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EA Sues Zynga For Copying Sims Game 197

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-uppance-will-come dept.
Social game developer Zynga has been on the receiving end of complaints in the past for releasing games that look a bit too much like games from indie developers, and for other shady business practices. Now, they've run afoul of somebody with sharper teeth. Today Electronic Arts and Maxis filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Zynga claiming that The Ville is "blatant mimicry" of The Sims Social. "'This is a case of principle,' says EA Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw. 'Maxis isn't the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product. But we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it. Infringing a developer's copyright is not an acceptable practice in game development.' In its complaint, EA argues that Zynga willfully and intentionally copied ideas from The Sims Social, the Facebook edition of the EA/Maxis franchise that released in August 2011. When Zynga released The Ville last June, consumers and the press immediately pointed out that the title resembled The Sims more than a little."
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EA Sues Zynga For Copying Sims Game

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  • Re:Rules (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hatta (162192) on Friday August 03, 2012 @06:46PM (#40873771) Journal

    What exactly did they sue over? According to the U.S. Copyright Office:

    Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an authorâ(TM)s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

    It seems to me a reimplementation of the same game should be legal. Change the words, art, and music, and you're good to go.

  • by bmo (77928) on Friday August 03, 2012 @06:48PM (#40873785)

    You can't copyright game rules. They are functional, not creative. You can copyright the *presentation* of those rules, but not the rules themselves.
    You can't copyright isometric projection of a 3 walled house to show the interior. It's functional, not creative.
    You can't copyright a genre.
    You can't copyright an idea.

    As much as I find Zynga offensive, unless EA can show that Zynga copied EA's actual artwork and/or code and not just created their own version of it, then EA should shut up and walk away quietly.

    --
    BMO

  • Re:Rules (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 03, 2012 @06:52PM (#40873831)

    Here's the legal complaint (from the Ars link): http://www.scribd.com/doc/101954002/EA-v-Zynga-Complaint-Final [scribd.com]

    Looks like the Zynga game is a complete ripoff.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 03, 2012 @06:54PM (#40873843)

    Check out the complaint document and then think again about what you posted:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/101954002/EA-v-Zynga-Complaint-Final [scribd.com]

    It's amazing how similar everything is. Wall to floor proportions. The exact same 8 RGB values for character skin tones. The exact same set of character roles, with different names. The exact same character poses in the artwork for these roles. Same contents in starter home. Etc...

    Just check out that document.

  • Re:Rules (Score:5, Informative)

    by ArhcAngel (247594) on Friday August 03, 2012 @07:31PM (#40874103)

    Why hate Zynga. They wrote their own code, didn't they? Is the artwork a pixel-for-pixel copy, or a stylistic imitation?

    Two words...Mark Pincus [consumerist.com]

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday August 03, 2012 @07:48PM (#40874213) Journal

    "I don't fucking want innovation," the ex-employee recalls Pincus saying. "You're not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 03, 2012 @07:58PM (#40874259)

    It's about copying the art and the exact interface of the game. Take a brief look at the complaint to see lots of comparison pictures [scribd.com].

    For example, SimsSocial has 8 possible skin tones for characters, and Zynga copied them down to the exact RGB values (!!). Items such as refrigerators, TVs, etc. are so similar that their outlines match up almost completely when they're overlaid on top of each other. I hate EA as much as the next Slashdotter, but this is pretty compelling stuff.

  • Re:Rules (Score:5, Informative)

    by docmordin (2654319) on Friday August 03, 2012 @08:36PM (#40874497)

    If they remade the assets and did not copy directly the files it's not copyright infringement in international law. Same thing with game mechanics. If Zynga did not copy/paste the code or texts from EA them there's no ground in international copyright law.

    There is plenty of legal precedence in US law, which pertains as the case is being argued in US, that contradicts some of your statements:

    Midway Mfg. Co., v. Dirkschneider et al. 543 F. Supp 466 (D. Neb. 1981)
    Nintendo of America, Inc. v. Elcon Industries, 564 F.Supp. 937 (E.D. Mich. 1982)
    Atari, Inc. v. North American Philips Consumer Electronics Corp., 672 F.2d 607 (7th Cir. 1982)
    Midway Manufacturing Co. v. Artic International, Inc., 547 F. Supp. 999 (N.D. Ill. 1982)
    Midway Manufacturing Co. v. Artic International, Inc., 704 F.2d 1009 (7th Cir. 1983)
    Team Play, Inc. v. Boyer, 391 F.Supp.2d 695 (N.D. Ill. 2005)
    William L Crawford II et al. v. Midway Games, Inc. et al. (W.D. Cal. 2007)
    Capcom Co., Ltd. et. al. v. The MKR Group (N.D. Cal. 2008)

    To elaborate a bit from those above cases, let alone others, to establish infringement a plaintiff must prove ownership of a valid copyright and "copying" by the defendant. Because direct evidence of copying often is unavailable, copying may be inferred where the defendant had access to the copyrighted work and the accused work is substantially similar to the copyrighted work (Warner Brothers, Inc. v. American Broadcasting Cos., Inc., 654 F.2d 204, 207 (2d Cir. 1981)).

    Some courts have expressed the test of substantial similarity in two parts: (1) whether the defendant copied from the plaintiff's work and (2) whether the copying, if proven, went so far as to constitute an improper appropriation (Scott v. WKJG, Inc., 376 F.2d 467, 469 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 832, 88 S.Ct. 101, 19 L.Ed.2d 91 (1967)); Arnstein v. Porter, 154 F.2d 464, 468 (2d Cir. 1946); cf. Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions, Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., 562 F.2d 1157, 1164 (9th Cir. 1977) (extrinsic-intrinsic test)). In many cases, the courts focus on the second part of that test and the response of the "ordinary observer" (Ideal Toy Corp. v. Fab-Lu Ltd. (Inc.), 360 F.2d 1021, 1023 n.2 (2d Cir. 1966)). Specifically, the test is whether the accused work is so similar to the plaintiff's work that an ordinary reasonable person would conclude that the defendant unlawfully appropriated the plaintiff's protectible expression by taking material of substance and value (Krofft, 562 F.2d at 1164). Judge Learned Hand, in finding infringement, once stated that "the ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities, would be disposed to overlook them, and regard their aesthetic appeal as the same" (Peter Pan Fabrics, Inc. v. Martin Weiner Corp., 274 F.2d 487, 489 (2d Cir. 1960)). It has been said that this test does not involve "analytic dissection and expert testimony," Arnstein, 154 F.2d at 468, but depends on whether the accused work has captured the "total concept and feel" of the copyrighted work (Roth Greeting Cards v. United Card Co., 429 F.2d 1106, 1110 (9th Cir. 1970)).

    While dissection is generally disfavored, the ordinary observer test, in application, must take into account that the copyright laws preclude appropriation of only those elements of the work that are protected by the copyright (Durham Industries, Inc. v. Tomy Corp., 630 F.2d 905, 913 (2d Cir. 1980); Clarke v. G. A. Kayser & Sons, Inc., 472 F.Supp. 481, 482 (W.D.Pa.1979), aff'd without op., 631 F.2d 725 (3d Cir. 1980)). "It is an axiom of copyright law that the protection granted to a copyrightable work extends only to the particular expression of an idea and never to the idea itself" (Reyher v. Children's Television Workshop, 533 F.2d 87, 90 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 980, 97 S.Ct. 492, 50 L.Ed.2d 588 (1976)). "Unlike a patent, a copyright gives no exclusive right to the art disclosed; protection is given only to the expression of the idea-not the idea itself" (Mazer v. St

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