White Wolf vs. Sony: more details

The official complaint is available on the Internet (what a surprise :-). Warining: it contains movie spoilers. Bryant writes:

There’s an extensive list of similarities between Underworld and various White Wolf titles. I have no doubt the similarities exist, but I think they’re on the same level as the similarities between L.A. Story and When Sally Met Harry. “Hey, the protagonists fell in love! And they live in major American cities!”

[…]

There are more specific correspondences, but nothing that doesn’t exist in prior art. White Wolf just doesn’t have the copyright on “tall and lithe” vampire assassins. Even female ones with “a dusky, classical tone to her skin and black hair.”

After reading the complaint, I’m not so sure. Many of the claims are ridiculous (“In The World of Darkness, wood does not kill vampires. In Underworld, the werewolves do not use wood to kill vampires, nor mention it as an option”. That’s stretching correspondences a bit…)

On the other hand, some of the complaints are about very specific events or parts of mythology shared between The World of Darkness and Underworld. Some of them I’ve seen before, but I haven’t seen them all together in two places like this. I guess a jury is going to have to decide whether this crosses the line between free expression of ideas (which cannot be copyright) and plagiarism of specific expression of those ideas. I don’t envy them…

The most interesting one for me is the impending release of two derived video games: “Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines” and “Underworld: Bloodlines”, both using Valve Software engines (although different ones). This isn’t the first time a gothic punk vampire movie has been released; could the video game issue be driving the lawsuit?

(via Population: One).

posted at 8:53 am on Sunday, September 07, 2003 in Gaming | Comments (2)

2 Comments

  1. TTWW says:

    WW sues Sony? Of course.

    It’s like this:

    There isn’t a big budget flick that comes out that doesn’t draw some parasite to it claiming original authorship. There are attornies who specialize in this sort of thing. The cases are almost universally settled by the studios because it’s easier to just throw a little money at an asshole than to actually have to go to the trouble of dealing with him.

    WW knows this. They might win, valid case or not, simply because Sony doesn’t want to bother.

    WW also knows the value of publicity. There’s a reason they actually issued a press release about the suit. In basic terms, why is it essential that the press get hold of the story? Certainly not from a legal standpoint. Publicity. Say it again, with the iron tang of drool in your mouth: publicity. People who might never have heard of WW otherwise will because of this.

    More importantly, WW also wins by associating their games with the movie, whether they win the case or settle or not. People who see the movie and want to play a RPG that gives them the same feel are being told, in bright press release letters, “OUR GAMES ARE LIKE THIS!” If the movie is a hit, and people associate it, rightly or wrongly, with their games, they be mucho happies.

    The timing of the case indicates they wanted the news to hit just as the flick came out, thereby seeking synergy that’ll further the association.

    The case itself looks spurious. If I were on the defensive team, I’d make part of the case on the fact that nearly everything WW has done is in some way derivative (note I did say nearly). They’ve generally taken the raw matter of other people’s tropes and mixed them into a complex, interesting, fun brew. Any gamer with some sense of cultural history and the ability to do research could mine tons of derivation out of WW’s games, much of it starker and more blatant than that they’re accusing Sony of.

    WW doesn’t generally have a care about other people’s IP either. I can think of several instances where the company has used nearly identical pastiche art of other people’s previous work, whether it be the Corax in RAGE who looks pretty much 101% like the Crow, or, worse, the Arcadia or Rage card (can’t recall which, think it was Rage) that used Klempt’s “Kiss,” known from college dorm walls all over the land, attributed to some lazy ass artist who ripped off Klempt and got a check from WW. There’s a pic in the first edition of Mage of a guy in a hotel room, floating at the ceiling with his head breaking through it like it’s the surface of water and he’s submerged. This was nearly a stroke by stroke rip off of a painting (a cool painting) that was used both on a Scorpions album cover and on a Mongo mystery novel by George Chesbro. There’s been a lot of this stuff over the years, and I actually talked to Rich Thomas, the art boss at WW, about this very thing once. He’s not a stupid man, he knows art, and he knows when they use something like this. His whole attitude was that he really didn’t give a shit.

    And how about song quotes? Sure, you can quote a bit of text from a fictional work within the boundaries of fair use, but songs are diferent. If you use a bit of published song in your published work, you are supposed to seek clearance from and pay a fee to the entity owning the rights to that song. Take a look in the front of Cujo by Steve King some time: there’s a huge list of song clearances for the quotes used in that book, and not only are the rights holders acknowledged, they were paid.

    WW just puts quotes in and that’s that. They’re lucky they haven’t been kicked in the nuts by ASCAP.

    If they settle or win, WW gets a boost to their profits (just like those parasites suing in Hollywood) and maybe even gets a nod in the revised credits of the film, bringing us back to association. If they lose, they still managed to get some publicity and associate what may be a hit movie with their games.

    I don’t think they’re worried about losing. I think they figure Sony will settle, and they’re probably right.

  2. There are 17 counts of copyright infringement on the docket, and while a few of the examples are stretched a bit, it’s obvious that White Wolf’s original material has been infringed upon in more than a coincidental fashion. Upon seeing the (non-spoiling) trailers I wondered if White Wolf had been involved in the writing. If just seeing the trailer can make me think that, it leads me to belive that White Wolf (who’s been on the bad end of a copyright suit themselves — i.e., AEon/Trinity) isn’t just barking up a tree.

    And while Vampire is based largely on historic refernce, they’ve COPYRIGHTED IT. Just like AOL Time/Warner owns the copyright to “Happy Birthday To You”. Making money off it and not expecting them to sue isn’t a wise decision.

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