF dropped it's suit. When WWF dropped it's suit then Marvel dropped thiers. In that case Marvel clearly had to counter sue or WWF would have set a precidence and taken the copywright for "Hulk". Incedently the name Hulk Hogan was taken from the Incredible Hulk TV show with Lou Ferregno(sorry if I misspelled that).

CoH has fought this since the begining. (1)

sideshow (99249) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799833)

I don't play CoH anymore, but I did play the first 3 months the game was released.

The coolest part of the game is the freedom people have to create their characters. CoH has tried to stop people from imitating real comic book characters but people keep coming up with ingenious ways to get around it.

You can't make a character with claws like Wolverine but making a guy wearing yellow and black with a mask and regenerative abilities is possible. Is that same as Wolverine? Probably not. It's all a judgement call. Does DC own the rights to "Guy with blue and red tights who flys around?"

Another problem that CoH is almost powerless to fight is the what names people choose. Matching "Wolverine" is easy but how about: WeaponX, Wolvie, Woolvrine, Wepon Ex, etc?

Easy Solution (2, Insightful)

DeadBugs (546475) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799884)

They should just license the characters from Marvel and then sell an Expansion pack with all of the Marvel characters included.

Marvel is being predatory (2, Informative)

spyrral (162842) | more than 9 years ago | (#10799891)

The worst part about this little tale is that the makers of COH made a good faith attempt to eliminate look-alike heroes who attempted to use trademarked names. They even accepted lists of names from the major comics publishers for their block list.

Re:Marvel is being predatory (1)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800049)

Of course they're being predatory! In case you haven't noticed, all successful businesses nowadays got that way by being crafy and predatory and eradicating their competition. It's how you get ahead in life - You destroy the competition, either by killing them outright or beating them into submission/irrelevancy. (Example - Microsoft vs. Apple. Apple's not dead, but they sure are irrelevant to the mass PC market.)

Akin to P2P lawsuits/INDUCE? (1)

Jtheletter (686279) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800019)

This strikes me as being extremely similar to the lawsuits that the RIAA originally brought against peer-to-peer software makers, as well as the intent of the INDUCE Act. In this case it is not the company who is violating copyright, they are merely providing a tool that can be used by the end-users to infringe copyright.

I would think that given the recent court rulings (no time to find relevant links) that have indemnified P2P creators against infringement suits, that as soon as this goes to court it will just be thrown out. Have we learned nothing from the RIAA??

Does this mean perhaps we'll soon start seeing CoH gamers receiving subpoenas because their Akwa|\/|an character is too close to the original for the tastes of Marvel? This, IMHO, is going waaay too far. I suspect the submitter may be right about Marvel pulling this crap just to lay the way for their own game, why else would they really care if some kid in middle America has a digital avatar somewhere that resembles Superman? No one in-game is going to somehow confuse that character as being Marvel's licensed original.

Re:Akin to P2P lawsuits/INDUCE? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10800619)

You are referring to DC characters.
Please STFU.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Re:Akin to P2P lawsuits/INDUCE? (1)

Jtheletter (686279) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801043)

You are referring to DC characters.
Please STFU.

Marvel, DC, whatever, replace my character references with ones that Marvel owns and my point still holds true. Until you feel like registering on /. I suggest you follow your own advice.

Re:Akin to P2P lawsuits/INDUCE? (1)

Phisbut (761268) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800984)

In this case it is not the company who is violating copyright, they are merely providing a tool that can be used by the end-users to infringe copyright.

You are completely wrong. As per the game EULA, NC Interactive owns the characters, even though it's the users that made them. Therefore, the company owns the infringing work, and they are the ones who should be sued. They're not being sued for providing a tool, they're being sued for claiming ownership and using characters they don't actually own.

STOP THE PROPAGANDA!

*sigh* (1)

Axis of Weasel (700706) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800174)

i suppose it was only a matter of time

is the term "superhero" copyrighted? i bet stan lee is kicking himself over that one too.

as if Marvel's MMO would let you play Hulk (2, Insightful)

ghostlibrary (450718) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800191)

The irony is, it's unlikely Marvel's own game would actually let you play the Hulk[tm], Wolverine[tm], et cetera, just as Star Wars online doesn't let you play Luke, Han, and so on.

So they're suing over a game that lets you mimic their own heroes, arguing that it ruins the market for their own superhero game, even though their own game won't let you play their own heroes.

My plans are ruined (3, Funny)

OldManAndTheC++ (723450) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800528)

Had a great looking character, big, with green skin and torn clothes. I was going to call him "The Incredible Bulk". Now I'll have to make him smaller, put him in a business suit, and call him "Marvel Blows Chunks Man". His super power is his magic briefcase, from which he can throw thousands of pleadings and C&D letters, completely papering over his opponent. Fear him!

meanwhile... (3, Funny)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800563)

...having thwarted efforts to create new superheroes who might stop him, LawyerMan's sinister plan for world domination draws one step closer to fruition!

Some Quick Thoughts (2, Interesting)

vjmurphy (190266) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800669)

What makes the character a rip off?

For example, if I have a character named Ferro Man, who wears an armored suit, am I infringing on Iron Man? Okay, what version of Iron Man, then, is Marvel preventing me from copying? The gray suited one? The red and gold armored one? The one who flies and blasts things? What if I change the name and sex to Ferro Woman and Marvel later comes out with a character named Iron Woman?

And how is Marvel planning on preventing users of their own future game from creating a BattyMan or a Green Lamp character? Will DC sue Marvel when Marvel releases their game?

Cryptic does police as much as they can, but is a character named the Uncredible Bulk a problem? What if the character is a skinny white girl?

What if I have an Asian character with claws named "The China Wolf"? Am I infringing? What if Marvel decides next week to change Wolverine into an Asian girl?

Anyhow, just things that pop into my mind. I currently have a character on CoH whose name was just used on the Cartoon Network's Justice League Unlimited show and was previously not used for a superhero. If DC changes her costume or powers to look like my character, can I sue them (or rather, can Cryptic sue them, since they own that character now)?

Just things to thing about.

Re:Some Quick Thoughts (1)

DA-MAN (17442) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800890)

What if I have an Asian character with claws named "The China Wolf"? Am I infringing? What if Marvel decides next week to change Wolverine into an Asian girl?

Then you sue Marvel for infringing on your copyright.

Re: Ferro Man (1)

frankie (91710) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801230)

if I have a character named Ferro Man, who wears an armored suit, am I infringing on Iron Man?

No, you'd be infringing on Ferro Man [members.shaw.ca]

if I have an Asian character with claws named "The China Wolf"? Am I infringing [on Wolverine]?

No, but you might be infringing on Lady Deathstrike [free-definition.com] .

And yes, it is becoming much more difficult to come up with fresh superhero ideas as copyright terms get longer and longer.

Re: Ferro Man (1)

vjmurphy (190266) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801334)

Yep: Ferro Man being just a grown up version of Ferro Lad, from DC's Legion of Super Heroes.

That brings up the whole Plastic Man vs. Elongated Man vs. Mr. Fantastic.

in related news... (1, Funny)

Lord Dreamshaper (696630) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800807)

Marvel is also suing Ticonderoga Pencil Co (TPC) and Ginsu Knives, Inc. A spokesman for Marvel explained "TPC needs to be stopped; we've got thousands of kids sketching Hulk and Spiderman in their school notebooks without sending us a cent, and well Ginsu is clearly enabling many of those same kids to make Wolverine-style claws. We just wish we could have gotten an injunction to ban homemade Halloween costumes altogether..."

Marvel isn't the bad guy (0)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800931)

Some of the characters are *DEFINITE* rip-offs of Marvel heroes. In that case, they have a right to defend their IP.

Actualy, CoH hunts for IP violators. (2, Informative)

arkham6 (24514) | more than 9 years ago | (#10800945)

They have STRICT warnings against this, and in their terms of service is the following.

(e) Character Name. In order to use the service, you must create a character and choose a name for your character to identify your character to other Members (your "Character Name"). You may not select as your Character Name the name of another person, or a name which violates any third party's trademark right, copyright, or other proprietary right, or which may mislead other players to believe you to be an employee of NC Interactive, or which NC Interactive deems at its sole discretion to be vulgar or otherwise offensive. NC Interactive reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to (1) delete or alter any Character Name or (2) terminate any license granted herein, for any reason whatsoever, including, without limitation, any suspected or actual infringement of any trademark or trade name right, copyright, or other proprietary right.

(f) Super Group Names, Super Group Member Titles, Battle Cry, and Character Description. While accessing the service, it is possible to name your Super Group, give titles to members of your Super Group, create a Battle Cry, and write a Character Description. You may not create a Battle Cry, Character Description, give a name to a Super Group, or give a title to a Super Group member that is the name/description/title of another person, or a name/description/title which violates any third party's trademark right, copyright, or other proprietary right, or which may mislead other players to believe you to be an employee of NC Interactive, or which NC Interactive deems at its sole discretion to be vulgar or otherwise offensive. NC Interactive reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to (1) delete or alter any name/description/title given to a Super Group, Super Group Member, Battle Cry, or Character Description or (2) terminate any license granted herein, for any reason whatsoever, including, without limitation, any suspected or actual infringement of any trademark or trade name right, copyright, or other proprietary right

And that may be what gets them... (2)

GrnArmadillo (697378) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801074)

Sadly, in copyright law sometimes you're WORSE off trying and failing than not trying at all, because if you're trying to stop a practice then you can't claim you were unaware of the infringement.

fan recreating characters in game = fair use, duh (1)

evilmousse (798341) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801221)

-quote- "Is it a violation of copyright to make up a character in the virtual world or is that fair use?" von Lohmann said. "This is really untested ground in the courts." -/quote-

we slashdotters know the answer.
the question should be "how painful a process is it going to be before we realize that yes, it is indeed fair-use?"

No fan of copyright suits either but.... (1)

GrnArmadillo (697378) | more than 9 years ago | (#10801251)

The analogy to suing Bic because you can draw a copyrighted character with their pens doesn't hold because Bic has zero control over what you do with their product once you purchase it. If I draw Spiderman in my sketchbook and keep it in my home, I may or may not have broken copyright (not clear on how the fair use falls out there) but Marvel has suffered no damages so they probably aren't going to sue me. If I try to sell that sketch on EBay, I'm now a good target for copyright infringement, but the Bic corporation has no control over my decision to make my infringement available to the broader public. (If they were to market their pens for that specific purpose then they WOULD be open to lawsuits.) By contrast, City of Heroes characters can look only the ways NCSoft has designed into the character builder (which I've heard is pretty robust) and they are actively making money off of letting you play with said characters, derivative or otherwise.

I don't think Marvel will win this one though - as others have pointed out, most superhero designs have gotten pretty derivative over time. (Don't confuse cause and effect though - the big green/grey beast person with tattered shorts is a staple look BECAUSE of the Hulk.) If anything, DC may have a better case - I saw a lot of VERY Superman-looking costumes during the Christopher Reeve tributes.
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